ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: Jeff Suppan throws out the ceremonial first prior to the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Milwaukee Brewers in during Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 12, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
I love this bullpen, I really do, but it would be nice if one of the non-Carpenter starters on the Cardinals' roster would just turn into Jeff Suppan, already. Tony La Russa 2006 wasn't quite so quick with the hook as the 2011 model has been, but in hindsight we should have expected at least most of what we've seen so far; that year, with exactly two reliable starters on the roster, La Russa brought relievers into the sixth inning or earlier twice in the NLDS, three times in the NLCS, and once in the World Series.
Thanks to Josh Kinney and Tyler Johnson, who that fall had two of the best sliders I've ever seen a pitcher throw, it worked out pretty well, just like it has so far. Adam Wainwright threw 10 scoreless innings; even Randy Flores threw six scoreless.
La Russa was mostly careful with Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes, although Jeff Suppan and Chris Carpenter—the two adults in the room—were directed to early exits of their own. But Suppan's star turn against the Mets is a weird reminder that, despite this being a vastly improved rotation over that terrifying 2006 model, nobody has yet managed to make the Suppan turn. Nobody but Carpenter's shut down the other team by himself, and even he's only done it one time out of three.
Kyle Lohse, who played the Suppan role in-season, looked like he was on his way until he became the latest pitcher to go mad attempting to solve the riddle of Yuniesky Betancourt; Edwin Jackson works even slower than Suppan, and is probably the best combination of in-game durability and unlikeliness to combust.
But come on—who doesn't want it to be Jaime Garcia?
At this point I've run out of interesting things to say about Garcia, whose struggles vanish and then reappear depending on where you set the arbitrary endpoints. Since July 28 his BAbip against is .350 and his strikeout rate is down; in September, on the other hand, he pitched outstandingly (24:4 K:BB in 30 innings), finished with a 2.64 ERA, but allowed five unearned runs and got into the seventh inning twice in five attempts.
In the postseason: Home runs, all of a sudden, and mediocre peripherals, and the strange, evanescent nibbling we were treated to late in the summer.
Here's why I don't know how to deal with Jaime Garcia, and why I'm optimistic anyway: He hasn't pitched as well as his numbers, and he hasn't looked as good as his numbers. But in the absence of any compelling reason for all that, I have nothing to fall back on except his numbers.
And those were pretty great. He only averaged six innings a start, but he did it while shaving a walk per nine innings off his 2010 rate, keeping his home runs allowed down, and continuing to get a lot of ground balls. That's it; those are all the ingredients for a great pitcher. The Cardinals defense isn't the best cook, but eventually we should get something edible out of all this.