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swings, hits, misses

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the first two games of the series were essentially ties --- two very well-pitched starts for each side, a poor relief outing by each team’s ace, and a win apiece. justice reigned. the cubs won the tie-breaker handily and earned the series win, which in itself is no cause for great concern; long way to go. but the ragged start by wellemeyer? concerning. i’ll grant that he pitched better than the linescore suggests --- he only yielded one extra-base hit, and that one occurred only because ankiel misplayed the ball; several of the 8 singles the cubs piled up against wellemeyer were dinks and dumps. also to the good, he got the cubs to swing and miss 9 times yesterday, his best total since the elbow started to bother him. so it’s possible to spot glimmers of hope in yesterday’s performance --- but they’d only be glimmers. wellemeyer has yet to go more than 5 innings since his troubles began, and he’s yielding contact at far greater rates than he did previously.

the numbers bear that out. pre-elbow ache, wellemeyer had twice as many swinging strikes (133) as hits allowed (65) --- quite a measure of dominance. if a batter swung, he was twice as likely to miss altogether as he was to do anything positive with the pitch. to place that into context, three of the cards’ starting pitchers (lohse, pineiro, and looper) have 1:1 ratios of swing/misses to hits this season, and their best pitcher (wainwright) has a ratio of 1.6 swing/misses per base hit. wellemeyer was considerably more dominant than that for two months. indeed, he was nearly as stingy of contact as nl strikeout leaders tim lincecum and cole hamels, who both induce 2.2 swing/misses per hit; just as stingy as dan haren (2.0); and more so than brandon webb (1.9), ben sheets (1.6), johan santana (1.8), and zambrano (1.3).

for two months he was as hard to make contact with as almost any pitcher in the league. but in his last 3 starts --- ie, not counting the 6/13 debacle against philadelphia, when he clearly was not sound --- the colonel has given up 25 base hits against 22 swinging strikes, a 1:1 ratio. so while it may be argued that yesterday’s performance was mildly encouraging, he clearly has quite a ways to go to get back to where he was. yeah it’s a small sample size, but these numbers jibe with what we’re all seeing with our eyes: the colonel can’t throw it past people the way he did early in the season. insofar as he already has thrown 20 innings more than he did last year (when he set his personal high in innings pitched at the big-league level), it shouldn’t surprise anybody that welley’s hitting a wall. looper, another converted reliever, came down with a throbbing elbow last year at almost the same point in the season. loop ended up on the dl (as welley probably should have), and when he returned he struggled --- 6-6 with a 5.18 era for the rest of the year. if wellemeyer pitches like that from here on out. . . . . no need to complete the thought.

let’s talk instead about the brewers’ big trade. it’s the type of trade walt jocketty used to make back in the day, packaging up prospects for superstar rentals. that’s how he got mcgwire, rolen, edmonds, kile, larry walker --- eventually he overplayed the hand, but for a while that approach served the organization very well. the difference for the brewers is that they probably won’t (as walt used to do) be able to make a serious play at retaining their catch beyond this year: it’s all or nothing in 2008. i can’t say i fault them. just as there are times when it makes sense for a hitter to swing at the first pitch in an at-bat, there are moments in a franchise’s development when aggressiveness is a greater virtue than patience. you’re looking for a certain pitch, and it comes down the pipe --- there’s no point in extending the at-bat any further. take a full rip and hope for the best. that’s just what the brewers are doing --- and it might be the correct percentage play, even though 6 years of matt laporta will almost surely prove to be worth more than 2 months of cc sabathia. the more pertinent question is this: are the brewers more likely to win a championship with sabathia this year, or with la porta at some point in the next 6 years? that’s a judgment call, and a highly speculative one, but given the likely departure of ben sheets after this season you can’t blame doug melvin for thinking his present with cc looks brighter than his future with la porta. he obviously thinks he can make a deep run this year. if he’s right, then it’s a good trade imho even if la porta becomes an all-star.

what does it mean for the cardinals? let’s not kid ourselves --- it’s a major blow to their postseason hopes. milwaukee had a .500 record as of may 31; since then they have gone 21-11, the best record in the national league, and they’ve added a huge new weapon to their arsenal. but the cards’ 17-16 record over that span is the 3d-best in the league, and it was forged largely without wainwright, wellemeyer, and pujols; albert’s playing again, and (cross fingers) maybe welley can regain at least some of his former effectiveness. wainwright is still expected to make 8 to 10 starts before the end of the season. nothing else the cards can do but keep scrapping and try to keep their chances alive; they still have 72 games on the schedule, and they will show up for them and try to win them. their job is to stay within shouting distance, hoping that as they get healthier they’re still close enough to make a run.

should mozeliak counter melvin with a trade of his own to bolster the rotation? he certainly shouldn’t, and can’t afford to, trade away top prospects as milwaukee just did, but he might have to find innings somewhere --- especially if carpenter is ticketed for the bullpen upon his return. because what are the other options? we’ll find out soon enough if mulder can contribute; seems pretty unlikely to me, but the cards want to eliminate that possibility before they look elsewhere. if he doesn’t work out? well, let’s see: anthony reyes has worn out his welcome (what little he had to begin with), matt clement’s arm doesn’t work, and brad thompson lacks the talent. i think the cards would be best served not to look to the minors --- none of their top rotation prospects (boggs, garcia, todd, and mortensen) has made more than a dozen starts at triple A, and none is really prepared for big-league competition at the moment. it doesn’t serve the players' long-term interests, nor the organization’s, to throw them into situations they’re not ready to handle; if the cards are truly committed to the future, they should let those guys develop naturally rather than forcing them to the majors prematurely.

should they trade one of ’em for a veteran rent-a-pitcher? i’d hate to see them deal garcia or todd, but i could live with a trade involving one of the other two. i think the cards have sufficient long-term mound depth that they won’t miss either boggs or mortensen. they already have wainwright and carpenter under control for the next three to four years, plus pineiro for next season and welley for at least another two. beyond those guys, they have five viable internal rotation candidates who are almost ready: garcia, todd, mcclellan, boggs, and mortensen. six, if you count mike parisi (and i still think he could be a 5th-starter type). they don’t have room on the big-league roster for all of those guys; maybe it makes sense to cash in some value now, rather than let it die on the vine. of course, it might make more sense to wait another year, let some things settle out, and cash in at that point --- save the prospects and hope that some other, better trade opportunity presents itself down the line. if you made that case, i wouldn’t argue with you. but that likely means the cards’ promising start to 2008 goes for naught. if the cards don’t make a move to shore up that rotation, it very well might be in tatters a month from now.

i can see both sides of the argument; if the cards choose to let this season slip away and conserve their resources for next year, that is a defensible decision. maybe it is the best and wisest decision. i won't complain if that's how it plays out. but we should be realistic about the probable consequences of inaction.