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The September Shuffle

I had an epiphany last night while watching the Cardinals flail wildly at everything Wandy threw up there. I finally realised just what it is about our coaching staff's philosophies that bothers me so much.

We've heard, for years and years and years now, about the Dave Duncan School of Pitching, also known as the Great Contact Academy. Duncan's philosophy has always focused on getting quick outs and avoiding walks. The earlier in the count you can get a player to swing and get himself out, the better. Walks are to be avoided at all costs; they're the very worst thing you can possibly do.

On the other hand, you have Hal McRae and his hitting philosophy, which is apparently to swing early, swing often, and don't stop swinging until you're done. Cardinal hitters consistently take the most aggressive approach possible to the plate; first pitch swinging is common, especially in anything resembling an RBI situation.

Do you see the problem? Essentially, the Cardinals are their own pitching coach's dream matchup. For a pitching coach who despises walks above all else, a team that constantly swings early in the count, long before the walk becomes much of a concern, would be absolute heaven. So my question is this: if your pitching coach, considered by many people to be the best in the game -- and possibly the best ever -- thinks walks are the very worst outcome to a plate appearance, don't you think you might encourage your offense to do just that thing to opposing pitchers?

Now, don't get me wrong here; I'm not saying the Cards would have had a ton of chance against Wandy regardless of how they approached him. The little guy was flat on, and sometimes you just aren't going to hit a guy. But watching Cardinal hitters constantly hacking away last night, I was struck by the dichotomy of philosophies on hitting and pitching. You value aggressive, early swinging when pitching, because it leads to quicker, easier outs. And hitting? You counsel your hitters to be aggressive early and be ready to swing at the first strike the batter sees.

September is very nearly here, and along with that comes expanded rosters, that most exciting time of year when we get to see at least a couple guys brought up, guys whose names we may have heard all year long as they put themselves on the map with big seasons. Or maybe just Nick Stavinoha. Either way.

So I thought I would look today at the players most likely to get the call in a little less than a week to help bolster the Cards' roster down the stretch. I'm not expecting a huge haul, if only because the Cardinals under Tony La Russa have mostly declined to call up more than a handful of players. Another odd philosophical move to my way of thinking; Tony frets all year long about running short of players, particularly pitchers, and then when the chance comes to bring up enough extra guys to be able to double- and even triple-switch between pretty much every batter if he would like, he declines to do so in order to keep from having too many players just hanging around. Sigh.

Beginning with position players, just because.

Matt Pagnozzi, Catcher-- yeah, I know, and I agree. Pagnozzi is kind of a terrible player. He doesn't hit, he isn't particularly good at throwing out runners; in short, he just doesn't do a whole lot that stands out. Of course, he does have that magical quality of Intangible, which as far as I can tell is just shorthand for "the thing that keeps guys on a team when there isn't any real reason for them to be on the team." I'm exaggerating, but only kind of. Still, with the Cards' only real catching prospect in the high minors, Bryan Anderson, both hurt and going the way of the dodo on prospect lists, I don't see any way Pags2 doesn't get the call as the third catcher. And let's face it: third catcher isn't the sort of job description that lends itself to real impact, positive or negative. He'll need to be added to the 40 man roster, but I think he may have the inside track to replace LaRue next year, so I don't believe that will be an issue. Odds of Callup: 90%

David Freese, Third Base-- Ah, the sad tale of David Freese! A tale of woe and gloom and ankle problems, existing only to break the heart of those who hear it! Freese is likely first in line to try and fill the Cards' hot corner vacancy in 2010 if they fail to resign Mark of the Rose, and he's capable of playing solid defense at either corner infield position. If it were my team, he would get the call. However, it isn't my team, and so things are much less cut and dried here. He's been out quite a bit of the year with an injury, so the Cardinals may be hesitant to keep him playing all the way up until October. Odds of Callup: 50%

Tyler Greene, Shortstop-- Tyler, on the other hand, has probably got this thing in the bag. He's already been up this season, and made a fairly representative showing. Sure, the low contact rate followed him up as most of us expected, but he showed a little pop, a little speed, a nice glove, and the ability to play three infield positions. Even with Thursty Joe still somehow hanging around (seriously, how does that happen?), the promise of versatility will be enough to get Tyler back to the 'Lou. Odds of Callup: 90%

Nick Stavinoha, Outfield-- Sigh. As sure as I am we'll see both Greene and Pagnozzi up with the big club, I'm actually even more sure we'll see the Stav Infection. He's like John Gall, but with a freakish resemblance to Aaron Miles. Call it my Lock of the Week. Odds of Callup: 95%

Joe Mather, Outfield-- now this one is a bit more interesting. We got a taste of what Joey Bombs is all about last season. We saw the power, the defense, that loping athleticism. For a while, it looked as if Mr. Bombs might even end up taking the lion's share of time at third base this season. Sadly, injuries to his wrist have made 2009 a lost season for Joe, and I wonder if the Cardinals will want to bring him up and put off his rest and rehab any longer than necessary. On a personal level, i kind of hope we see him, just because I'm a fan, but I can certainly understand why we may not. Odds of Callup: 40%

Jarrett Hoffpauir, Second Base-- We all love the Hoff. Admit it, you love the Hoff. You don't have to be shy; it's okay to love the Hoff. That being said, the Hoff is limited to second base defensively (well, he would be on a sane team; on a Tony team, his inability to throw a ball more than 40 ft means nothing; let's get him some reps in right field, shall we?), and he isn't a particularly imposing hitter. His one great skill is the ability to take a walk, and I'm not entirely sure how highly valued that is 'round these parts. (See my intro for further details.) Odds of Callup: 60%

