Last Monday, I wrote that if I'd written over the weekend, the tone of the post would have been much more negative, but the Sunday win had helped clear away some of those depressing feelings. This week, flip that on its head. Writing on Saturday or Sunday would have been an upbeat situation. Today, there are issues. Let's quickly recap the games with the Heroes and the Goats and then get into the discussion points.
Hero: Albert Pujols. Two hits, two home runs, three RBI. There were a number of choices in this game, though. Lance Berkman also had a multi-homer game, tacking on numbers five and six for this week. Yadier Molina went four-for-four as well, starting to show a little life in the bat.
Goat: Skip Schumaker. A tough call since he did score a run and drive in one, but he was the only starter without a hit. As I've said before and will say again, not all Goats are created equal. (Neither are all Heroes, but usually it comes into play more on the negative side.)
Notes: Kyle Lohse continues to show that we possibly just haven't seen the real Lohse the last couple of years. Two runs in over seven innings, with six strikeouts to boot. In the early going, Lohse has been outstanding. (BTW, you can keep up with how Lohse is doing via Bob's Lohse-o-Meter, which I know was put up at least in part to tweak Bill Ivie.)
Also in the pitching department, Jason Motte had another solid outing, striking out two in an inning worth of work. After a rough start, Motte in his last three outings has thrown 3.2 innings and allowed only a single hit while striking out three and walking one. I'm not quite ready to put him into the closer role (we're getting to that topic) but it makes you feel a bit better about the late innings.
Hero: Kyle McClellan. Not only did he have a very good outing on the mound, giving up just one run in seven innings in his longest stint yet, but he battled at the plate as well against a top pitcher. He wore down Clayton Kershaw and, while he didn't get any hits, didn't allow Kershaw to catch his breath, which helped the rest of the lineup as well.
Goat: Every starter got a hit. McClellan threw a great start and Eduardo Sanchez struck out the side in the ninth. It's not really fair, but I've got to give the Goat to the Poet, Miguel Batista, since he allowed a run in his inning of work on two hits and a walk. Not exactly what you want to see out of your relievers, though to be fair it wasn't a close game. Plus it gave Christine a chance to write a haiku!
Notes: You give Lance Berkman the day off after he hits two home runs and the replacement thinks he's got to come up with something as well. Allen Craig did just that with a big home run and three hits, salting the game away and helpfully getting it out of the Franklin Zone. Ryan Theriot with three hits also had three hits, even if he had absolutely no clue what to do with them once he reached the basepaths.
Hero: Matt Holliday. If it wasn't for Holliday, the Dodgers are carrying a no-hitter late into the game. Holliday had three hits and a walk, plus scored the only run on David Freese's bloop single.
Goat: Ryan Franklin. More on that in a bit. Oh, much more on that in a bit. Suffice it to say, one batter, one swing, game over.
Notes: Freese proved that it's not how you start the game, it's how you finish. He struck out in his first three at-bats, but if Franklin finishes that game, no one remembers that, they just remember his game-winning hit. Chris Carpenter had a solid bounceback from his terrible Arizona start, being the Chris Carpenter we know and love. Six strikeouts in seven scoreless innings? Yes, please. Mitchell Boggs had a nice scoreless inning, while Trever Miller didn't do his job by allowing the lefty Andre Ethier to get a double, setting up Franklin's fall.
If there's one thing that Cardinal Nation agrees on this morning, it's this: Franklin has to go, at least from the closer role. Nobody has any doubts about it. This isn't one of those cases where Jason Isringhausen is walking tightropes but getting outs. This isn't a situation where a couple of tough back-to-back saves got away. These are classic save opportunities that a closer on a contending team (or, for that matter, on many non-contenders) locks down.
Just look at how these saves are being blown. Opening Day, a long home run to center field with two outs. The San Francisco opener, two outs then a hit, a wild pitch, a walk, and another hit. The next day, a one-out single and walk, then the two out long fly that Colby Rasmus can't come up with. Then yesterday's long home run to center field. Even the game he made an appearance in against Los Angeles earlier in the series, he gave up a long ball.
Look at these meaningless statistics that I have no point of reference for. In other words, they may not mean much, but they sure seem bad. Franklin has given up four home runs in three and 2/3 innings, which is a HR every 2/3rds of an inning. He's given up eight hits in just 87 pitches, which to be fair wouldn't be a bad thing for a starter. Still, I have to think relievers can do a little better than that.
