July 25, 2008

Li'l Redbirdie told me ... deal for the best talent, whatever the specialty

While the bullpen could sure use a lefthanded closer before the upcoming trade deadline, it wouldn't be due to the bullpen's ongoing struggles as much as the simple fact that the bullpen could use a decent lefthanded closer, because they don't have one.

The bullpen has it's troubles, but La Russa's case that the relievers are not to blame makes a lot of sense.

First of all, it doesn't help to blame anybody. Team game, team loss. If anything, everyone had a hand in the tough comeback losses, all the losses, for that matter. But when games come down to the nitty gritty, as is often the case with a relief situation, or more so, a closing situation, every pitch gets magnified.

To wit, Franklin gives up a home run ball in the late innings. He ain't the only one, folks. But when you come up one or two runs shy at the end, if you're really going to analyze what there is to improve upon, you have to look at lots of things.

For instance, any inning where there were runners left on base. Any one of them could've been the tying or lead run later in the game.

How about a too many walks by the starters? Even in innings where the fellow who got the free pass doesn't come around to score, the base on balls has created a scenario whereby the starter has used up three or four pitches, on average, more than he should have. In turn, three or four walks can translate into about 12 to 16 extra pitches. That can mean one an extra inning pitched for a starter, and that can make a world of difference to the bullpen.

Heres a perfect example. In the recent Brewers game in which C.C. Sabathia went the distance, the bullpen relaxed. Then, in last night's game, the Cardinals' had to face rested relievers and a rested--and tough--closer in Salamon Torres.

By contrast, the Cardinals had to go to their best closer, Franklin, not well-rested, and with five outs to go. (And even the five outs instead of six was the result of Kyle McClellan, same boat as Franklin, being out too long.) Ryan Braun took care of making my point.

Another thing the Li'l Redbirdie told me was (if a the quick count was accurate) that over the course of the last seven games, on average, the Cardinals' starters have only gone about 5 1/2 innings per game. That means the relievers had to cover almost 26 out of about 64 innings. It's a wonder the Cards have been in any of these recent games at all.

More from the Li'l Redbirdie: Over the Brewers' last seven games, their starters are averaging about seven complete innings per game. The Brew-relief-crew has only pitched 14.1 innings. And here's a benefit: only two home runs were given up, and they weren't charged to the Brewers' bullpen.

Now re-examine La Russa's latest statements regarding the status of the bullpen, the starters, and the offense, and the true needs of the team may call for something other than that lefthanded closer.

According the Li'l Redbirdie, if the Cardinals' just went for the best choice in any one of the three aforementioned areas, the true "impact" might be that the other two areas will benefit by osmosis, so to speak. In other words, if the best player on the table is a reliever, deal for him; if the best player on the table is a hitter, deal for him instead, or however, because the added benefit on the field is sure to help the weaker links, which can be a dynamic on a team like the Cardinals.

Li'l Redbirdie has chirped something else: Team game, team loss, but also, team gain, then, team win!