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First half diagnosis

Well, the Cards finally got off the schneid versus the Royals last night. I gotta say, though – the more I watch them (the Royals), the more I think "they’ve really got the makings of a pretty damned good ball club." I am glad to see that, but even happier to see the Cards get a win, and to see Mitch Boggs pitch a pretty good game, to boot.

I missed the first part of the game and I guess he started out a little shaky – pitching around 3 BB’s in the first 2 IP. After that, though, he really settled down before finally running out of gas in the 7th. 55 of his 96 pitches were for strikes – not great, but not terrible – about 57% of his pitches were for strikes, the same percentage he’s had over his previous outings. However, once he settled down, he became much more effective w/ his pitches. In innings 3-6, he threw 54 pitches, 34 of which were for strikes (63%). He also struck out 6 batters in his 6+ innings. Up to this point, he had 4 major-league K’s TOTAL. In his first 3 starts + 1 relief outing, he had only been able to get a total of 9 swing-and-misses from major league hitters. Last night, he got 8 swing-and-misses.

He’s still not ready for the big leagues, and he’ll still take some lumps while he’s up here, but with every start I’m getting more and more comfortable with the notion that he’s going to be able to hold down the fort for a while. While Wainwright is on the mend, we need Boggs (or…gulp – Mulder) to keep the team in the game, and keep the pen from being destroyed. Boggs won’t be the savior, but I think he’ll be ok until the wagonmaker gets back.

That’s important b/c there’s been quite a bit of discussion of late on what the team should do as the trade deadline approaches in order to stay competitive and try to make it to the playoffs w/o mortgaging the solid (and outstanding) prospects who are approaching major-league readiness. With just over half a season in the bag, it’s becoming apparent that the NL Central is going to be a 3 team race. Right now the Cards have the 2nd best record in the NL, so the Wild Card is a very real possibility as well. Baseball prospectus has our odds of making the playoffs at about 35.5% -- 3rd highest in the NL. Unfortunately, it likes the Brewers chances slightly better than ours which, if that comes to fruition along w/ the Cubs 92% likelihood, would leave us on the outside looking in. Nevertheless, though many if not most of us thought the Cards’ chances of making the postseason unlikely at the beginning of the season, it now seems as though our odds are as good as just about anybody’s.

Since we are halfway through the season, I wanted to take a look at where we stand in comparison w/ our primary competitors to help us decide which holes are most in need of patching down the stretch. LB’s post on Thursday dealt with the possibility of the team pursuing a starting pitcher via trade. Many of us expressed some skepticism that starting pitcher was the area in which we are most needy and I tended to agree then, and do more so now. Here’s why:

Here’s how we compare with the Cubs and Brewers over the first half of the season. Def Eff is team defensive efficiency as measured by the Hardball Times. BP’s measurement isn’t very different, if you prefer theirs.

R/G ERA -- starters ERA -- bullpen Def Eff
Cubs 5.46 4.08 3.44 .707
Cards 4.62 4.01 4.29 .705
Brewers 4.54 4.14 4.10 .700

Now, many of you aren’t going to believe that the Cubs defense is the best in the division but, as I said, BP’s isn’t much different. Both measures have them in the top 5 in baseball in terms of their defense. Yes, it’s been slightly better than ours. As for their offense, it’s been much better than ours and much better than just about everybody’s. There’s little question of its potency. And their team ERA is more than a run and a half LOWER than their offensive production. If they keep that up, they won’t be caught and we’re playing for the Wild Card. There’s no shame in that. Perhaps playing the Cards another 12 times will bring them back to earth slightly but it’s safe to say that their success in the first half has been no fluke. Dammit!

As for the Cards, it’s pretty clear to me which part of our team has struggled the most. Our starting rotation has been the best in the division – Cubs included. Now I realize that Wainwright’s going to miss another month or so, but w/ Wellemeyer, Pineiro, Looper, Lohse, and Boggs, are we really in need of another starter? Particularly one along the lines of Jarrod Washburn, Vicente Padilla, or (God help us) Miguel Batista? Wellemeyer’s elbow’s a little scary but, if he and Boggs are the two biggest question marks as we approach the trade deadline, judging by his start Thursday and Boggs’ start yesterday, I’m feeling OK about our chance to keep pace. And, yes, Kennedy’s terrible and Duncan’s been awful. It’s reasonable to wonder whether or not Ludwick and Schumaker are going to be as good in the 2nd half as they’ve been in the first half. Still, in looking at those numbers, the one thing that jumps out is how high the team’s bullpen ERA is. Our bullpen ERA is 14th in the NL and 25th in baseball. It seems to me that it’s our pen that will be more likely to keep us from making the playoffs than our rotation or 2nd base or Chris Duncan.

I’m not going to run through the litany of possibilities here but it’s pretty obvious, also, that our right-side in the pen isn’t too shabby. We’ve got Springer, Perez, McClellan all setting up for Franklin or, best case scenario, Izzy pitches much better and we have the first 4 righties setting up for Izzy. It’s the left side that’s the problem. So I’ll just throw out a couple of suggestions here.

First – Jaime Garcia. Many of you have gone on record as saying "he’s not ready!" He does, after all, only have a grand total of 59.1 innings at AAA. However, he’s averaging 7.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, .76 HR/9, and he’s left-handed. The organization is going to want to limit the innings he throws this season anyway since he did experience some minor elbow problems at the end of the ’07 season. Right now he’s at 94.1IP between Springfield and Memphis. Another 5 starts at Memphis gets him to about 130 IP. It’ll be just after the All-Star break and the club could call him up, put him in the bullpen and have him get 25 or so bullpen innings down the stretch for the big club. This gets him to between 150-160 IP on the season, assuming we don’t make the playoffs. If we do, he throws another 10-15 in postseason and is able to help the club w/o overdoing it.

Will he help the club? Almost certainly. Does anyone here really believe he won’t be better than Randy Flores? Is there anyone here who has a lot of faith in Randy’s brother Ron? I don’t know how good Garcia would be out of our pen, but he’ll certainly be better than what we’ve got, and we’re going to have to either shut him down or put him in the pen anyway to limit his innings. The point is that we’ve got a ready-made solution and we wouldn’t have to give up anyone in order to do it. Some have pointed out that he’s not on the 40 man roster. That’s an easy problem to solve also as it could be solved by the release of Flores, Jimenez, Rico Washington, Mulder, or Clement, for example. The limited number of innings Garcia would throw wouldn’t prevent him from being under the club’s control for 6 more years beyond this one. In short, the club has nothing to lose in trying him.

Another possibility is this guy should the Dodgers fall out of the race. I’m not sure that they will but he’s as viable an option as Derek Lowe is for our rotation. He’s left-handed, strikes out about 5.5 per 9 IP, walks just over 3 per 9 IP, gets ground balls about 56% of the time, and has given up just one homerun in his last 112 IP. Oh yeah, he’s also a free agent at the end of the year so the Dodgers don’t have a huge reason NOT to trade him, if they decide they’re going to be sellers. A lot of people have tossed around names like Damaso Marte and Brian Fuentes, but let’s not forget about this guy. He would be an immediate lift to our pen.

Down on the farm, Clayton Mortensen had a good outing – 6 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K and you know who is still en fuego. How’s 19 for his last 39 PA’s sound? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider trading Ludwick or Ankiel rather than Mortensen or Anderson down the stretch, as long as we got someone in return who could help us beyond this year.