July 23, 2008

Ahem ... Mo ... anybody in there?

If there was ever a time for the St. Louis Cardinals' GM John Mozeliak to step up to the plate, it's right now.

Manager Tony La Russa is sticking up for his bullpen, as a good manager should. And his jumping down the collective throat of the media when asked, pretty much, anything that has the words bull, or pen, or about the connective compound that this keyboard refuses to type without gagging, doesn't make the issue any less critical to the Cards at this point in the season.

For if you don't win some of these "shoulda had it" games now, you'll be under even more pressure to win them in September.

When you think about La Russa's recent statements that the issue is more with the offense than the pen, any Cardinal fan is hard-pressed to see the point. La Russa's point is valid, to be sure. It's just that from a fan's perspective, it sounds like pure denial. Not calling in a reliever in the eighth when Lohse was gasping for air after three straight Brewers' hit seemed a pretty strong message from manager to pen, and even if La Russa would've brought in Aaron Miles to mop up, this writer wouldn't have held it against the boss.

La Russa argument regarding offense just doesn't hold water on one point, that he'd already chosen to carry an extra man in the bullpen. Need to get this one straight. If offense is the problem, then carry an extra hitter. Make up my mind, already.

And now, for the flipside, from which a fan must make an attempt to look at La Russa's overall situation and understand what a pickle he's in. With no crystal ball in that dugout, he must make a lineup (he has plenty of templates from which to choose) and run with it. Will the offense show up or not, will the bullpen come around? And the least talked about factor, will the starter go longer than five innings?

That Lohse went so long (maybe when he shouldn't have) amplified the dilemma that is the bullpen. In other words, when La Russa has to trot these relievers out for almost as many innings as his starters, there's an issue there that the bullpen has not created, but is being asked to fix, almost on a daily basis, plus, handle the usual task.

This reminds us that this is still a team game, which in La Russa's defense, is something he, in so many words, reminds everyone of each time he faces the media. Yet we as fans have no patience when we're so close to contending.

This brings us back to the beginning, where we can now see what a perfect time it is for Mozeliak to step up to the plate and stick up for his team by taking some of this heat La Russa's been taking. But better yet, if there is a deal to be made, now is the time.

La Russa has made his feelings known on certain needs for the squad, and probably a lot more we don't know about, which is okay. He can't say any more, and for good reason. If he does, it comes off looking like he's telling some player or portion of his team that they aren't good enough.

And the aforementioned is exactly the type of heat Mozeliak is supposed to take. If it's a manager's job to protect his team, it's the GM's job to protect the team and it's manager. Mozeliak can accomplish this by making the deal everyone within sight of the Arch knows is coming, or at least talk about the possibility of this deal or that deal, or anything to get the focus off the manager.

And Mozeliak, like it or not, will have to take responsibility for any such deal, and must forego voicing any reservations about the same. Nobody wants to hear the talk about not making a move just because everyone else is. This relief issue is not something that is suddenly upon the Cardinals. So it's either make a deal, as was stated in the 4thebirds feature Deal ... or no deal?, or don't, But either way, Mozeliak must step up and make a choice for the team's sake.

We question La Russa on a daily basis, and La Russa goes out on a limb on a daily basis, so whether you think he did well or blew it, you know you're going to get some guts. The players play the same way, out on that limb.

And can't be fun being the Cards' relievers, peering through the bullpen fence at the opposing team and saying: "They're down by four with one out in their last at-bats, but they don't look scared that La Russa is on the mound and tapping his arm." And the other reliever says: "Yeah, I think their on to us."

And as a fan, you lean toward the locked plate glass door of the main offices, cup your hands around your eyes and peer inside. "Mo? Hey, Mo! Ahem ... Mo ... anybody in there?"