ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 6: Reliever Brandon Dickson #65 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Cincinnati Redsat Busch Stadium on July 6, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Jake Westbrook is the kind of pitcher you get when you find yourself, through poorly executed plans or bad luck, forced to pay the going rate for free agent pitchers who have been average in the past, and the going rate for these guys is terrible because if you need one of them it's because you clearly have no other options. It's like when you're thirsty halfway through a day at Six Flags and you have no choice but to spend four bucks on something called a Mr. Freeze Cooool Chiller at that concession stand that is, for whatever reason, still themed like Batman & Robin is just about to come out.
Those four dollars would go down a lot easier if you were able to actually buy the thing you want with them, but Westbrook only represents rotational stability relative to the Cardinals' other options at the time. Westbrook has finally differentiated his strikeout rate from his walk rate, but his mercifully low home run rate is up at the same time. It wasn't necessarily a mistake to sign him, but it was a mistake to get trapped into signing him. Next time, smuggle a backpack filled with Lance Lynns into the park, please.
I never really thought about Albert Pujols not hitting so long as he was in the lineup and the Cardinals were winning, but now that he's back I realize just how strange all those lineups without him looked. The games just didn't seem quite as real, like I was watching a team in limbo.
Aside from all-time pinch runner and delusional team mascot I don't think any role is less illuminated by the traditional baseball line than lefty specialist. Trever Miller's ERA is still nearly league average, but at this moment opponents have an OPS of .800 against him. The Rolen homer aside La Russa has done a great job of spotting him—he's faced twice as many left-handers as right-handers—but the right-handers are simply hitting him too hard (8-18 with four extra-base hits) and the left-handers, while still held powerless and BAbipless, are walking far too much.
He should still be the last of the veterans to go, because unlike Brian Tallet he's still kind of fulfilling his role and his role is actually useful, but LOOGYs can't walk left-handers this frequently; their only job is to turn one batter into one out, and when they don't do it a roster spot has been wasted for the afternoon.
Brandon Dickson looks surprisingly good as a reliever when he's throwing 94. That kind of performance makes me wonder how many career minor league starters of this variety—no fastball, several pitches, keeps the ball out of the air—would have extended Major League careers if they were only sent on the Kyle McClellan career path. (Earlier this year the Washington Nationals grabbed the player I always confuse Dickson with, Brian Broderick, in the Rule 5 draft and used him for a while before returning him to a grateful, pitching-starved Redbirds staff; he's another lanky sinkerballer with less-than-striking peripherals, but he didn't get the velocity boost, averaging 89.5 miles per hour on his fastball. This is the first time I have ever been able to tell them apart.)
The Almost Comeback
Brandon Dickson can also hit!
I wish this had had more to do with Albert Pujols and less to do with Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Jon Jay, and Brandon Dickson, but their importance in the almost-comeback tells us about all that we need to know about how infuriating it would have been to lose Albert Pujols last year, rather than this year: Those guys could have been Felipe Lopez, Jason LaRue, Randy Winn, and Mike MacDougal, but that is not who they were.
So in addition to Matt Holliday's home run the Cardinals got a brilliant game from Descalso, third round 2007; one of those not-especially-meaningful-at-the-time doubles from Cruz, 26th/2007; a game-tying home run from Jay, 2/2006, who makes fourth-outfielding entirely bearable; and a single and some perfect mopup work from Dickson, who wasn't drafted at all.
The game started out with Westbrook illustrating the Cardinals' developmental failures and ended with the bench nearly vindicating the farm system entirely. Jeff Luhnow probably taped it.
I have to imagine these faulty comebacks haunt Tony La Russa more than the average manager, because they seem like definitive proof that a Major League manager must display constant, paranoid vigilance, lest he be made to look like a fool when his struggling lefty specialist pitches to Scott Rolen. La Russa takes hitters out earlier than I'd like for the sake of getting a new reliever into the game, but I don't think he does it appreciably more than the average NL manager; if I had to bet on any one manager believing in the impossible ideal of playing all 162 games at full speed it would be him.
In this case, the team ran out of pitchers not because La Russa sometimes manages the bullpen like he's at an All-Star Game for marginally useful situational relievers but because his starter got squashed and the team, improbably, came back.