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The Best of What's Around

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Today’s thread may be a pretty short one. I’ve been moving all week and am pretty beat as I type this so we’ll see how it goes. I did just finish watching the replay of the men’s 100M finals – the race for the fastest in the world. Jamaica’s Usain (Lightning) Bolt ran an insane-in-the-membrane 9.69 to destroy the rest of the world. One interesting thing I noticed as I watched him (and the other 7 finalists) cross the finish line is that he failed to slide headfirst across the finish line. Were you watching Skip?

It’s been a pretty good week for Michael Phelps but it’s been a pretty good week for the Cardinals also. Just when it looked like the Brewers might run away and hide from the rest of the Wild Card field, the Cards decided to win 5 of 6, and the last 4 in a row – all on the road – to get within striking distance once again. Still, as I documented last week, the Brewers have a distinctly easier schedule coming down the stretch and the Cards are going to have to finish superbly in order to surpass them. So how to make it happen?

Well, first off – the Cards got some great news yesterday as Adam Wainwright pitched a superb game at Springfield. He was facing AA competition, but he threw 64 pitches – 43 of them for strikes – and struck out 7 while yielding only 3 hits in 4.2 IP. I wasn’t able to find anything about his use of the curveball but this start was distinctly better than his previous starts. It also seems that, based on the number of pitches thrown, the organization has come around to using our best pitcher as a starter – thus facing more hitters and pitching more innings – rather than as a reliever. Good news all around!

Pineiro’s thrown 2 good starts in a row and Looper’s pitching well. They’re going to have to keep it up now that Carp’s on the DL but it appears as though Wainwright will join the rotation Friday in Houston. Let’s pray that Chris Perez doesn’t blow a save in the next 6 days!

If the Cardinals are to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to pull out all the stops in the final month. Part of that, of course, means putting Wainwright in the rotation and taking advantage of our off-days as much as possible to utilize a 4-man rotation. A final suggestion I’d like to make, assuming he’s healed from his injury, is to call up Colby Rasmus and put him in the starting lineup. He should play every day, or at least against righthanders, where he could platoon w/ Mather. Ankiel and Ludwick would, of course, comprise the other 2 OF positions.

The team simply isn’t going to be able to upgrade in any meaningful way at 2b, SS, or in the pen, over the last month or so. Sure, we can call up Motte and hope that he provides a little relief but there are no shortstops for us to add, from Memphis or another major-league team, that could materially improve the team over the final five weeks. The biggest addition the team could possibly make would be adding Rasmus to the roster and putting him in the lineup most every day.

The advantages to this maneuver are the following: First, Rasmus has the potential to be a very good ballplayer. Skip, though he’s had a very good year, is limited in what he offers the team. He had a great 3-run homer yesterday but has little power and doesn’t steal bases. He’s been getting on base at a pretty good rate, but even w/ his .362 OBP his OPS is just .779. He’s had a good year, to be sure, w/ an OPS+ of 106 but Ankiel and Ludwick simply offer more offense and a defense that is at least equal to Skip’s. Rasmus’ potential is certainly higher than Schumaker’s as well and reports are that his defense is solid. According to BP, his peak translation EQA is .288 compared w/ Skip’s .279 EQA. The bottom line is that Rasmus simply offers the potential to be better than Skip.

I should add once again, that this is predicated on the notion that Rasmus returns from his injury healthy and able to play over the final month. According to reports, Rasmus is close to returning and is expected to play a few games for Memphis before their season ends on September 1.

Will he be better over the final month? Who knows? He might struggle over that month. He has shown signs of streakiness in the minors and it’s possible that he won’t be very good. If that’s the case, of course, Tony could bench him in favor of Skip. But it’s time to take some chances. We’re behind the Brewers and they have the scheduling advantage so we’re going to have to get every bit of help we can get. If Rasmus plays poorly, it likely will play little role in the team’s playoff hunt. He’ll get benched and it’s doubtful that his poor play would cost us more than a win or so. Considering we’re starting from behind anyway, it’s a risk worth taking.

Another advantage to playing Rasmus is that it will help him become accustomed to major league pitching. He got some experience this spring and played very well. He batted .302, w/ a .464 OBP, and a .605 SLG in 56 PA’s. He stole 3 bases w/o being caught and hit 2 2B’s, 1 3B, and 3 HR’s. He walked 13 times and struck out only 8. Granted, the fact that he often played later in games meant that he wasn’t facing the best competition, and we are only talking about 56 PA’s, but there’s every reason to believe that he can succeed at the major league level. I doubt he’ll be lacking confidence as he steps to the plate. Getting 60 or 70 PA’s over the last month will help prepare Rasmus for his inevitable (hopefully) entrance into the Cards’ starting lineup next year.

Another advantage to this approach will be that it won’t speed up Rasmus’ arbitration clock. He’ll get major league experience, and some service time, but it won’t put him a year closer to arbitration-eligibility or free agency. The Cards will be able to control him for the final month of this season + 6 more seasons. In other words, even if he struggles, the experience he gains will help him over the next 6 seasons and he’ll have that experience when he takes the field next spring. There’ll be little on-the-job training.

So how good might Rasmus be? That, of course, is hard to say. Pujols was almost an 11-win over replacement player in his rookie season and had an outstanding first month – better than his season as a whole. Even allowing that, Pujols would’ve only added about 2 wins during the month of April. Now, I would never expect Rasmus to be as good as Pujols, let alone Pujols in one of his better months. Nevertheless, if Pujols was worth 2 wins over replacement in his first month, is it not possible for Rasmus to be worth 1.25 – 1.5 wins over replacement? Now, Skip so far has been about 4 wins over replacement. That would translate to about .8 wins over replacement per month so the difference between Rasmus and Skip, even best-case scenario, is probably .5 to .75 wins.

Again, I didn’t say probable, I said possible. It’s possible, as I said, that he won’t be as good as most anticipate he’ll be, and it’s possible that he’ll struggle in his first month in the bigs, but that .5 to .75 wins he MIGHT ADD could be the difference between the Cardinals making the playoffs and not. And I’ll go out on a limb and say that, if he plays poorly and costs us a win vs. going w/ Skip the last month, it will hurt us less than the .75 wins he might add will help us. Since we’re behind, we have little lose by trying this.

There is danger in creating the idea, though it wouldn’t be true, that Rasmus is the savior – here to propel us to the playoffs. That wouldn’t be his role. His role would be to support Pujols, Ludwick, Glaus, and Ankiel and not to carry the team. That point would need to be made abundantly clear to him, to the media, and to the fans. But there is a danger if his being called up creates that mindset.

It’s entirely possible that the only way that Rasmus gets called up, or gets serious playing time, is if the Cards are eliminated but the truth of the matter is that Rasmus is the only addition the team can realistically make that MIGHT improve the team to any meaningful degree over the final month. It’s hardly a sure thing; I’ll be the first to acknowledge that but, at this point, assuming he’s healthy, it’s a risk worth taking.

I’ll be up w/ a game thread in a few hours. I’ve gotta get to bed. Cards’ll be going for the sweep against the Reds’ best pitcher this year – Edinson Volquez.