Shane Robinson, Outfield-- Sure, he's just the sort of player both Cardinal manager and Cardinal fans love, but seeing as how he hits right-handed, I'm not sure Robinson has a ton of value. Sure, he's at least a real outfielder, but that's another of those things I'm not sure matters as much as you or I might like. After all, why keep an outfielder on the roster when an infielder can stand out there and hope the ball doesn't come toward him? Odds of Callup: 50%

Jon Jay, Outfield-- Now we're getting into more of an audition sort of role, and La Russa teams rarely have many spots for these sorts of players. On the upside, Jay is left-handed, which is actually a bonus now that the roster has been so radically reconstructed, and is capable of playing excellent defense in all three outfield positions. On the downside, Skip Schumaker is a lot like Jay, and can still be moved back to the outfield whenever needed. Jay would also have to be added to the 40 man, so I think this one is a long shot. Odds of Callup: 20%

Mark Hamilton, First Base-- He's big. He's strong. He's left-handed. And he can flat out hit. Larry thinks Hamilton might warrant a call as a big bench bat, and I might be inclined to agree, if not for the fact I think there's another guy who might make a better choice for that role. Again, would need to be added to the 40. Another definite long shot. Odds of Callup: 15%

Allen Craig, Third Base/ Left Field/ Whatever-- Remember about ten seconds ago, when I said there was a guy who was probably better as a September bench bat? I was talking about Craig, who has done nothing but hit since, well, ever. Plenty has been said both here and over at Future Redbirds about the truly baffling way Craig has been handled, and honestly, I expect the bafflement to continue. He would be a perfect fit to step in and offer some real thunder off the bench -- sort of like a good version of Stavinoha -- but I just don't expect it to happen. Hopefully, I'm proven wrong. Odds of Callup: 20%

And now, for the pitchers.

P.J. Walters, RHP-- Let's face it: wicked awesome screwball or no, Walters just can't seem to get his shit together for any extended period of time. He showed some good at the major league level, but got his ass handed to him plenty of other times. He dominates at the Triple A level, then walks everyone and gets knocked around the next time out. I just can't figure him out. Nonetheless, he's already been here this season, and gives Tony an option to soak up some innings if need be. Odds of Callup: 90%

Josh Kinney, RHP-- Another for the enigma file. Kinney is still living off his brilliant 2006 postseason performance in a lot of our hearts, even though he's been just godawful this season. Still, there's very little downside to bringing him up, so I expect to see him. Odds of Callup: 90%

Royce Ring, LHP-- Ring has been pretty outstanding in the minors this year, and we all know how much Tony likes being able to play his matchup games. The only problem is Ring would have to be added to the 40 man roster, but I think someone like Hoffpauir could be moved off if necessary, assuming he doesn't get called up. Tough call on this one; I expect Tony to want him up, and Mozeliak to be hesitant due to the roster machinations needed. Odds of Callup: 30%

Matthew Scherer, RHP-- hey, there's got to be some reason he was put on the 40 before the season, right? Scherer hasn't been overwhelming in Triple A this season, but he's been pretty good. For a team suddenly looking a bit thin in terms of right-handed relief, he just might be a nice option, in a path-of-least-resistance sort of way. I have to admit, I do sort of wish I were talking about Luis Perdomo here instead of Scherer. Oh, well. Odds of Callup: 50%

Jaime Garcia, LHP-- Another really tough call. The thing is, if Garcia is healthy -- and he appears to be -- he fits both the "help now" and "future audition" imperatives which drive most September callups. On the other hand, John Mozeliak has stated publicly he doesn't expect to see Garcia this year; I can only imagine due to some sort of hesitance to rush him back. To which I would reply: what exactly is the difference between a pitch thrown at the major league level and the Triple A level? Either way, the pitch is still being thrown. I suppose an argument could be made for the level of intensity being different, but I'm not sure I quite buy it. If it were me in the big chair, I would have Garcia up here and get him into a few games, but I'm doubtful that's going to happen. Odds of Callup: 30%

Eduardo Sanchez, RHP-- And now we come to the really fascinating one. Sanchez is, as most of you probably know, the newest hot thing down at Double A, where he's closing out games and making hitters look utterly helpless while doing it. Honestly, Sanchez is a little bit like Francisco Samuel, who made such an impression in spring training, except he actually has an idea where the ball is going when he lets go of it. Personally, I would looooove to see Sanchez brought up; I've seen him a couple times, and he's just ridiculous. He can hit 98, 99 with his fastball, and I honestly don't know what the breaking thing he throws is supposed to be, but I can tell you it's unhittable. Of all the guys the Cards could possibly bring up, Sanchez probably represents the best chance of catching lightning in a bottle, in much the same way the Angels did back in '02 with Francisco Rodriguez. Will the Cardinals take the chance? I highly doubt it. Sanchez will likely finish his year out in Double A, and get a chance at an NRI for spring training next year. Still, if you're looking for a guy who could come up and possibly make a real, meaningful impact, I would have to say Sanchez is the guy you're hoping for. I think he could get major leaguers out right now, if only given the chance. Odds of Callup: 15%

I considered a few other guys, but purposely ignored anyone going to the Arizona Fall League. This specifically ruled out Dan Descalso, who I would love to see get at least a look with the big club, and Daryl Jones, who I also love but is probably best served getting regular work after a tough year spent trying to stay healthy consistently.


The Baron's Playlist for 26th August, 2006

"The Golden Age" - Resonars

"No Fun" - The Stooges

"If You Can't Give Me Everything" - The Reigning Sound

"Making Time" - Creation

"Trash" - New York Dolls (In honour of the best garage rock show in St. Louis, and the DJ with the sexiest voice.)