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Waino, Carp and pray for the tarp

John Smoltz was tattooed by Cincinnati Wednesday night apparently due to non-rubbed up baseballs, and the St. Louis Cardinals offense was allegedly stymied because of pine-tarred offerings served up by Reds starter Bronson Arroyo.

Whatever the reason, it was the third consecutive subpar outing from the “other” starters, those not named Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Number three starter Joel Pineiro reverted to leaving his pitches up and yielded four home runs on Tuesday. The other back-of-the-rotation competitor, Kyle Lohse, has also been shaky since his return from the disabled list, having allowed 11 runs in his last 14 1/3 innings.

The following may have to become the post-season mantra for the Cardinals and their fans:

“Waino, Carp and pray for the tarp…”

Despite an unusual pre-game hitters meeting led by Tony La Russa, Hal McRae and Mike Aldrete, the Cardinals slumping offense managed only one run against Arroyo after plating just two the night before.

Arroyo has had a Jeckyll and Hyde season unlike most any in recent history. As of July 9, the veteran had been battered all season long, carrying a 5.85 ERA. He had allowed 16 runs in his most recent 14 innings. After a cortisone shot to address carpal tunnel, his second of the year, Arroyo went off on a tear. The right-hander posted quality starts in 15 of his 16 outings since, knocking two full runs off his ERA.

Now that Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan has complained about Arroyo and the baseballs used, is the pitcher’s record tainted?

Certainly having pine tar on his cap and going to it before every pitch as Duncan alleged would place Arroyo among the charter members of the Kenny Rogers School of Pitching.

Yet Duncan and La Russa remained silent Wednesday as their offense flailed and Smoltz boiled over in frustration. One reason coaches don’t want to engage in this “showmanship” is because no one is above suspicion.

Before Cardinals fans get too up in arms, remember it cuts both ways. Former St. Louis reliever Julian Tavarez fired his cap into the stands to try to lose the evidence after getting caught loading up a few years back. Tavarez received a ten-game suspension for his hijinks.

Now, let’s discuss the Cincinnati baseballs and the implication they were doctored to Arroyo’s specifications. Since both pitchers have to use them, it would be logical to assume that other opposing pitchers besides Smoltz may have struggled at Great American Ballpark on the days they opposed Arroyo.

I took a look back at the composite records of the visiting pitchers in Arroyo’s eight home starts since his July 10 turnaround. Over those entire eight games, the enemy pitchers posted an aggregate ERA of just 3.13 using the Arroyo balls. This microscopic ERA was put up despite having to play on the road in that bandbox of a ballpark in the Queen City.

Opposing starters that excelled at GAB on with “Arroyoballs” include Ricky Nolasco, Clayton Kershaw, Barry Zito and Kevin Correia. Needless to say, John Smoltz is not among them, as his Wednesday ERA was 13.50.

Just maybe it isn’t the baseballs at all.

Late last night on MLB Network, former Brewers pitcher Dan Plesac made some very different observations about Smoltz’ messy evening. Plesac noted Smoltz was relying almost exclusively on his breaking pitches, probably because his fastball was only topping out in the mid-80’s. He went on to suggest Smoltz was running on fumes and may be hiding an injury.

It seems with the Cardinals on top of the NL hunt, everyone is gunning for them. Last weekend, it was the bullpen mound in Colorado. This week, it is the baseballs in Cincy.

Maybe this team should look in the mirror instead.

What this Cardinals club needs to do more than anything is dig in and get their act ready for October, because if they don’t make a run deep into the playoffs, the failure will rest squarely on the collective shoulders of La Russa and his players.

Repeat after me, “Waino, Carp and pray for the tarp…”

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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