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Game 136 Open Thread: September 4, 2006

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marquis ortiz
14-12, 5.86 9-12, 5.34

anthony reyes' strong outing yesterday did nothing to settle the running argument among cardinal fans over la russa and duncan's (mis)handling of this rookie pitcher. on the contrary, opinions in the chat rooms vary as widely as ever re the ill-fated 2-seam experiment and the role it played in reyes' up-and-down season to date. my own position is pretty well known; no need to pound that carcass any further. rather than keep going around in circles about it, let me propose a few things that all cardinal fans might agree on:

  • the way reyes pitched yesterday is the way he should pitch from here on out. he didn't pitch to contact, he pitched away from it; and he didn't feature the 2-seam fastball, he pitched off his natural 4-seamer. that approach gets the best results for this particular pitcher at this point in his career. over the long haul, he will probably need to diversify his attack; but for the immediate future, no more tinkering --- he should keep doing what he did yesterday. no matter whose idea it was.
  • he has earned the license to suck for an outing or two. he's not going to hold them scoreless every time; he's going to get scored on sometimes, maybe even in bunches. if he has a 4-inning, 5-run outing, shrug it off and send him back out there. marquis weaver and mulder haven't had to pitch while looking over the shoulder this year; reyes shouldn't have to, either.
  • he could be a big factor in the postseason. the cardinals have been trying since november to find a #2 pitcher to complement carpenter --- a pitcher whose stuff is good enough that he doesn't have to make a perfect pitch to get hitters out. suppan and marquis (and dear old mulder) are precision pitchers; if they miss by 3 inches they get hammered, especially by playoff-caliber offenses. very few guys can make perfect pitches consistently under october pressure. but reyes doesn't have to; he has enough movement on his pitches, and enough ability to change speeds, that he can catch a few inches of the plate and still miss the fat part of the bat. the cardinals have been chasing pitchers like that --- aj burnett, javy vazquez, dontrelle willis --- since the end of last season. reyes may not have the resume of those pitchers, but he does have that type of ball-throwing ability --- when he's on, he can shut down any offense. just ask the white sox.
re the other star of yesterday's game: albert's exploits speak for themselves. i'll look instead at the slump albert carried into the fray, and which (we may hope) ended with the 3-hr outburst. albert began the day yesterday in a 16-game slide dating back to august 16 --- 14-for-62 (.226) in that span --- and fans and broadcasters alike had started to fret over his uncharacteristically weak production. turns out that such stallouts aren't uncharacteristic at all; albert slogs through at least one stretch like this every season. for example, last season --- his mvp year --- he weathered a 14-game dip (august 7 thru 23) in which he batted .245 with 3 hr and 8 rbi. in 2004 --- while finishing 2d in the mvp race --- pujols hit .242 (16 for 66) with 2 homers and 4 rbi during a 17-game span between april 21 and may 8. a month later (june 3 -29) he was scuffling again --- 18 for 76 (.237) with 3 hr, 11 rbi over 21 games.

even baseball's greatest hitter routinely gets humbled by the game. nothing to do about it but wait until he slugs his way out of the doldrums.

i think this year's slump stands out more distinctly, and caused more concern, because it has coincided with the sidelining of eckstein and edmonds, which weakens an already thin supporting cast. more than ever, pujols and rolen are the whole offense; when one of them stops hitting for a few games, there's nobody else who can pick up the slack.

but that's not the players' fault. they're still gonna have slumps.

it also should be pointed out that during this just-ended slack time, albert managed to hold or share the team lead in homers (4), rbis (16), and walks (7). it's not as if the guy pulled a disappearing act. more like he fell into a random, meaningless rut, as is inevitable in a long season. sure, he's had some ugly at-bats; but he always adjusts. i'm not worried about him.

the other day i wondered (last paragraph) whether the cardinals might become the 1st team in history to have 3 diff'nt pitchers win their 100th game in the same season. turns out it has happened twice before; rob at the birdwatch names the two teams.