I think this might be why closers feel so much more important than they are—what you remember from a game is just as situational as leverage index. Lance Berkman's goofy route to Angel Sanchez's double in the ninth inning wouldn't mean anything in a 6-0 game, but in a 6-5 game it reminds us about the original plan to replace him defensively whenever possible. Here are the sloppy plays and situations from tonight's Cardinals-Astros game that we can forget forever, now that Eduardo Sanchez has successfully retired three batters without giving up three runs:
1. Ryan Franklin is in serious trouble. I led with this one because it's the last one we'll forget. Tony La Russa's quick hook brings us to the next step in the Ryan Franklin Situation; he's become the last pitcher out of the bullpen, which was the right first step, but what do you do with the last pitcher out of the bullpen when you can't trust him to get seventh-inning outs in a 6-0 game?
The obvious answer is to DFA him, and it's something I've thought about, even after memories of Jim Edmonds the Obviously Finished Padre came to mind. A lot of Franklin's value as a reliever has been tied up in ERAs that weren't in keeping with his peripherals in the first place, and I don't see him burning John Mozeliak with an outstanding second-half even if he does right the ship somewhere else.
But until Brian Tallet is wedged back into the bullpen I think keeping Franklin around is the right move. The Cardinals don't have an obviously superior near-term option in Memphis, and the medium-term opportunity they'd be forgoing isn't learning what Eduardo Sanchez can do in the Majors anymore; it's learning what P.J. Walters could do as a reliever.
2. Nick Punto should never, ever bat leadoff. I'll give this much to La Russa: if you're going to put a stunningly bad hitter in the leadoff spot, Nick Punto is maybe the best choice. Over the last two years he's hit .232/.328/.291, for an OPS+ of 68. Over 2009 and 2010, two players finished with a lower OPS in as many plate appearances as Punto, and they're both familiar: Cesar Izturis (.242/.284/.295) and Gerald Laird (.218/.289/.313.)
The Cardinals have had a lot of rough infield situations over the last several years, and most of them have been made worse by La Russa's inability to manage his extremely flawed parts in a way that minimized their exposure. Skip Schumaker's strengths and weaknesses are so obvious that his Strat-O-Matic card will burn your hand if you try to play it against a left-handed pitcher. He's a poor defensive infielder who can't hit southpaws, the ultimate Earl Weaver chess piece, so naturally he's not often replaced in the late innings and is indifferently platooned.
Nick Punto is a brilliant utility infielder who can't hit; his primary offensive function is to be much more likely than the average terrible hitter to clear the pitcher's spot with a nine-pitch walk. Combined with Skip Schumaker and company, he could produce some kind of two-WAR second base chimera. Instead, he's leading off, because middle infielders lead off.
3. Trever Miller's allowed six left-handed baserunners already. That was his third walk against them, when he walked just nine all last year. Miller's a true LOOGY, so if he's not vaporizing left-handers he's not very useful. But when you reach the specialists you're dealing with truly microscopic sample sizes, so I'm glad the bullpen didn't collapse quite enough to require a full bullpen-meltdown audit.
Of course, Sanchez's just-barely save also gives us a chance to enjoy some things we wouldn't otherwise have enjoyed.
1. Kyle Lohse! Lohse's control has been superb this season—his walk rate is still flirting with one per nine innings, five starts into his season—but that wouldn't be so exciting if his stuff weren't also compelling.
Worrying rotation-watchers: He is now 17 innings away from Brad Penny's 2010 season.
2. Tyler Greene! We've waited two years now for Tyler Greene to take advantage of the skimpy in-season opportunities he tends to get, and this is him doing it. It's difficult to be more productive across 21 at-bats and 11 games—he's got seven hits, a double, a home run, and five stolen bases in as many chances. He's even been hit by two pitches, while he's at it.
The Cardinals have to find a way to get Greene more at-bats; when the players ahead of him are Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Nick Punto, and Daniel Descalso this shouldn't be so difficult. He's fast and a middle infielder—maybe he could lead off!
3. Matt Holliday! Notorious Slow Starter Matt Holliday is now hitting .429/.538/.683.