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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Wacha boldly goes where no man has gone before

As St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha threw seven shutout innings at the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday night, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out five, he not only helped eliminate the Dodgers, he put his name in the record books as well.

Among Wacha’s milestones, according to the Elias Sports Bureau:

  • The right-hander became the first rookie to record two scoreless starts in a single postseason series in major-league history.
  • Wacha, who turned 22 on July 1, is the second youngest NLCS MVP winner ever after the Braves’ Steve Avery in 1991 (21.5 years old).
  • Wacha became the first rookie to start and win an NLCS clinching game since the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
  • He is the third rookie starter ever to win two games in the NLCS, joining Tim Wakefield (1992 Pirates) and Tim Belcher (1988 Dodgers).

Not bad for a young man who:

  • Was pitching in college 16 months ago.
  • Was starting in Triple-A as recently as August 4.
  • Had made just nine major-league starts prior to the post-season.

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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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51 Responses to “Wacha boldly goes where no man has gone before”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    It was impressive when RHP Leake went from Arizona State to the Reds rotation. What Wacha is doing is much more impressive.
    Last summer, the Cards protected Wacha by using him as a reliever. They could have moved him into rotation this spring, but instead slotted him at Memphis. The Cards have been slowing him down, until we need playoff wins. Yadier announced this spring Wacha was ready for the majors. He was right.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    This should be a better series than 2004. In 2004, our best pitcher was Chris Carpenter and he was not available. We had to open with wily old veteran Willy Williams who had nothing against knuckleballer Wakefield who also had little. Once this slugfest was lost, the Sox enjoyed pitching advantages. In Game 2, we started much declined Matt Morris versus Curt Schilling. In Game 3, Jeff Suppan against Hall of Famer Carlos Martinez. Game 4 we started Jason Marquis against a similar but better pitcher, Derek Lowe.
    The Sox had high profile players: Manny Ramirez, Schilling, Martinez, Johnny Damon, David Ortiz. They had just rallied from 3 games down against the Yankees to take the ALCS. They were on a roll. We had hitters, but the Sox had both pitchers and hitters.
    The Cards are in better shape for 2013. It will also help to get Allen Craig back to DH.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Give today’s topic is Wacha, more about how unusual he is. Its hard to find past precedents in a Cards uniform. While Rick Ankiel was precocious, he did not excel in the playoffs, the contrary, absent his catcher Rick had a bout of wildness. Wacha has not simply reached the majors in a short time, which would be a laudable feat in and of itself, but is performing there superbly, with poise and aplomb.
    While Bob Gibson was terrific in playoff action, IIRC, he had a couple of years in the pen and several years as a starting pitcher at the ML level.
    Matt Morris, Dan Haren, and Ankiel are the pitchers signed by the Cards in recent decades who enjoyed some success; Wainwright was supplied by the Braves, Chris Carpenter by the Jays. Wacha’s rise has been meteoric and with few ready precedents.

    • Brian Walton says:

      This comment helped inspire my post today.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        The Birds somehow used to identify promising amateur pitchers during the 1960s and then preserve them, so they reached the majors. This capability seemed to diminish during the 1970s-90s, probably for a variety of reasons. The farm system may have over-worked promising talents. Maybe there were not enough strength and conditioning advisors. Maybe there was not a nurturing culture for pitchers. Since pitching is a crucial part of the game, this weighed us down. Even 1980s stars Andujar and Tudor had to be imported via trade.
        It seems like we have turned a corner with Garcia, Lynn, Miller, Kelly, and Wacha. There seem fewer misfires like Chris Lambert in 04 or a kid from Texas State in 2000.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Blake Williams was the name in 2000. In 2001, we selected Justin Pope and Chris Narveson high. Narveson was quite promising, until overworked at the A level. 2003 signee Stu Pomeranz was coming into his own at AA when injured. 2003 RHP Mark Michel was a raw talent who had been a 3B man, but we did not succeed in harnessing his talent. 2004 draft pick LHP Haberer pitched well at AA, but was not even tried as a reliever at AAA. Maybe because the Cards once had Gibson, Carlton, Reuss, Torrez, Cleveland, Kirby, Magrane, Clark, prospects were held to an impossible standard and not assisted enough.
          Now we sidetrack Wacha and Marco Gonzales, after they finish junior seasons in college ball, and must say we do NOT want to give you lots of innings, but just build strength and work on a few things. This practice can conserve young pitchers for the future.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            When we had Dan Haren, he threw 180 innings, IIRC, in the Midwest League. Nobody should throw more than 125 there. Second, keeping him at this rung was a waste of career time, he should have moved up. Third, once Haren got near the majors, we traded him for Mark Mulder, whose performance was already declining. Now Wacha and Miller illustrate young pitchers, who have not thrown hundreds of innings, can compete with “established” names. Young pitchers can be a perishable commodity so its good to move them up fast. We effectively brought Maness, Siegrist, and McClellan up from AA, skipping AAA. An effect of diminished availability of PEDs may be to make youth more important than experience.

