have we hit bottom?

May 25, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) collides with Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz (51) during the eighth inning at Busch Stadium. Philadelphia defeated St. Louis 5-3 in ten innings. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

while the last few weeks have been very frustrating, i wonder if we are turning in the right direction.

yesterday, lance berkman had his surgery, and no ACL replacement was indicated. that limits his recovery time to somewhere between 6-10 weeks. which means we'll see him in late July or early August.

in the nearer-term, jon jay and allen craig both seem well on their way to recovery. craig has been taking grounders (at second, of all places!) and batting practice. jon jay has been starting to get ready to return to the lineup, although john mozeliak indicated jay might be held out a couple days beyond his first possible appearance on june 1.

chris carpenter's return seems more speculative, although i have heard mutterings about him taking the mound sometime in june as part of a rehab effort. the other carpenter's injury is too fresh to have news on, but there was nothing so troubling about the oblique tweak that i worry about his return schedule.

the remaining difficulties in the bullpen and the rotation seem fairly transitory.

over the last two weeks, the BABIP-against for our starting rotation has been .388, the worst in baseball. over the last 30 days, it's been .344, the second-worst in baseball.

notwithstanding a 3.05 rotation FIP, the cardinals' starters' ERA sits at 4.70 over the last 14 days. this will pass.

the same thing is true of the bullpen. while some have been quick to compare recent results to last year's meltdown, fernando salas (2012 FIP 2.85) looks nothing like ryan franklin (2011 FIP 6.89); jason motte (2012 3.09 FIP) looks nothing like miguel batista (2012 cardinals FIP 5.17).

just remember, there is a difference between a badly-constructed bullpen that flops because that is what you should expect it to do, and a (reasonably) well-constructed bullpen that flops because sometimes that happens in a sample size of a few weeks.

in april, the rays' bullpen had a 5.80 ERA, a 3.83 FIP, and a 3.82 xFIP. in may, they have a 1.82 ERA, a 3.51 FIP, and 3.19 xFIP. bullpens specialize in small sample sizes, which means good ones look terrible at times.

we've already jettisoned the back end of the bullpen (romero) or lost it to the DL (mcclellan). right now, marte and dickson are holding down the back end, while likely awaiting the arrival of maikel cleto and a left-hander.

cleto is easy to get excited about. in his stint at memphis, he has amassed a THIRTY-THREE PERCENT STRIKEOUT RATE. he has an 8.8% walk rate, indicating he may have his control issues under control.

[late night edit - in a surprise turn of events, chuckie fick - who always makes me think of "ficky-fick" in "Catch-22" - has been promoted from memphis. while fick is a borderline prospect, his promotion is particularly surprising since he got off to a pretty slow start at memphis, with a 10:7 K:BB rate and a 5.39 FIP in his small sample so far. he's pitched almost 20 innings, so it's not a huge sample size; he had a 3.67 FIP over 70 something innings last year. i'm just a little shocked that the club continues not to take notice of a guy throwing 100 mph and striking out every third guy he faces. no word at "press" time (i.e., the time i "press" the publish button) who he's replacing. i do hope the club does not use this opportunity to crush salas for early struggles in a small sample size.]

[late night edit - fun fact about chuckie fick from keith law; his father played the angels' catcher in "Naked Gun," the one who provided the backstop to enrico palazzo's antics.]

while i am not a fan of having a left-hander for the sake of having a left-hander, the mass of four plausible major league relievers at memphis suggests we are preparing for such an eventuality.

the cast of suspects are clay zavada (of mustache fame); barrett browning (pitcher-poet); sam freeman (member of the 40-man roster); and nick greenwood (freese-edmonds throw-in).

zavada has reverse splits both in the minors since 2011 (4.16 FIP v. LHB/3.33 FIP v. RHB) and in a 2009 callup to the majors (5.04 FIP v. LHB/4.03 FIP v. RHB). usually, those reverse splits are a sample size issue. color me kind of meh on zavada.

nick greenwood looks like a bona fide specialist. since 2011, his splits are ridiculous (2.74 FIP v. LHB and 5.29 v. RHB). he is so terrible against RHB, i have some reluctance to see him at the major league level, but he's done well at memphis. with a 4.5 K/BB against lefties, he could be deadly as a specialist, if used sparingly.

barret browning has a strong platoon split as well, with a 3.07 FIP against LHB, to go with a 4.67 FIP against RHB since 2011. he struggles with walking RHB, with an almost 1:1 K:BB ratio against righties. while his split is not as extreme, he is also not as dominant over LHB.

sam freeman looks out-classed by his competitors, logging most of his time at AA and below. he has not looked good overall, with a combined 16:8 K:BB across two levels this year. his split looks more like browning's, with a 3.13 FIP against lefties, to go with a 4.31 FIP against righties. still, he does not look terribly dominant, with a tepid 2.67 K:BB against lefties and 1.67 against righties.

being on the 40-man does make him a kind of course of least resistance, however. with the recent promotions of matt adams and steve hill, the 40-man is full, although shifting chris carpenter to the 60-day DL would be a quick and painless way to make room.

i suppose the other shoe to drop in the bullpen would be the someday-return of scott linebrink, who is, it seems, getting closer to a rehab stint.

anyway, the bullpen seems solidly constructed, and a move or two could make it steadier. i suspect the present frustrations in the bullpen will soon right themselves. with two big offensive boosts likely to return in the immediate future, and the unsustainable problems with batted ball luck for the rotation, there is no particular reason to think our current struggles will continue.

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