|2-0, 2.25||0-1, 14.73|
First off, I want to thank Lboros for covering for me on Wednesday. I greatly appreciate the helping hand, Lb. You made a very difficult time a little bit easier to bear.
Tremendous win last night by the Cardinals. The offense put together it's biggest inning of the year so far, the six run fourth, it's biggest run total at 11, and the largest margin of victory so far. All of this against one of the best young pitchers in the game today.
The real key to this game, and, in my ever so humble opinion, the key going forward, was the performance of the top of the lineup. The top two hitters last night, Skip Schumaker and Chris Duncan, respectively, combined to go 4 for 7 with three walks. Between the two of them, they got on base ahead of Albert and the middle of the lineup seven times. Duncan hit a homer and a double, driving in two. Schumaker drove in a pair as well with a two run single in the fourth that continued the inning. Even more remarkable than the run production from those two spots was the runs scored. The two of them combined to score six, count 'em, six times.
There's been a ton of talk recently about trying to find some better protection for Albert in the lineup, and most of it has focused, naturally, on the cleanup position. To me, though, the first two spots in the lineup represent the only real chance the Cardinals have to get that protection for Albert. There is no hitter in baseball that's going to force opposing pitchers to pitch to Albert. Runners on base ahead of him, though, will. The top two spots in this lineup are far more important to whether or not Albert will see any pitches to hit than the hitters behind him, in my opinion. As long as those two can continue to get on base, teams will be forced to try and get Albert out. We saw firsthand last night what sorts of results we can expect in those cases.
There is, however, a downside to the performance of those two outfielders last night, though, particularly Duncan. As long as they keep producing, it makes it much harder for me to complain that Crab Man should be getting more playing time. This puts me in a bind, as I happen to be a huge backer of Mr. Barton. It's a very trying situation, you know, whenever reality interferes with your personal preferences. Sigh...
As impressive as the offense was, I was personally more astounded by the performance of Wellemeyer. I've been a very vocal critic in the past of Welley in the rotation, but I've been mostly won over. I say mostly because I still fear he isn't able to give consistent six plus inning performances, and I worry about the burden on the pen, probably more than I really should. Last night, though, Wellemeyer turned in probably the best start of his career, and one of the two or three best starts we've seen from a Cardinal hurler this season.
In his seven innings of work, Wellemeyer gave only one run on four hits, (the run scoring hit, of course, being an infield single off of his- ahem- lower back type region area) with six strikeouts to two walks. Those last numbers, to me, represent the really important statistic to look at here.
With the addition of those numbers, Wellemeyer now has 26 strikeouts to only 9 walks, in 25 innings of work. That's almost exactly in line with his 3:1 K/BB ratio from last night's game. The knock on Wellemeyer, of course, has always been his elevated walk numbers and high pitch counts. If this is a genuine improvement, (and obviously, the sample size isn't large enough to determine a whole lot, but it is getting close to being at least significant) then suddenly Wellemeyer isn't a serviceable starter, but a potential front half of the rotation starter. I'm not sure how this has happened, and I don't know if it's sustainable, but I'm hoping.
Last night, he was about as efficient as you can possibly imagine he ever will be. He threw 107 pitches, 72 for strikes. He struck out six, got seven groundball outs, eight fly outs. Anytime you see a strike to ball ratio of better than 2:1, you have to take notice. Wellemeyer, in addition to being efficient and aggressive, was throwing gas last night. Going by the Pitchf/x data, (and I'm just getting used to using it, so bear with me if I'm not quite right) he was averaging 93.7 mph on his fastball, with a high of 95.5. For a starter, that's an incredible combination of velocity and control.
All of this, of course, really begs the question: what happens to Wellemeyer next? When Mark Mulder comes back, which should be in about three weeks, he's expected to slide into the rotation. Wainwright's rotation spot is secure, along with Looper. Kyle Lohse has obviously done nothing to pitch his way out of the rotation. Pineiro was resigned just this past offseason, to a two year deal. He signed with the Cardinals specifically because they guaranteed him a spot starting, so I imagine they would be loathe to move him to the bullpen, even on a temporary basis. So where exactly does the team go with Welley? He has better raw stuff than any pitcher on the staff outside of Adam Wainwright, (and that's a close call) and, possibly Anthony Reyes, he's striking out hitters at a rate of better than one per inning, and, most importantly, he's maintaining a K/BB ratio of almost 3:1. Yet, because of the roster numbers, he may face losing his spot in the rotation.
I know it's still a ways off, so why don't I just table the question until it actually comes up, right? Well, I ask because we've already seen one starter bumped for a returning pitcher in Brad Thompson, who now faces an additional crisis with the impending return of Russ Springer. The decision on what to do with Wellemeyer and the other starters will be here much quicker than we realise, and with the way Welley has pitched so far this year, it could end up being a very significant decision.
So, a couple of points to discuss this morning.
One, what do you do with the looming roster crunch? If all remains equal as it does today, (which I know will not happen, but still) who loses their spot? Should anyone?
Two, what have you been most surprised by this season so far? Pleasant or unpleasant, either way. My personal surprises have been the aforementioned Messrs. Wellemeyer and Schumaker. Wellemeyer has improved in the one area that always kept him back, and Skippy appears, at least to my eyes, to have become a viable major league hitter. It may still be early, but Skip has passed every test presented to him so far with flying colours, and I don't see any major weaknesses in his game to really hinder him. I freely admit, I never saw it coming. Reyes has been a pleasant surprise also, but I actually always believed in him. The other two, not so much.
Three, in last night's overflow thread, there was a bit of discussion of what theme song would best embody the glory that is the Cardinals' mulletted backup catcher, Jason LaRue. There were many suggestions, with Def Leppard receiving some shoutouts, (or should that be shouts out? I'm not very good with the modern vernacular...) Ratt's "Round and Round" coming up, and Styx getting some love. I want you to give me LaRue's perfect theme song, and any song you desperately want to see used by a player, be it a batter or a reliever. For LaRue, I nominate Foreigner's "Dirty White Boy" or, even better, pretty much anything from the Red Rocker, St. Louis favourite Sammy Hagar. I think something from the Hagar catalogue would be particularly good; he's a beloved icon here in the Lou, especially among those who sport facial hair of a similar bent to LaRue's own, he's already associated with red, so there's a nice Cardinal tie in... I think it's a match made in heaven. What do you guys think?
One last thing: also from the overflow last night, Mr. Redbird referred to Troy Glaus as "Santa Glaus." I don't know if this is the first time he's been called as such here; it's the first I've noticed. Anyhow, I vote that we make Santa Glaus the official VEB nickname for Troy. I think maybe a really great nickname is just what he needs to get going. What say you, denizens of El Vivi Birders?
That's all I got. It was too good of a game to really complain much, so let's just bask a little bit. Reality will kick in soon enough, right about the time Tim Lincecum goes into that ridiculous windup of his and blows the first fastball past our leadoff hitter. Good luck, boys. You're probably going to need it.