            • Brian Walton says:

              Miller threw 383 innings over essentially three seasons in the minors before being called up. I looked up Haren. He threw 193 innings as a 21-year-old in 2002, but only part of that was in the MWL. He threw 475 minor league innings before sticking in the majors. I do agree that workload is being managed more carefully now than before, but Haren was very successful long after 2002.

              I don’t see the PED point at all. That came out of the blue.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Hard to say why some guys flamed out and others were successful, but overall the Cards seem to have improved in both scouting and player development.

  4. blingboy says:

    Is it too soon to predict a Cy?

  5. blingboy says:

    A couple truths worth keeping in mind:

    1. Jaime Garcia makes $7.875M next year. Therefore he will be in the rotation or be traded. No other possibility.

    2. Motte makes $7.5M. Therefore he will close or be traded. Again, no other possibility.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Garcia could relieve. He needs a year of lighter work to build up strength.
      Motte may be a set up guy.
      If salary decided everything, Wiggy would still be on the bench.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I agree starters and closers appear to be areas of depth from which trades could be sourced. However, it may be difficult if not impossible to get full value trading players not yet back from surgery.

      Would dual closers be a terrible idea?

      • blingboy says:

        Dual closers would mean either two half-time players, one making $7.5M, or two guys swapping 8th-9th inning roles. The only benefit I can see is it would find a way to get value for the 7.5, but without improving the closer situation overall. There would then be the issue of what to do with Martinez, who would be bumped from the 8th inning spot. To do what?

        There is only one solution. Dual closers and a 7 man rotation. 🙂

    • blingboy says:

      Everybody wants to dredge up Wiggy, as though it were suggestive of what the org will do. If anything, it was a learning experience.

      What I meant was that by the end of next year, niether Garcia nor Motte will be around unless they are earning their keep. Which means the rotation for Garcia and closer for Motte. I certainly don’t see them both here under any scenario except mass injuries. For Motte to be closer, Rosie would be in the rotation. That would seem to close the door for Jaime, if it is not closed already.

  6. blingboy says:

    The situation with Freese worries me. I would hate to see a defensive downgrade at 3rd. But I don’t think the Cards want to pay what Freese will command next year for a #7 hitter. It seems like the most likely thing is Carp going to 3rd and somebody else at 2nd. That somebody would be Wang if he hits in spring training. If not, who knows. But then, if a new 2nd baseman costs as much as Freese would make, what is the point. Perhaps Freese is safe at least until we find out if Wang has game next year.

    • crdswmn says:

      If DeWitt was willing to pay Wigginton 2.5 million, what makes you think he won’t be willing to pay Freese 4 or 5 million?

      • blingboy says:

        I’m sure Bill took Mo’s word for it. And I assume Mo took the word of a former trusted advisor who now works in the food service industry.

        I think they would be willing to pay Freese if a better scenario does not present itself. Mo should be looking to upgrade D up the middle and get some bit of O out of SS. Ideally, in his mind I think, Jay and Kozma will be gone and Carp will be at 3B. Just all guess work by me of course.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I disagree. I could see Jay and Kozma as good reserves.

        • Nutlaw says:

          Carpenter’s value at 2B in relation to other second basemen in the league is phenomenal. Unless Wang proves that he can outhit a third baseman, it’s not a great shift…

          • crdswmn says:

            I’m not a fan of moving Carpenter to 3B. It’s fixing what ain’t broke.

            • blingboy says:

              Well yes, there’s that. No need to deconstruct a team with the best record and a WS berth. If there is enough O elsewhere, Mo might decide that he can live with less than you might want from the 3B position, considering Freese’s glove. Right now though, really we have 3 7-8 hitters (Kozma, Jay and Freese), which is one too many.

              It should also be remembered that Carlos hitting second behind Carp is a huge element in or offense. Mo will need to replace that element somehow, unless Carlos is coming back in a near full time capacity.

