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Cardinals, Braves taking different rotation route toward Wild Cards

As many St. Louis Cardinals fans already know by now, manager Mike Matheny announced on Wednesday that pitcher Joe Kelly is moving from the rotation to the bullpen this weekend in anticipation of the club activating Jaime Garcia for a Sunday start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The final decision was made after determining that Garcia’s shoulder was sound after his 93-pitch outing for Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday night, his fourth minor league rehab start.

Matheny’s decision was not the preference of the majority of voters here, who preferred Lance Lynn be shifted to relief instead.

Another alternative that received some attention was the idea of going to a six-man rotation. Coincidentally, this is an approach currently being deployed by the Atlanta Braves.

Like the Cards, the Braves have a very good fourth-year starter ready to come off the disabled list with no obvious rotation spot for him. Right-hander Tommy Hanson has been out with a lower back strain.

Once Hanson takes the ball Friday night against the Dodgers, the Braves will go with a six-man rotation at least until their next day off on August 30, manager Fredi Gonzalez announced. Of course, that assumes the group can remain healthy.

At the trade deadline, Atlanta added veteran Paul Maholm from the Cubs to join the oft-injured but highly-talented ex-Brewer Ben Sheets in their rotation. Ace Tim Hudson has come back from injury problems of his own. Kris Medlen was recently moved into the rotation, while former top prospect Mike Minor has been uneven in his first full big-league season starting.

You may be able to see how several of the Cardinals starters’ stories could line up against them.

The Braves also offer an interesting comparison to the Cardinals given the battle between the two last season for the lone National League Wild Card berth that went down to the final day.

Once again in 2012, both clubs are in second place. Atlanta is a bit more comfortable than St. Louis, with four more wins at 68-49. They hold a four-game lead over Pittsburgh and St. Louis in the race for what are now two Wild Cards.

One major difference in the clubs is that the Braves’ pen ranks second in the NL with a 3.07 ERA. Though the Cardinals have appeared to stabilize their relief corps recently, their season-long 4.21 ERA is only 10th. Only one of the 16 NL bullpens, Houston, has fewer wins than the Cardinals relievers’ 10 this season.

The Cardinals and Braves are done with each other for the regular season, as they played three-game home and away series in May. Atlanta taking five of six contributed heavily to the Cards’ worst month of the season at 13-16.

Unlike last season, if the two clubs finish one and two in the Wild Card standings again, they would meet each other in a one-game play-in contest. The winner would advance into the NL Division Series while the loser would head home for the winter after game 163.

Here is how the respective staffs currently stack up.

Braves W-L ERA Cardinals W-L ERA
Starters Starters
Tommy Hanson# RHP 12-5 4.29 Jaime Garcia# LHP 3-4 4.48
Kris Medlen RHP 3-1 2.28 Joe Kelly* RHP 3-5 3.41
Mike Minor LHP 6-9 4.93 Lance Lynn RHP 13-5 3.65
Tim Hudson RHP 12-4 3.59 Adam Wainwright RHP 11-10 3.87
Ben Sheets RHP 4-2 2.13 Kyle Lohse RHP 12-2 2.72
Paul Maholm LHP 11-7 3.39 Jake Westbrook RHP 12-8 3.62
All starters 2012 50-39 3.96 All starters 2012 54-34 3.54
# currently on DL * moved to the pen
Relievers 18-10 3.07 Relievers 10-19 4.21

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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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23 Responses to “Cardinals, Braves taking different rotation route toward Wild Cards”

  1. blingboy says:

    So far, so good with Mujica. 0.00 ERA.

  2. blingboy says:

    He hasn’t inherited any runners so far. Perhaps the Cards have placed him in the right nitch.

  3. crdswmn says:

    The Lynn or Kelly to the pen debate is certainly interesting. For those who are not stat inclined, the debate favors Lynn to the pen, because at least on the surface, his performance has appeared to take a turn for the worse, while Kelly has become a favorite and has certainly performed well during his brief time in the majors. Then there are those who do follow stats (like me) who acknowledge that Lynn has the best numbers overall but find his recent slide to be worrisome, but not worrisome enough to raise alarm bells just yet. Further, there are those who are stat inclined who just like Lynn better because they don’t subscribe to the Duncan pitch to contact philosophy and favor pitchers who can strike people out at a high rate over those who get their outs by ground balls. Kelly doesn’t measure up to that camp. Personally, I subscribe to the get outs any damn way you can philosophy—an out is an out in my book no matter how it’s gotten.

    So, time will tell how it all comes out. Lynn will either pitch better down the stretch or he won’t. If he doesn’t, well the debate will rage on.

    If Garcia doesn’t return to his old self and struggles, maybe the 6 man rotation idea will look more promising.

    • blingboy says:

      Being an all-star helps.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Agreed. I’m not sure that the statistically inclined crowd tend to discount the value of ground balls, however.

      I don’t see the point in a six-man rotation. It just leaves your bench or your bullpen short.

