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The Nooner #28: Jaime Expectations

In just a few moments, Jaime Garcia takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in what is probably his last big chance with the organization that drafted him back in 2005. Garcia—somehow only 28 years old—has battled injury after injury since his last full season, the World Championship year of 2011. And with 2015 being his walk year, he needs a good showing this year just as much as the Cardinals do. But what exactly does that mean? What do the Cards really need from him right now?

In a word: efficiency.

The Cardinals have good pitchers in their rotation, but they’re far from efficient. It was fairly exciting to see Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha get through seven innings this week, because in recent outings the rotation has pitched more like Carlos Martinez yesterday: get to 100 pitches, but not make it through seven (or even six) innings. Among qualifiers, the Cardinals only have two pitchers—Lackey and Wacha—who are in the top 50 in MLB in pitches per inning pitched. If that continues, the effect on the bullpen could become disastrous real quick. As a team, the Cardinals’ staff has great numbers. But the starters have to find a way to get deeper into games. In a year without Adam Wainwright, the team desperately needs an innings-eater.

Sure it would be great if the 2010-2011 version of Garcia showed up this season, when he was arguably the second or third best pitcher in the rotation depending on whether Wainwright or Chris Carpenter happened to be hurt. But those days are likely gone; expecting Jaime to come out throwing complete games this season seems foolish at best. Obviously what the team really doesn’t need is for Garcia to get shelled over and over again or get re-injured, although the Marco Gonzales honks would probably see that as a win. But if Garcia can just be OK-to-good, take the ball every fifth day, and go deep into the games he does pitch, the team should consider that a windfall. And since Garcia isn’t likely to be able to fire 100+ pitches per outing every day, he’s going to have to get the Mets and every other team he faces to make soft contact. In short, Jaime Garcia needs to revive the Dave Duncan/Tony La Russa days of pitching to contact.

Getting five good innings out of Garcia today might be acceptable, but it’s not going to be sustainable. The team needs more from him. And if that means lining up the best possible defense behind him regardless of the offense that lineup might provide, so be it. This is likely the beginning to Jaime Garcia’s final chapter as a Cardinal. Let’s all hope it’s readable.

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Nooner #27: Bullpen Weirdness in the Windy City

C-Mart

Photo: Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I can’t get it out of my head: Carlos Martinez coming in for relief on Opening Night bothered me. I caught hell on Twitter for thinking so. I know, he doesn’t pitch until Saturday and needs to throw. But is putting him into the first game of the season with a completely rested bullpen really necessary? I mean, they have an awful lot riding on his success. Their belief in him—admittedly paired with other factors—basically cost Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller their jobs with the Cardinals, and sent the best pitcher on the staff this spring (Marco Gonzalez) to Triple A. C-Mart is the 5th starter. That’s his role. The rest of the guys in the ‘pen have their roles, too. Jordan Walden in the 8th and Trevor Rosenthal in the 9th, right? Nobody would question those moves. But no Seth Maness in the 7th? No Kevin Siegrist? I just can’t wrap my head around why Martinez in the 7th was even an option, let alone necessary. The only thing that would have made less sense is bringing Randy Choate in to face righties.

There’s always risk when a pitcher is on the mound, but Carlos Martinez taking a liner off the knee pitching in middle relief in Game 1 of 162 would have been infuriating. The old adage applies: sure, it worked out…but was it really the right move?

CCR   @birdbrained

2009 Guessology: The National League Championship Series

Well, I was 3 for 4 on my Guessology picks in the Division Series. Unfortunately, the one I guessed wrong is the one that hurts the most…my Cardinals got swept by the LA Dodgers. If you’d like to read my take on that series (or lack thereof), check out my column from last Sunday. 

OK, moving on…

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers Ladies and gentlemen, we have a rematch! These two teams battled it out last year, with the Phillies taking the series in five games to earn a trip to the World Series. The teams obviously haven’t changed much, so short memories could play a role in the demeanor of this NLCS. And the secondary stories are intriguing as well.

Dodger manager Joe Torre is trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since 2003 with the New York Yankees, and if he does he has a shot at facing his former club in
 the Fall Classic. The Dodgers have also reunited Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, who enjoyed a lot of success as teammates in Cleveland. Even though the Indians made a couple of World Series appearances in the 90’s, they never could win it all. Ramirez eventually won a 2009_NLCS.jpgcouple of rings with the Boston Red Sox, of course, and Thome just missed his chance by joining the Chicago White Sox in 2006. When they look across the diamond, they’ll see former Dodger Pedro Martinez, scourge of both the Indians and Yankees a decade or so ago and Ramirez’s teammate on the 2004 World Champion Red Sox.

The Phillies are up against a lot of history. They are trying to become the first NL team to win back-to-back World Series since the Cincinnati Reds did it over three decades ago in 1975-76. The Dodgers are hoping for a shot at their seventh world championship, and if they make it they’ll have to battle some history as well…they will either be a part of the first ever all-Los Angeles World Series against the Angels, or they will re-kindle one of the longest and deepest World Series rivalries of all time against the Yankees.

These teams match up pretty well top to bottom. Both have big bats in the middle of their lineups. Both have deep benches. Both can play defense, steal a base or two, and scratch out a run with smallball. Overall, the Phillies have the better rotation and the Dodgers have the better bullpen. It’s like a pick’em, really.

Pitching does win championships. The Phillies’ rotation isn’t vastly superior to the Dodgers’, but it is better. The Dodgers’ bullpen, however, is vastly superior to the Phillies’. When it comes down to it, a good starter can get you far…but a solid bullpen is essential to winning the four games it takes to finish off a seven game series. Dodgers in six.