While not something I originally planned on including today, it is important for all of us here at PH8 to express our condolences to the Walters family. We were fortunate to get to know P.J. while interviewing him on UCB Radio, and I look forward to watching him overcome this tragedy and again honor his daughter in a St. Louis uniform.
This last grade was always going to be the hardest, so it is fitting that it was saved for the grand finale! A Tony La Russa club uses the entire pitching staff much differently than any other MLB franchise, and this normally results in high marks across the board. 2008 was disappointing from the standpoint that the Cardinals did not make the playoffs, but they did find a third hurler to join Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter at the top of the rotation.
Kyle Lohse turned a late spring signing and an impressive campaign into a long-term deal with St. Louis. While the timing seemed odd for the contract, it did allow the team to turn their sights onto other needs. Braden Looper and Russ Springer were not retained and Carpenter was backed up by Kyle McClellan heading into ’09 Spring Training.
With the five starters pretty much set in stone, most of the attention was put on rebuilding the bullpen following Jason Isringhausen’s seventh and final year with the Cardinals. Ryan Franklin, Chris Perez, Jason Motte, and McClellan all were candidates for the ninth inning with no clear cut favorite in the mix. Throw in lefty newcomers Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes and it all equals a whole lot of questions with few answers.
A healthy Carp and Wainer combo together with Lohse were joined by a huge surprise to kick April off right. Joel Pineiro failed to harness his potential in two stops before coming to St. Louis as an afterthought. Coming in as either the fourth or fifth starter, Pineiro sailed into May 4-0 with a glimpse of what was to come down the road.
The only downside of the rotation was Todd Wellemeyer, who couldn’t match his surprise production of ’08 and continually frustrated everyone with his lack of consistency.
Originally a question mark, the Cardinals’ bullpen found some traction early in the form of Franklin. He locked up the closer role and cruised to an All-Star berth while mentoring the inexperienced reliever corps. Motte, McClellan, and Perez all found their groove in May, while Miller was proving to be a key pick up for the NL Central contenders.
Mitchell Boggs began another Memphis to St. Louis travel tour, as he was the one called upon to fill in for Lohse. It would be the end of the season rather than the start that showed where Boggs’ future lies, but he proved capable of keeping the contests close and that was all the Cards were asking.
After trading away Perez, Jess Todd, and Clayton Mortensen, a newcomer joined the rotation in August. Boggs had already pushed Wellemeyer to the bullpen, but it was veteran John Smoltz who gave the staff a boost during the dog days of summer.
Smoltz didn’t look anything like he had earlier in the season with Boston, and St. Louis was happy to give him another shot at the playoffs. Coming down the stretch, Pineiro was closing in on a record while two members of the staff were seemingly going head to head for the Cy Young.
I wish I could end there on a high note, as September and October only brought frustration and disappointment to a stellar pitching staff. Neither A&W or Carp walked away with the hardware, and Pineiro used his lack of walks to secure his spot as a top potential free agent. Franklin failed to maintain his torrid pace, coming back to earth with three blown saves and a near 8.00 ERA to close the regular season.
Not all was doom and gloom, however, with Motte and Blake Hawksworth anchoring a much improved set-up crew. The future is bright thanks to a combination of former prospects and Dave Duncan still calling the shots. The playoffs left the Cards hungry, and the grades also leave room for growth.
Carp, Wainer, Pineiro — all pitched like aces and score solid A’s
Smoltz — defied the odds to complement the trio above, B+
Boggs — bend but don’t break works better in the bullpen, C
Lohse — hard-luck lost season makes contract look worse than it is, D+
Wellemeyer — not much you can say here, F
Franklin — tough end to season doesn’t deter from the whole picture A-
K-Mac — local boy made good proved he belonged in a big way, B
Miller and Reyes — situational lefties may have been the key in ‘o9, B+
Motte, Hawk, Thompson — up and down campaign shows promise, C