      • crdswmn says:

        Some of them do. I’ve heard many a saber geek express contempt for the pitch to contact philosophy. For them strike outs are king.

        • Nutlaw says:

          Okay. Well, are these random people who just like to tinker with stats, or people who actually know what they’re talking about? There’s no question whatsoever that inducing ground balls is far superior to giving up fly balls. The extent to which one is able to tally strike outs or induce ground balls obviously factors in and the manner in which each is accomplished doesn’t necessarily make them mutually exclusive. The effects upon one’s control would also need to be weighed.

          • crdswmn says:

            No they are not random people who like to tinker with stats. These are serious stat geeks. I’m not saying that they hate ground ball pitchers. I’m saying that when it comes to evaluating pitchers they rank those with high strike out rates as the most valuable. That, and throwing very hard, which tends to coincide with high strikeout rates (Adam Wainwright being a notable exception).

            • CariocaCardinal says:

              You seem way off base here

              1. They may be stat geeks but I rather doubt they are saber geeks.

              2. The saber community is the one that brought ground ball rates to the forefront as a desirable things. (as further evidence of this they also debunk WHIP which GB pitchers tend to rank higher on).

              3. A true saber geek for the most part doesn’t even care how hard a pitcher throws.

              4. K’s are good but HR’s are worse that is why saber types like ground ball pitchers.

              5. Saber guys care much more about K:BB ratios than the number of K’s.

              Are you sure you are not confusing saber geeks with fantasy baseball geeks? There are fantasy leagues where strikeouts matter a lot.

              • Brian Walton says:

                I had thought about trying to make a similar post, but didn’t. Glad you did.

              • crdswmn says:

                You know, I am now sorry I even brought this up. People who spout sabermetrics like it’s religion tell me stuff, I read their stuff on the internet. I can hear and I can read. Maybe they are outliers, maybe they just really like pitchers who throw hard and get a lot of strikeouts regardless of the sabermetrics, I don’t know. Maybe they say the pitch to contact philosophy is crap because they have a beef with Dave Duncan. Maybe they think Maikel Cleto is the best relief pitcher not named Motte or Boggs the Cardinals have because he has a cool name.

                I never said I agreed with any of it or that I vouch for anything they say.

                • CariocaCardinal says:

                  I wish i had time to be a saber geek. I know just enough to embarrass myself. Like most things in life knowing what you dont know is almost as important as what you do know.

                  • crdswmn says:

                    I don’t know that much either, but I am trying to learn. I’m afraid I will never be a geek though, because statistics was never one of my better subject.

                    As an example of what I was talking about, I saw a conversation on VEB a week or so ago, discussing the possibility of the Cardinals pursuing Roy Oswalt again. The gist of the conversation was that he would be an upgrade to Lohse, Westbrook and Kelly because his K% was higher than theirs. Now not everyone agreed with this, so I wouldn’t say that it was a consensus opinion there, but I have seen similar type discussions there before.

                    • Nutlaw says:

                      I would agree that Oswalt has been quite unlucky this season. He does have 38 K to 7 BB in 40 IP. His groundball rate is no worse than it has been in the past five years, but he is giving up twice as many HRs per fly ball than he traditionally has. That and his absurdly high .405 BABIP against means that he has been exceedingly unlucky. Exceedingly. A 6.53 ERA and a 3.42 xFIP tell you that. I feel somewhat bad for him in his dispute against Texas management now, but taking himself out of a game because he was pouty over how he was being used puts him in the avoid at all costs box for me.

  4. Bw52 says:

    Then it could all be a moot point if Garcia comes back and pitches lousy or he hurt pops up again.Myself i have not a lot of faith in the marshmallow man Garcia.

  5. blingboy says:

    It seems easier to imagine Lynn bouncing back than to imagine a meaningful role for Kelly in the pen. I would hope the Mujica-Boggs-Motte thing will not be disturbed unless something goes wrong. Mopping up would be rather ignominious.

  6. crdswmn says:

    Mark Hamilton has been released.

    I understand wanting to clear some 40 man spots, but couldn’t Hamilton have just been outrighted? Or does he just not have any value at all any more to the organization?

  7. blingboy says:

    Last night I was hoping Motte would do what he’s done lately. Tonight I hope he doesn’t.

    The discussion about GB rate/Ks/K:BB etc is interesting. Intuitively, I’d think a pitch to contact/GB approach would be easier on the pitch count than a K approach. If so, its an important factor.

    I wonder if Hamilton asked to be released.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Yes, pitch counts are an important factor that can often be overlooked. In particular, I would believe that a ground ball pitcher would make more sense for a team with a high powered offense like the Cardinals (not that they are showing it the past couple of days). As high K/high FB pitchers are more likely to pitch both very low and very high scoring games due to the luck involved in fly balls going out for high impact home runs, a team scoring 4.86 R/G is probably better off with a pitcher who is going to give up a steady 3-4 R/G each time out.

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