The Cardinals have been under a significant amount of physical duress of late. Lance Berkman, Skip Schumaker, Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay are all currently on the DL. Allen Craig is freshly returned from his second stint on the DL this season. Somehow, glass fielders Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran and David Freese have all avoided time on the DL but one wonders how long that can last. Scott Linebrink has greeted Chris Carpenter and Kyle McClellan as they joined the DL. The injuries have racked up and it's possible that Jamie Garcia, fresh off an MRI, will miss another start after being skipped in the rotation.
Let's start with something important: Jaime Garcia is a really good pitcher. In 438.1 innings, Jaime Garcia has shown a good strikeout rate (7K per 9IP), above average and recently improving command (2.85BB per 9 IP) and an above average groundball rate (50%+). That combination makes him a well above average pitcher who provided the Cardinals with 194 innings in 2011. Should Garcia make his way to the DL party, the Cardinals will be hard pressed to replace him.
(There's a brief corollary to all this that is only partially related but needs to be said. Anyone arguing that Lance Lynn would better help this team in the bullpen right now is someone who clearly overvalues relievers and fundamentally fails to understand how good Lynn has been. I've heard this argument on the radio and I desperately hope that it is secluded to that strange wilderness of ignorance -- I'm looking at you Randy Karraker -- but fear that it is contagious.)
In this hour of need, who will Mike Matheny call up?
1. Brandon Dickson
Have We Met Before? Yes, I was recently in the bullpen and pitched out of the pen briefly in 2011.
Am I Easy? Yes, I'm already on the 40 man roster.
What Makes Me Good On The Mound? I've been a workhorse for Memphis for the last two years. My calling card has been a combination of two things: average or better groundball rates and good control.
Why I'll Break Your Heart: My pure stuff isn't on par with what most people would consider major league stuff. When I miss location, hitters can send my pitches a long way out of the park. With the lack of a real outpitch, my ability to go through the lineup multiple times is a legitimate concern.
Our Relationship: We met in 2006 when I was 21. I went undrafted and you took a chance on me. Since then, I've worked my way from Johnson City to Memphis.
2. Maikel Cleto
Have We Met Before? Yes, we've actually been seeing each other more frequently recently. I'm currently pitching in the pen having appeared in just 1 game so far after recently being called up.
Am I Easy? I'm about as easy as you can get. Not only am I on the 40 man roster, I'm on the team. Right Now!
What Makes Me Good On The Mound? How about a high hard one? My fastball in the majors regularly sits in the high 90s. Even when I start in the minors, my fastball velocity is elite. I've improved my fastball command over the last few years, which has led to an increased strikeout rate and more consistent outings.
Why I'll Break Your Heart: The club moved me, somewhat inexplicably, to the bullpen at the start of the season so at the very least someone feels I'm better suited to the pen. Starting is always more difficult than relieving so don't expect my 11.77K per 9IP from my relief in the minors to directly carry over.
Our Relationship: We've only know each other since the 2010 offseason when you acquired me from Seattle for Brendan Ryan. At 23, I'm still young but I jumped from high-A Palm Beach to AAA Memphis in just one year after we met.
3. Shelby Miller
Have We Met Before? Not yet. I've seen you watching me from the distance. You coyly turn your head every time I catch your eye. Hey, this isn't just any old baseball body.
Am I Easy? I'm not on the 40 man roster but I'm about the easiest public relations pick you can imagine. I'm the epitome of the sexy pick for anyone who has casually followed the farm system.
What Makes Me Good On The Mound? How about two plus pitches with a high velocity fastball and a curveball. Combine that with an improved changeup and I've got the makings of an elite pitcher.
Why I'll Break Your Heart: There's some nasty rumors going around that my fastball velocity is down. There's some other nasty rumors about my makeup that have been floating around since that one time I decided to be a kid and drink a few too many Colt 45s.
Our Relationship: I was your #1 in 2009.
4. Joe Kelly
Have We Met Before? Not yet. I'm Shelby's good friend. The one who is always by his side that you don't notice.
Am I Easy? No. I've got the chastity belt equivalency of problems: not on the 40-man roster and completely unsexy Triple A numbers.
What Makes Me Good On The Mound? I'm a machine. A groundball machine that is. I've consistently used a high velocity sinker to get batters to roll over and hit the ball to my infielders (especially my long time shortstop, Ryan Jackson).
Why I'll Break Your Heart: My third pitch isn't very good. Triple A has been a stronger challenge than I've expected and while my groundball rate has bounced back to career norms due to recent games, my strikeout rate is still lagging. Some people think I'm destined to be a reliever.
Our Relationship: You didn't notice you picked me in 2009, did you?
There's another pair of players that don't quite warrant a writeup but are at least worth a mention. Nick Additon has been a steadily progressing lefty who is getting hammered in Memphis right now and whose control has come part on him. Brian Broderick who returned to the Cardinals after being selected by the Washington Nationals in the Rule V draft, has seen time in the majors, is in Memphis. Broderick is short on stuff and long on durability. Neither player is on the 40-man roster. If you want someone that you can shuttle back and forth without concern of damaging their (almost non-existent) long term prospects or without concern about having to designate them for assignment in the future, these two are your guys.
The Cardinals could go for a bullpen start but the questions around Jaime Garcia leave the team with an interesting question. 2012 is very much a winnable year for the Cardinals and selecting the pitcher that can best win Tuesday's game is not necessarily the same thing as the pitcher who can best win a game on a Tuesday in 2013 and beyond. There is a very obvious tension that every team faces in trying to cope with the now despite the tantalizing morsels that additional ripening promises you in the future.
In 2013, the Cardinals will conceivably have two open positions when the contracts of Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook expire. Lance Lynn has laid a formidable claim to one of those two spots, which I've advocated is a good thing here with further details here. Brandon Dickson does not look like a long term viable starting pitcher. The club thinks that Maikel Cleto may have better success in the pen.
Calling up Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller gives you a glimpse of the future. Whether the future should be now is a questionable proposition.