The last three games have been the most frustrating series for me in recent memory as a Cards fan.
If anyone ever needed a lesson in how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they only need look as far as the replays of the Cardinals’ three-game set with the Pirates, finished up this afternoon at Busch III.
I’ve been feeling for a while that the Cards have reversed fortunes from last season with regard to pitching. Last year, the starters were a mess and you couldn’t count on any of them from day-to-day, but if you could get a lead into the bullpen, they were lights out. This year couldn’t be more opposite. If LaRussa could get 170 pitchers per game out of his starters, they would all be tied for the league lead in complete games by now.
The starting pitchers in the series against the Pirates went a total of 19 IP, giving up 9 runs (all earned).
Those 9 runs aren’t necessarily representative of how well those guys pitched either. Joel Pineiro certainly deserved all of his in the Thursday game, but Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer could both make arguments that Tony trotted them out there one inning too long. Wellemeyer, for as well as he’s pitched this season, has only made it into the 7th inning three times in nine starts. He’s only gone past 100 pitches four times this season, and hitters’ OPS against him goes up from .656 overall to .892 in pitches 76-100. So to get 7 strong, scoreless innings out of Wellemeyer in 100 pitches should’ve been plenty for LaRussa. Yet he trotted him out for another inning and after a lead-off single, then decided to pull him. Well, that lead-off hitter scored, tagging Wellemeyer for an earned run. Same deal with Lohse, who had scuffled in his two previous starts. For a guy who had made it through seven innings only twice in his previous eight starts, why trot him out there for another inning after he’s given you six really solid innings and is approaching 90 pitches?
The only answer I can come up with? Tony is deathly afraid of his bullpen. Well, that and he mis-manages his bullpen, but that’s a topic for another post.
The bullpen’s performance in the Pirates series? 9 IP, 11 runs allowed (10 earned). My goodness. Save for Wellemeyer’s start on Wednesday, these guys are just hanging the starters out to dry. Ron Villone has seen his ERA jump from 0.63 to 4.76 in his last three appearances. He has pitched 2 2/3 innings and given up eight earned runs. Jason Isringhausen has just been beyond explanation. His ERA went up almost a point and a half just after yesterday’s latest failure.
The common theme here? Izzy and Villone are the only two in the series that didn’t get their job done! Kyle McClellan, Randy Flores, Russ Springer, Ryan Franklin – all made appearances, all surrendered no runs. Yet Tony insists that these guys are “unavailable” on any given day, whether it be a bad matchup or having pitched the previous day, etc etc. The excuses are getting old. These guys are paid to perform. Until they prove they can’t handle an inning a day (a la Izzy), throw them out there! Franklin was a starter just three seasons ago, now you’re telling me he can’t pitch a single inning on back to back days? I just don’t buy it. I’ll bet you if you asked Frank, he’d want the ball.
There are obviously lots of other issues plaguing the Cardinals right now, but until they get the bullpen fixed, they will continue to struggle.