Here's what I suggested on Twitter yesterday and elaborated on during Gateway To Baseball Heaven last night. I expect that Franklin will be placed on the disabled list today or tomorrow with some sort of ailment, possibly just the "dead arm" that gets used from time to time. Tony will make some comments about him physically being unable to do it, that we'll see what happens when he gets back from the DL, and that there's no set closer right now, that he'll look at matchups. Then someone will start getting the bulk of the ninth innings starting Tuesday. If Franklin returns, they probably start him back in the earlier innings with the goal toward making him the closer again if necessary.
The question is, who will get those innings? Mitchell Boggs has obviously gotten over the back problems and the team is using him in higher-leverage situations, so that's my choice. Miguel Batista, besides inspiring poetry, has a year of closing experience under his belt and is a favorite of TLR's, so I'm not ruling him out as a possibility either. I don't think that's the right choice, but I could see it being the actual one. Steve at Gas House Graphs agrees with me in a way, though he's more for the sabermetric "use your best guy at the most critical times" line of thought, which is a solid one. I do have some qualms with that, just because it's hard to know when the most critical time may be, but I do agree that saving your best guy for the ninth isn't always the best way to go.
A good number of people are starting to clamor for Sanchez to get the job, dazzled by his five strikeouts in two innings so far. Sanchez may be a great closer one day, I won't argue there. That said, there's no way you throw him into the ninth inning fire right now. Teams are going to get film on him, they are going to make adjustments, and he is going to get hit. It's not good for him mentally to have that happen to him in the closer role and it doesn't improve the team's standings either. If this was the playoffs, where it's two weeks and the element of surprise is still there, sure. That's what happened with the Angels and Francisco Rodriguez back in '02. But with 148 games left to go? I don't think so, especially when there are other options that are just as good, if not better.
A final note: It's a good thing Matt Sebek ran off Franklin from Twitter earlier this year, because if Franky was still checking in over there, I'd fear for his well-being. While on the whole the Twitter crowd is a more patient, more intelligent, less provocative group, there would have been a lot of pointed comments directed toward franky3131.
While it was a successful road trip (a good closer and a typical Carpenter start and the Cards are running a 10-game winning streak) wasn't necessarily the healthiest. Both Allen Craig and Skip Schumaker nursing injuries. Schumaker has a hyperextended elbow, but he says that it is getting better. Daniel Descalso filled in and had a great diving catch on Sunday, which may have been one reason Skip's started feeling better very quickly.
Craig left Saturday's game with a left groin strain, which sounds more serious. One, because anything that has "groin strain" in it immediately sounds more serious to a segment of the population, but also because he wasn't available Sunday either. Both guys are to be examined today and hopefully be cleared to play. If Craig does have to be disabled, two things to note. One is that there's not a clear candidate for coming up as we discussed a few weeks ago and two, Matt Holliday is going to say, "Dude, I got my appendix out and you don't see ME going on the DL."
Even Tony La Russa is batting injuries. His eye swollen up and very painful, possibly the result of a serious sinus infection. While we wish him the best and hope he gets well very soon, because it sounds pretty rough, even with one eye he can see the closer situation is a problem.
Speaking of TLR and his reaction to the closer problems, I know that Tony like to try to deflect criticism from his players. That's part of why people like to play for him. That said, Sunday's effort on that score was particularly transparent. When Ryan Franklin has just ripped away a hard-fought victory and given it to the other team, you can't play the "what about the offense card", especially when you aren't facing chopped liver out there, but a guy that has had a lot of success and is still a top pitcher. I've seen much better outings from TLR--perhaps the eye was throwing off his game.
I really don't want to get into the fashion news of the weekend, the whole "everyone wear turtlenecks" that has gotten so much press, but as an officer in the Lance Berkman Fan Club (I think Mike is working on shirts), I have to wonder out loud--have the Cards done anything like this in the last few years? Maybe they have and we've not heard about it, but since Berkman seems to have been a driving force behind this one, this whole "clubhouse chemistry" thing may have a little something to it. If nothing else, there shouldn't be a lot of quiet clubhouses this year.
Speaking of the Big Puma, I was asked to contribute my thoughts on how Berkman has looked and what to expect from him the rest of the way over at Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove. Head on over there and see what I had to say, along with others about questions in the NL Central.
Cards open with the Nationals tomorrow evening. We'll talk about that one in the morning.
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball