Speaking on the Cardinals’ pitching staff, I’d like to begin with the punch line of an old joke: “Yeah, and it’s deep, too.”
We’ve talked about pitching depth around here for quite some time. For over a year, the talk of the young arms arriving soon has whetted the appetites of fans who wait to see the next big thing(s).
Well, due to injury, the future is now. And while it is bright, just figuring out the best way to work in the young guns can and will be a bit perplexing for a while. So, let’s start with what we have today – four starters and eight relievers – and then try to figure out what we could have in a month. (I suggest a month for several reasons, including big-league service time that affects Michael Wacha and, ultimately, the entire staff.
To begin our exercise, let’s assume reasonable health for the next month. (It’s about time, isn’t it?) In the broad picture, John Mozeliak could be looking at 17 guys for 12 spots. Can Chris Carpenter be ready to contribute in a month? Perhaps not, but he should be pretty close to knowing if he’s going to contribute at all by then.
Next: let’s take out the “givens”: Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and Lynn in the rotation, not to mention Randy Choate, Edward Mujica, Trevor Rosenthal and Fernando Salas in the bullpen. We could argue other names as givens, but I’m comfortable with this group. So, that’s seven that we take off of the list, leaving 10 arms for five slots – two for the rotation and three for the bullpen.
How do we predict performance without track records? Let’s just take a shot. I don’t believe that Tyler Lyons is here (the rotation) to stay. As in, all of the forthcoming scenarios performance could prove me wrong or right. So, let’s say that Jake Westbrook comes back and takes his spot. That puts Lyons back in the minors, not the bullpen, because I think Marc Rzepczynski will return and back up Choate. So, now I have two more on the staff, leaving me eight pitchers for three spots.
Who will be that fifth starter? Can John Gast remain consistent once the league gets a look in person and digitally? I’m hopeful, but I think the fifth is going to be Wacha or … Chris Carpenter. Yep, Carp will go for his third Comeback Player of the Year award. It will be one or the other, and my gut says both will not be on the staff at the same time until September. Here’s why: Carp will prepare like a madman and if a slot is open in the rotation, I dare somebody to try and keep it from him. It would be a different story if Westbrook and Garcia were healthy; then Carp could fill a gap in the ‘pen and we move on.
Now, if Carp’s not ready to assume that spot in a month or so, then Wacha gets the nod. So, let’s take them both off of the possible list and count them for one spot in the rotation, leaving us with six pitchers for two spots. We have Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Mitchell Boggs, Joe Kelly, Lyons and Gast for the final two spots in the bullpen. Performance can vary wildly between now and then, and you can see that those performances will truly be the determining factor on the final two spots.
I think Martinez, at 21, needs more consistent work. He may go before our self-imposed, next-month deadline. Likewise, Lyons and Gast should be rotation regulars at Memphis. So, it comes down to Maness, Boggs and Kelly for the last two spots. Kelly and Boggs have bigger arms, but Maness has command that belies his lack of experience. Just rolling the dice here: I think Kelly goes back to get regular work and find that aggressive, dynamic guy that we saw last season.
That gives me Boggs and Salas as my long/mop-up guys. Or, depending on performance, maybe Boggs can reclaim a leverage spot in the seventh. Maness is a middle-inning guy, and Zep backs up Choate.
In the rotation, Waino, Miller, Lynn, Westy and Carp/Wacha take me deep into games and October.
Most of this is guesswork on who might perform. But as you put your own staff together for a run to the postseason, remember to protect high-upside investments and put players in a position to succeed. Push the envelope too much, and you might be asking for the sports version of the Peter principle (in this case, pitchers rising to their level of incompetence.)
The depth has been challenged. But the Cardinals will survive, and by this time next month this staff and team will be poised for greatness.
Now, as we approach the trade deadline…