Nobody left but Wellemeyer, and he's not very good; by the twenty-fifth inning of baseball a deep bullpen won't have much left, let alone one that's carrying three long men and was forced, at this point, to deploy the worst one. The real story is Kyle McClellan's continued struggles with control and, more generally, effectiveness. I'll say it again: with the fifth spot in the rotation used more sparingly and no longer manned exclusively by Todd Wellemeyer, this club's problem is depth on the right-hand side of the bullpen, namely not having any of it.
Should the Cardinals make a trade? I'm not sure there are many more bullets left in that gun, but assuming Holliday is staying past 2009, Daryl Jones for a cost-controlled reliever who doesn't suck or Jon Jay and trinkets for a Dave Weathers type wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. In fact, it might even be better than watching Todd Wellemeyer pitch with runners on base.
But bittersweetness aside, this is a series to feel good about, and by god I'm not going to dwell on this loss, if for no reason other than the fact that yesterday's Wellemeyer-looking-sad picture is already in use. (As someone who has looks at the photo-selector every time I write a post I think I am in a position to say this: Wellemeyer leads the league in head-in-hands AP photos, and it isn't particularly close. For a guy who is sanguine after every start—"Well, I thought my stuff was great, I just threw one bad pitch and those seven runs got in"—he spends a lot of his time in the dugout auditioning to appear in Linkin Park videos.)
So, with that in mind: three things worth dwelling upon in this series:
1. Batting Around
When I think of batting around, personally, I think of the NBA All-Star Game. That's a terrible lead-in, because I honestly have no reason for making that connection; It just has that feel for me, especially in home games. When Schumaker came back up to the plate on the 28th it felt like Shaq was trying to dribble the ball between his legs or something, and everybody, Dodgers, Cardinals, fans, was in on the joke. It's like when a position player comes in to pitch, too, only there's no solemn moralizing from the losing manager and the guy the backup second baseman strikes out. On this team, which has not only acquired an extra all-star but has also suddenly become enjoyable to watch, the connection's even more real to me.
It wouldn't be defensively advisable, but it's heartening to have, in reserve, the thought that the Cardinals could field a lineup in which the only player who doesn't get on base more than an average NL hitter is Colby Rasmus, who Everybody Knows is a thicker mustache away from being an offensive juggernaut. Even the defensively minded shortstop—out for a few days, if you didn't see it, and spooked enough by his bruise that he, a guy who licks his shoulder before every at-bat, called it gross—is an offensive upgrade from last year's model.
When was the last time the Cardinals had an offense this prone to turning itself over? Well, would you believe last year? It's hard for me to consider this, because those mid-80s wins/no playoffs teams always seem like long, unrewarding slogs after the fact, but they could get on base—what they lose at second, short, and Matt Holliday they gain at third, Rick Ankiel, and Ryan Ludwick. In fact, the last time the Cardinals weren't in the top five in NL OBP—if this year doesn't count—was 1999, a team that hit well when everybody was hitting well, and also gave Eli Marrero 343 plate appearances with an on-base percentage of .236.
It's a simple diagnosis to come to, but I guess that's why this team has been frustrating in a way that 2008's wasn't, even though they've spent a good portion of the season comfortably in first place—these Cardinals teams haven't pitched, sometimes, and the 2007 squad seemed bound and determined to leave all the home run hitting to Albert Pujols, but they've always gotten on base.
Watching this one do it, after months seemingly devoted to every player on the team having a two week period in which he is not allowed to get on base except by fielder's choice, is making something I've taken for granted as a Cardinals fan a lot sweeter.
2. Rick Ankiel!
I'm going to link the video from yesterday's home run because that swing is the platonic ideal home run for Rick Ankiel; it's the one I imagine when I hear him hit one on the radio. When I was pulling that video up I happened to take a look at his other recent home runs—July 25 in Philadelphia (shut up Ken Rosenthal), July 23 in Washington—and I was surprised to see that the swing each time looked almost identical. (For a prototypical swing, I will admit, even as the biggest Rick Ankiel fan there is, it doesn't happen very often.)
The same is true of their statistics on HitTracker; all three have a true distance over 400 feet, all of them were hit at a considerably higher vertical angle than his usual shot, and all of them would have been a home run at all 30 ballparks. The interesting thing is that he's never been one to hit these Majestic Home Runs; his vertical angle of 31.4 degrees for the home run in Washington was the fourth highest of his career, and at 121 feet its apex was a career high. Most of his home runs, even at his hottest in 2008, were liners, hit below the bottom of what HitTracker calls the usual range; lately, with his new-and-improved swing, there's something different.
And something different is good for a guy who's only got home runs to show for seven percent of his fly balls this year. I'm not saying that this is evidence of something that's going to carry over, or that it's proof his approach really has improved; it's just one more thing that suggests it. And now that he's the fourth outfielder, I'm happy with that.
Wellemeyer losing yesterday's game—sorry, I know I promised—is good news if you're not too strict about that whole means to an end thing. It means that today the Cardinals will live or die, for the first time since it became obvious that something was wrong with Todd Wellemeyer, with their best option on the mound.
Given the moral victory that that, by itself, entails, all I want is this: more strikeouts than walks; fewer runs than innings pitched. Stay above the Wellemeyer line, basically.
Oh, while we're at it: fewer runs than Brian Moehler allows.