Getaway Days

Perusing around Cardinals related sites tonight looking for something to write about today and I saw someone asking essentially this question on the STLtoday.com forums. I think it’s a very valid question. Does the team using a “Getaway Day” lineup after clinching a series win during the series, hurt the team during the postseason?

Already a couple times this season, satisfied with winning the first two games of a three game series, manager Mike Matheny has employed a “Getaway Day” lineup where you rest a couple of your starting players and let your bench players get some playing time. The logic being, if you win enough series’ every year, then the standings will take care of themselves.

I’ve long believed that this kind of mentality makes it difficult for a team to win the final game of a series to close out the sweep because the manager is subconsciously saying the game isn’t important enough.  So taking it a step further, just how easy is it for players and teams just flip that switch and go from that mode to the killer instinct to close out a playoff series when they’ve been conditioned to relax that killer instinct over a 162 game season?

The commenters so far don’t think there’s anything to it. I’m not sure myself, team psychology is a very fragile thing and it’s hard to break habits. Maybe it’s just some food for though.

Break glass in case of emergency only

Mike Matheny has garnered a little bit of a reputation as a manager who likes to have a pitcher in the bullpen that he only uses in an emergency. Last year, it was Joe Kelly who got buried at the deep end of the bullpen. This year, it seems like Keith Butler is that guy. Unlike last year, while Kelly was a Ferrari in the garage, Butler is maybe more like a Chevrolet. It’ll get you from A to B more often than not, but it won’t be flashy.

Here’s the problem with having a reliever who you only use in an emergency. Do you have a fire extinguisher in your home? I’m sure many of us do. Did you know these should be inspected regularly to ensure that they still have pressure and are in working order? I’m sure the reason why you’d do this makes sense to all of us reading, because you want it to work when you need it.

Same goes for an emergency relief pitcher. Butler hasn’t pitched in 11 days. I get that the last time he was out on the mound didn’t go well. He was tagged for 5 earned runs over an inning of work. His ERA stands at a glorious 45.00.

If anything, that shows that he needs work to diagnose the issues so that he can become a reliable member of the bullpen. He’ll certainly never become one if he never gets an opportunity to pitch. Last night, with a four run lead in the 9th (actually, more ideally the 8th while saving Martinez to get him out of a jam), would have been a perfect opportunity.

The Cardinals have one reliable arm in the bullpen right now, Carlos Martinez. Matheny has to find innings for the other guys in the bullpen to work out their issues or to attempt to execute those things they’ve been working on in side sessions. If you continue to ride Martinez, he could easily join the list of the ineffective bullpen arms or worse, end up on the DL. Then where are we?

I get riding the hot hand, but the other hands can’t get hot if they don’t play.

Trevor Rosenthal and the curse of the closer

As I mentioned last fall when Mike Matheny announced that Trevor Rosenthal would be the team’s closer at the beginning of the 2014 season, there seems to be a curse on official closers. Just look back at Ryan Franklin in 2011. Or Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs in 2013. Now we’re dealing with Rosenthal struggling out of the gate in 2014. It’s a bad track record.

With pitchers who rely on pure speed as a major factor of performance, my concern is always that any slight discomfort or worry about control can affect your velocity and, as a result, your performance. Kevin Reynolds and I spoke about confidence and Boggs a lot last season and how that little extra ounce of confidence can be the difference between a hard to hit 94 mph fastball and a 92 mph easy to hit one. I wondered if that’s what Trevor Rosenthal is dealing with.

Christine over at Aaron Miles’ Fastball wrote today and talked about his velocity. She found that Rosenthal’s fastball velocity so far this April is 96.11 mph. Over two mph slower than last April and last year in October. His fastest pitch of the year? Yeah, it hit a batter.

Rosenthal said post-game that he felt good and, “I’m worried about throwing strikes. I’m not worried about the velocity.” Maybe it isn’t what he meant, but if he’s having to think about throwing strikes rather than just winding up and putting the ball in the catcher’s mitt, that’s all you need to know.

For their part, Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist haven’t publicly expressed any worry about Rosenthal’s performance. That might hold some water in most cases, except this is the manager that insisted on running Boggs out there in high leverage situations last season when it was clear to everyone not in the dugout that it was a bad idea. Hopefully Rosenthal can get it figured out before we reach that point.

The magic of baseball

I was sitting at work on Wednesday afternoon loading up MLBtv so that I could watch the game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals, after winning the first two games of the series, were going for the sweep against Mike Leake. This was a great sign for the Cardinals, against whom Leake had a 5.95 ERA against over 8 starts. With Shelby Miller on the mound and his career 3.24 ERA against the Reds, things were looking positive.

But then the game started. Miller struggled to stop the Reds while Mike Leake, on the other hand, turned in arguably the best start of his career. 8 innings pitched, 4 hits, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts, 0 earned runs. The Cardinals offense was held silent.

Some fans want to call it a lack of effort. Some claim they were just mailing it in. Some bemoan the bipolar offense that gets stymied by a pitcher they’ve destroyed in the past. I doubt it is any of the above. Continue reading