Watching the Cardinals and the Cubs play this weekend, I'm left to wonder if the Cardinals have any true rivals. The vitriol and passion that surrounded these teams in past years -- namely when the Cubs weren't complete cellar dwellers -- is lacking -- namely because the Cubs are complete cellar dwellers now. This is the kind of thing you have the privilege to worry about when your team picks up an extra innings win including a 9th inning, game tying home run. It's the kind of thing you don't much care to talk about when you lose after a 9th inning, game tying home run off the bat of Darwin Barney.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals have lacked a consistent competitor in the Central division for some time. The Cubs served as a rival in the late 90s before Houston's ascent in the mid-2000s. The Brewers would peak in the last part of the decade and now the Cincinnati Reds have their opportunity to make hay. Throughout it all, the Cardinals have been remarkably consistent in pursuing the division win.
The last decade has seen the Cardinals capture the division five times. Think about that for a second. In a six team division, the Cardinals have been the division leader half the time. As the Pirates slide back into another sub-.500 season and irrelevancy, I find the Cardinals position within the division perhaps all the more interesting. But back to the question: Do the Cardinals have a rival?
I had no preconceived notions of Edward Mujica upon his arrival in St. Louis. He fit nicely into the mental category of good but ubiquitous reliever. Those players are, more often than not, plentiful and still extremely suspect given that they are relievers.
Mujica has proven to be, however, an outstanding addition to the bullpen and the team-splits leave me wondering if the Cardinals didn't fix something in his delivery.
This could be nothing more than a blip and he could, in much the same way Marc Rzepczynski has, turn into a thoroughly mediocre bullpen arm next season. For here and now, he's performing quite well at the cost of a former first round pick Zack Cox. (Cox, upon the trade, was demoted to AA and failed to hit above AA's league average line. )
* * *
The Cardinals have been bolstered heavily by players with a limited track record heading into 2012: Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Joe Kelly (a personal favorite), etc. There's one quick comparison -- that comes with a small sample size warning -- that strikes me as interesting.
Trevor Rosenthal - 2012
Lance Lynn - 2011
Trevor Rosenthal has been, plus or minus a home run, a carbon copy of Lance Lynn out of the bullpen this year. Lynn's performance in 2011 came over 34 innings compared to Rosenthal's 19. In both instances, the innings are limited because the player spent time in the minors as a starter. A subjective benchmark around the two would be that, on balance, the public scouting reports for Rosenthal have been more positive than those for Lance Lynn. Part of that is related to Lynn's mechanical changes late in his minor league career that added significant velocity to his fastball as well as the sticky perception of Lynn as a fast-moving, two-seam fastball pitcher.
Some of the pitch f/x data for Rosenthal, paints an even better picture than the results line above. Both Rosenthal and Lynn relied heavily on their fastball coming out of the pen, which is not uncommon. Rosenthal has four miles per hour over Lynn in raw velocity. Both pitchers used a curveball as their secondary offering eschewing a more traditional fastball slider combination. Both pitchers showed a four pitch repertoire out of the pen. Both pitchers generated a swinging strike 9.4% of the time.
The Cardinals will find themselves in an enviable position entering the offseason with four established starters (Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook) augmented by a bevy of homegrown talent in Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal. The established starters also have a fairly established record of significant injury so depth of this nature could prove to be crucial to the Cardinals next season much as it was this season.
It could also prove to be a starting point for trade conversations about Elvis Andrus.
* * *
The Cardinals will take on the Cubs in the rubber match today. Game time is 1:20 CDT.