Okay, so who, at the beginning of the season, believed that the left side of the Cardinals' bullpen would be, quite possibly, the worst aspect of the entire team? I won't lie; I did not. I thought the bullpen would be the strongest link in the chain, and the lefties would be pretty damned solid.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I was wrong.
Still, I suppose it's not fair to lay all the blame for that lifeless showing of last evening on Ron Villone. You're not going to win many games when you only score one bleeding run, I don't care how good your bullpen is. I will say, though, that we expected the offense to struggle with Albert gone, and to make things worse, we're now seeing Jason LaRue starting on a daily basis. By the way, can I just take a second to say how stupid I think that is? This is a concussion we're talking about with Molina. The Cardinals need to use every single bit of caution they can muster to keep Molina from coming back too soon. Playing with only one catcher available, especially when said catcher is one of the worst hitters in the game of baseball, is not in any way being cautious. That's just tempting your manager to put the guy back in there way before he's really ready.
Right now, though, I think that getting a new lefthanded reliever may just be the absolute number one priority on Mo's plate. The Cardinals simply cannot continue to hand the ball to these guys on a nightly basis. Villone is bad enough, but Flores is the one really killing me. Villone shouldn't be in the game in a high leverage situation like the one we saw last night, period. Still, though, he does have some use as a guy that can come in and soak up some batters in low lev situations. Flores, on the other hand, is the first lefty option out of the bullpen when the game is on the line, and he's allowing more than 40% of his inherited runners to come in and score. That's beyond normal bad; that's almost impossible to understand sort of bad. When your primary lefty specialist allows almost half of the men on base when he comes in to the game to come home, you simply can't count on winning many close games.
Look, we all know that, no matter how much sense it might make, Tony La Russa is never going to change his slavish devotion to his matchups. He's always going to go with a lefty, no matter how awful his performance may be, to try and get out a lefty. It's just part of the package when you're dealing with Tony. So really, the only option is to try and go out and get better lefties.
First off, what about old D'Artagnan's brother, the one down at Memphis? Ron Flores has been pretty solid. Unspectacular, but solid. He's striking out better than a batter per inning, (39 in 34.2) and has only walked 14 on the season.Most importantly, he's held lefthanded hitters to a .227 average. Is he the weapon that Tyler Johnson was against lefties? No, but who is? He would certainly be an upgrade.
What about some players from another team that's really, really out of it? How about John Grabow, of the Pirates? He's holding lefties to a .250 average against, but more importantly, has only allowed a .371 SLG. Again, he's not lights out, but that's pretty solid. He's youngish, (29) and couldn't be all that expensive.
Damaso Marte? Also a Pirate, he's devastating against lefties. He's allowed them a .244 avg., but also strikes out nearly 15(!) batters an inning against lefthanded hitters. He's older, at 33, but might be even easier to pry away because of that.
How about the third lefty in the Pirate 'pen, Sean Burnett? The former big time prospect currently sports a very unsightly 7.31 ERA, but has been murder on lefties this season, allowing them only a .150 avg. against. They've slugged only .300 off Burnett also. Granted, it's in a very small sampling, (22 PA) but it's tough to find a large sample size when you're talking about a specialist sort of role. Burnett has been used largely in mop up duty this season, and has struggled, but his numbers against lefties are very good, and to me, the numbers jibe with about what he should do by the eye test. He's got a funky, crossfire delivery that has to be murder on batters from his side of the plate and a really nice breaking ball. Burnett is also the youngest of the three lefties in the Pittsburgh relief corps, being only 25. He could end up being a nice little investment to shore up the bullpen for several years.
How much would any of these players cost to get? I'm honestly not really sure, but I'm sure it couldn't possibly be that steep. The Cardinals have a ton of depth in righthanded relievers; package one or two of those guys together and get some help from the sinister side at the ML level. Hell, just see if you could get one of them for cash considerations. The Pirates have three lefties in their pen right now, and they don't need all of them. I'm sure they would be willing to move one to possibly get some help down the road. Maybe a Shane Robinson gets it done.
You want to shoot a little higher, you say? You don't want some other second division team's specialist castoffs? Well, George Sherill of the Orioles is said to be available, for the right price. He's been dynamite for Baltimore this season, with the exception of a little hiccup this past weekend. What would it cost to get Sherrill? Oooh, that's a tough one. You'd probably have to give up a much better prospect, a guy like maybe an Allen Craig or the like. Would that be worth it? I'm not so sure. Sherrill is currently serving as the O's closer, so they'll ask for a premium to get him. Personally, I think you could find a guy to match his performance, at least in a lefty specific role, for much less.
The bottom line is this: the Cardinals are suffering right now in the bullpen. The left side, in particular, is struggling to give the Birds quality innings. It's not a big, splashy move that's going to suddenly change the complexion of the team overnight. But the little, incremental moves like upgrading your situational relief can end up being the difference between being right in the thick of things come September and being just far enough out that you can't quite climb back in it.
Look, this year was all about transition, right? I've said it all along, and I stick by it. I still want the Cardinals to look squarely toward the future with the moves they make this year. But acquiring some help for the left side of the bullpen isn't going to cost you your top prospects. In fact, it probably won't cost you anything you're really going to miss. (Although, come to think of it, I probably would have said the same thing when the Cards traded for Jason Christianson...) This is a chance to make a real upgrade to the team without having to mortgage the future. I think that Mo needs to be exploring every available option to try and shore this up. Not just because of last night's game, either. this has been a problem for a while now. This team simply doesn't have enough margin for error to be losing close games because of bullpen troubles. If you can buy even one or two more wins in the standing without giving up one of your big time prospects, I think you have to count that as a good use of resources.