              Also notable is that Mo has gone with Wang over Chambers, even though that makes one more infielder and one less outfielder. As Brian has mentioned when discussing the likely roster move to make room for Craig, Wang fits into the future more than Chambers. And he only plays one position.

            • Bw52 says:

              #3B might not be totally broke but it sure as hell isn`t working at 100%.Freese had a pretty crappy year IMO.He had some good stretches at times but most of the year he was pretty bad.Can he bounce back? We all hope so.His range is declining and his speed is poor anyway.I think he gets another year to bounce back and I would be surprised if the Cards sign a RH hitting bench bat who can play 3B.

              • blingboy says:

                Freese’s superior D at 3rd is not something the Cards would want to give up,. and going outside the org to upgrade 3B offense while not sacrificing D would mean a premium top shelf guy, very expensive. That is why I think it will either be a shift of Carp or nothing. A suitable replacement 2B, if not Wong, would be much easier/cheaper to come up with.

                If Mo signs a RH bench bat/3B, I certinly hope he fares better than with Wiggy. In my dreams Carlos re-signs as a part time OF/much of the time switch hitting bench bat with pop. His playing time in the field would be more limited still once Taveras comes up. Alas, I think his HOF aspirations will mke him reject that sort of role. But I can dream.

                • Bw52 says:

                  I think the Cards will keep Freese one more year and hope he can bounce back offensively.I also think the Cards look at guys like Jeff Baker (cheap veteran RH utility guy who made 1.75 million last year ) adequate defense decent bat.Brandon Laird 3B-1B minor league FA who has big league time with NYY and Houston,decent glove ,some pop.Scott Moore a LH bat with time with Cubs,A`s and others who is a minor league FA.Cards can sign a minor leafue FA 3B for AAA Memphis and give a ST invite to see if they can be a viable bench bat.

                  • blingboy says:

                    Very reasonable. Wong is not ready to be an everyday 2B so it would seem like Freese could get a year to sink or swim.

                    Those type of bench player pickups would be hit or miss, but unlike Wiggy, no real cost if they don’t cut it.

                    Considering how well Peterson did at AAA, I wonder if he will be re-signed. I think the Cards would have to get him off the 40 man some how. There is an outside chance he could hit some at the MLB level later on next year, now that he has an understanding of what he needs to adjust to, and given time to work it up at Memphis. Not sure if the org has somebody else in mind for everyday 1B duty down there.

                • Nutlaw says:

                  Does Freese have superior D at 3rd? It sure seems like Descalso (a second baseman) ends up subbing in defensively for him late in games an awful lot.

              • crdswmn says:

                What isn’t broke is Carpenter at 2B. He has had a tremendous year playing 2B, why mess with it? I think there is something to be said for comfort and Carpenter looks comfortable there. Switching him to 3B could mess with his mojo.

                • Bw52 says:

                  What is broke is David Freese `s play this season.As I stated to BB I think Freese gets another year to see if he can return to form.As for messing up Matt Carpenters mojo…………..I doubt that.MC was a 3B .So he is good enough to play where needed and do a adequate job.I would rather have a adequate MC at 3B instead of seeing him hurt at 2B in a slide or making the pivot.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  If Wong had taken MLB by storm initially, it would have made this situation clearer. Waiting another year (or at least a partial year) to do anything with Freese does seem more likely at this point.

            • Bw52 says:

              So what do you do with Kolten Wong? Send him to AAA again or use him as a defensive guy,PH,PR abd sometimes starter?

  7. blingboy says:

    Another thought is that the Cardinals had a front row seat to the Puig comedy act during the NLCS. A tutorial on what happens when you are so in love with a bat that you expose a young player to MLB before he is ready defensively, fundamentally and mentally. The Cardinals would be the last team I would expect to bring up a guy who is clearly not ready for prime time on several levels. Which leads to the question of whether they will scrutinize Taveras all the more, especially since he was not on the field all that much last year. Remember when Shelby was having issues at Memphis? When the Cards needed a starter they brought up Joe Kelly instead, who nobody had ever heard of. That is an example of the Cardinal Way in action.

  8. Steven says:

    Wacha is a stud. From near perfection (Pirates) to beating arguably the best pitcher in baseball (Kershaw $300million) and shutting out the Dodgers in games 2 and 6 in his first postseason appearance and after only 9 previous regular season starts. Impressive to say the least.. Opening Day starter for the 2014 season no doubt.

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