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The Waiting is the hardest part

Joe Sheehan, at Baseball Prospectus, posted his NL second half preview online yesterday. Fortunately, (I believe) right now you can read this article and others at BP for free. There was some prophecy in it as well as a prediction about how Mozeliak will handle the next 10 days. Sheehan’s "player to watch" – Rickie Weeks. Rickie Weeks! Weeks, as we all know by now, had 2 hits and a walk last night. One of his hits was the key to the Brewers’ victory – a 3 run bomb into Big Mac Land off Joel Pineiro. Weeks has had a Kennedy-esque first half w/ a VORP of 2.2, an OPS of 691, and 73 K’s in 310 AB’s. He’s been positively awful but had an outstanding game yesterday, capped off by the homer. If he does play well the last couple of months, the Brewers will be tough.

The key part of Sheehan’s article that dealt w/ the Cardinals made the point that the team’s time horizon for winning really begins next year. Don’t misinterpret this as me giving up on this year – I’m not. It took awhile for me to get used to the idea that the team would be competitive this year but now that I’m on board, I’m staying there and I think the Cards will be in it ‘til the end. Sheehan says:

The target year for this organization is 2009, and every move they make that lessens their chance of winning in that year is a mistake. As hard as it must be for Tony La Russa to deal with, help isn’t coming, and the choice not to get that help is the right long-term decision.
First of all, I’m going on record as saying that Sheehan’s right – at least w/ most of it. If Mo, in the next 10 days, makes a move that sacrifices winning in the future for the possibility of winning today, he’s making a mistake. Giving up fringe prospects such as Parisi or possibly Jon Jay or maybe even Boggs wouldn’t be the calamity that giving up someone like Rasmus, Perez, or Garcia might but Mo needs to be careful about trading for players who are either free agents at the end of the year OR create longer term problems re: payroll or blocking prospects.

That part of Sheehan’s article is somewhat uninspiring. I mean, it’s just not that bold a statement to say that the Cards shouldn’t sacrifice the future for a chance at winning today. However, the next sentence says that "help isn’t coming" and implies that LaRussa isn’t going to like the fact that Mozeliak isn’t going to trade for veteran help. If Mo does decide to stand pat and go w/ what we’ve got, there’s little doubt that Tony will be unhappy. He’s already been outspoken about the Cards’ need to acquire someone following the Brewers’ and Cubs’ major acquisitions a week and a half ago.

Sheehan makes the prediction that Mo will stand pat at the trade deadline or, at least, will make a marginal addition to the roster rather than the big splash LaRussa seems to favor. It’s interesting that he would make such a prediction considering the fact that Mozeliak has no real track record that offers any sort of predictive value. He’s never been the GM of a contending team at the trade deadline. Even in the offseason, most saw the Cards as Sheehan does – as playing for 2009 – and Mozeliak’s decisions this offseason seem to indicate that that was his view as well. Maybe that’s enough to give Sheehan enough insight to feel comfortable predicting that Mo will do little over the next 10 days.

If Sheehan’s right, of course, that means no Brian Fuentes, no Matt Holliday, Jason Bay or Xavier Nady. Don’t count on Huston Street or Justin Duchscherer or probably even Jarrod Washburn. Ray Durham’s now off the market but we won’t be seeing Grudzielanek return to St. Louis if Sheehan’s right. These names, save Washburn, would all come w/ a fairly hefty price tag and Sheehan’s right when he says that "the choice not to get that help is the right long-term decision."

Still, I really think that the Cards will need a little help in order to remain ahead of the Brewers down the stretch. LaRussa feels the team needs a big hitter rather than a pitcher whereas I would argue that, if anything, the pitching staff needs help. The bullpen problems have been discussed ad-nauseum and they, once again, showed up last night. This time, it was our current "closer" (as opposed to last year’s closer or one of our lefties) who didn’t get it done. We’ve had 2 consistent arms in the pen – Kyle McClellan and Russ Springer. It’s difficult to say whether or not McClellan’s going to hold up as he’s only once in his professional career thrown more than 59.2 IP (128 in 2004) and he’s already at 54 this year. Still, we’re going to have to count on him to have any chance down the stretch. Is there any wonder that Sheehan also says that the NL Central’s "Pitcher to Watch" is Chris Perez. He was recently demoted to Memphis to work on his slider but he won’t be there long.

As the bullpen’s problems have gotten most of the attention, particularly of late, little has been said about the starting rotation. Pineiro threw 6 IP last year though he didn’t pitch particularly well. Though the starters are averaging 5.86 innings per start – 3rd in the NL, they haven’t had a starter get an out in the 8th inning since June 27, when Pineiro went 7.2 IP against the Royals. He gave up 7 ER in that game. That said, while Lohse (tonight’s starter) has been extremely good, the other starters have become 5-6 inning guys – at the most. If the pen’s not going to be any better, we’ll need to get more from Looper, Pineiro, et al. Unfortunately, their shakiness means we need to have a stronger pen. It’s the worst of all Catch-22s.

The one statement from Sheehan’s column that I take issue with is where he says that "help isn’t coming." I’m hoping he’s wrong. The team clearly needs Wainwright back in the rotation. First of all, he’ll settle that 5th spot that has seen Parisi, Boggs, Garcia take turns in the rotation. It appears likely that Brad Thompson will pitch in that spot Thursday opposite Sheets. But Wainwright’s return will allow him to eat more innings than the aforementioned replacements have, thus taking some of the burden off the pen. It will reduce their workload and allow Tony to use the better ones more frequently and the other ones less frequently. In June and July, the pen has given up 154 hits, 68 walks, and 18 homers against 113 K’s in 141.1 IP. Here are the ERAs for the rotation and the pen – comparing the first 2 months w/ the most recent month and a half:

April/May June/July
Rotation 4.06 4.60
Bullpen 4.00 4.46

Wainwright’s last start before going on the DL was June 7. Both the rotation have been considerably worse since he’s been on the DL and the team will almost certainly improve when he returns.

With any luck, Carpenter’s return will improve the team as well and, as I said earlier, Chris Perez won’t remain at Memphis forever. The point is that, even w/o Mo trading for anyone, the pitching staff should benefit by the "additions" of Wainwright, Carpenter, and Perez.

Now, you’ve by now all realized that I’m working under 2 pretty heavy assumptions: first – that Carpenter will return healthy and able to help the team. There’s a gamble w/ any "addition" and I can’t imagine that Carpenter won’t pitch at least as well as most of the pitchers we might add via trade. The second assumption is that Wellemeyer’s elbow is OK and he’ll finish the season as a healthy member of the rotation. That would enable us to move either Looper or Pineiro to the pen. Even if we end up w/ EITHER Carpenter OR Wellemeyer, the simple addition of Adam Wainwright adds more to the team than anything Mo could feasibly do at the trade deadline, and it will cost us nothing in 2009.

So, Cards’ fans: Be not afraid! Help is on the way in the form of Wainwright, (hopefully) Carpenter, and Perez. I’m still not opposed to adding a lesser-known (and less costly in terms of prospects!) lefty for the pen to replace Randy Flores. I’m thinking maybe Will Ohman or John Grabow . Ohman’s clearly better than Grabow but either are better than Flores and would provide some relief w/o bankrupting our future. Meanwhile, our present best starter, Kyle Lohse, goes tonight. He’s been terrific and has thrown 7 innings in each of the last 4 starts. He’s also been fantastic at home this year – 2.79 ERA. With Sabathia and Sheets going in the next 2 games, we’ll need to win this one.