Cards Preview: National disaster?
By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Thursday, Apr. 30 2009
THE STAKES: By taking two of three games at Atlanta, the Cardinals improved to
15-7 -– which is the best record in the National League. These four games
against the 5-15 Nationals present an obvious opportunity to keep rolling
despite their myriad injuries.
OF SPECIAL INTEREST: The Nationals are leaning on two former Cards -– washout
Kip Wells and oddball Julian Tavarez -- to shore up their flagging bullpen.
Washington relievers have posted a 5.51 earned-run average so far this season.
Wednesday night Tavarez banked his first save since 2006. "Nothing against the
guys in the 'pen, but the guys who've been around, they see us different --
when Kip Wells is in the game and myself in the game,” Tavarez told the
PITCHING FOR THE CARDS: Mitchell Boggs (1-0, 1.17 ERA): The reigning Pacific
Coast League ERA champion is filling in for the disabled Chris Carpenter. He
has won four of his seven career big league starts, including a solid 8-2
victory over the Cubs his last time out.
Can he earn a permanent rotation role down the road? Or will he fall into a
middle relief role instead? The next month could define his career course.
(Boggs’ big league resume is still thin. The only current National he has faced
is Adam Dunn, who is 0 for 1 with a walk in two plate appearances against him.)
PITCHING FOR THE NATIONALS: Daniel Cabrera (0-2, 4.42 ERA). He might be the
biggest pitcher in the major leagues, but he certainly isn’t the best. This
will be the Cards’ first look at him; only Jason La Rue (0-for-2) has faced him
Cabrera is a basic fastball-slider pitcher who must pound the ball down in the
strike zone to succeed. He shows his curveball and he almost never throws a
LINEUP INTRIGUE: With Khalil Greene battling a sore arm and Brendan Ryan out
with a strained hamstring muscle, the Cards brought shortstop prospect Tyler
Greene up from Memphis for his first big-league look. He was hitting .296 with
a .412 on-base percentage, so Tony La Russa should be able to put him right to
work. Tyler impressed La Russa during spring training, so there is a comfort
Brian Barden can also play shortstop when Khalil Greene sits, but that could
detract from his valuable platoon with Joe Thurston at third base. These
injuries also put more focus on second baseman Skip Schumaker, who is gaining
traction at his new position.
BULLPEN INTRIGUE: With Kyle McClellan unavailable Wednesday night, the Cards
needed Chris Perez and Jason Motte to come through. And they did, although Ryan
Franklin (7 for 7 in save opportunities) needed to step up with a four-out save
to preserve that victory.
Give Adam Wainwright credit for toughing out six innings against the Braves and
allowing the Cards to bypass struggling middle man Trever Miller. La Russa
turned the game over to reliable Dennys Reyes in the seventh inning instead and
the 'pen delivered three shutout innings.
DOWN ON THE FARM: The Cardinals aren’t surprised that Matt Pagnozzi is hitting
below the Mendoza Line at .160. He has never been much of a hitter and the
organization values him as a defensive catcher who works well with pitchers.
But Joe Mather (.123), David Freese (.148), Jarrett Hoffpauir (.164) and
catcher Bryan Anderson (.171) are also off to poor starts. Redbirds hitting
coach Mark Budaska must feel like Dr. Phil these days.
“You just have to keep them confident,” Budaska told the Memphis Commercial
Appeal. “Come out and do some early work with them, and tell them to be ready
and aggressive on good pitches because they all have good swings. It's not
usually a mechanical problem at all. It's usually what you get to hit, and how
you manage the pitches you get.”