I’ve heard it from numerous Cardinal fans that the Cincinnati Reds were playing over their heads this season. Fans kept waiting for the Reds to slowly fade and thought they saw a glimpse of their collapse after Yadier Molina stood up to Brandon Phillips which caused a bench clearing brawl, followed by a three game sweep. Fans thought the Reds were in the review mirror.
Instead, the mighty thud you heard was the Birds dropping in the standings while the Reds just went back to doing what they do best…win. However, this isn’t just about the players on the field. It’s about the men who assembled these players on the field and getting the last laugh is Walt Jocketty, the longtime Cardinals’ GM who was forced out of St. Louis. Meanwhile, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak continued to make questionably moves this season, even prior to the season.
I’ll start with the signing of Kyle Lohse who went 15-6 in 2008 and pitched 200 innings (on the head) for just the second time in his career. As his salary jumped to over $11 million dollars in ’09 and ’10, Lohse has since gone a combined 10-17 and has made just 15 starts this year going 4-7 while having a lengthy stay on the DL. He was to be the number three guy in this rotation behind Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
Then he went out and overpaid for Brad Penny with a $7.5 million contract with the hopes that Dave Duncan could fix his mechanical flaws. It worked in April. In four starts, Penny went 3-0 with three earned runs in those four starts. His only five other starts of the season, before being shelved with back problems? Penny went 0-4 with 16 earned runs allowed.
To fill out the rotation, Tony LaRussa gave the fifth spot to rookie Jaime Garcia who didn’t win a job in the rotation until late in the spring. This surprise helped keep the Cardinals in the hunt longer than they should have been. Garcia is 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA, but with the strain of 163 innings for a pitcher coming back from reconstructive arm surgery, he’s been scratched his last two starts because of arm fatigue. Clearly management did not picture Garcia being the third man in this rotation.
So, in an attempt to bolster the rotation after others such as Blake Hawksworth couldn’t fill the void with the injuries to Lohse and Penny, Mozeliak went out and got washed up Jeff Suppan from Milwaukee and then after seeing rookie outfielder Jon Jay hit .431in the month of July, decided Ryan Ludwick was expendable and in a three team trade picked up Jake Westbrook from Cleveland.
Jay has since dropped to hitting .266 in the month August and .220 so far this month while Suppan and Westbrook have combined to go 3-11 in 22 starts.
Should I even get into the third base fiasco? David Freese, who was acquired for Jim Edmonds, which seems like ions ago from San Diego, was penciled in as the starting third basemen, but was out after just 70 games with a season ending injury. With shortstop Tyler Greene lost after just 37 games, the left side of the Cardinals infield consisted of Brendan Ryan who is only hitting .220 and Felipe Lopez who was never comfortable at third base and was just released for showing up late and not attending infield drills over several occasions. As Lopez packed it in the last couple of weeks, Mozeliak told Lopez to pack up and released him from the team on Tuesday after LaRussa sent him home for being tardy again.
In an attempt to secure a solid third basemen near the trade deadline with guys like Brandon Inge from Detroit reportedly on the block, the best Mozeliak could do was go out and get Pedro Feliz…a .218 hitter!!!
Meanwhile, Jocketty leaves St. Louis and takes the GM job at Cincinnati. He steals Scott Rolen away from Toronto (you’ll remember Mozeliak traded Rolen to Toronto for, let me see…who was it…oh yeah another bust Troy Glaus) where Rolen was hitting .320 in 2009 and makes him the fixture at third base for the Reds. Remember, Rolen and LaRussa couldn’t co-exist because of LaRussa’s ego. So instead of having his solid bat in the Cardinals lineup, he’s hitting .291 with 20 homers and 82 RBI for Cincinnati while fans were told that there was plenty of talent at third base in the Cardinals’ system.
The Reds counteracted Albert Pujols’ bat with a Triple Crown threat of their own in Joey Votto who is benefitting from better hitters around him and has put up numbers equal or better than Pujols. Votto is hitting .323 (16 points higher than Pujols) with 35 HRs (four fewer than Pujols) and 106 RBI (three fewer than Pujols). Jocketty also went out and signed free agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera, who despite his lowest batting average in six seasons is still hitting .267. His leadoff guy Brandon Phillips is batting .271 and has popped 16 homers and his top two outfielders, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs have combined for 41 homers and 137 RBIs, not far off the numbers of Holliday and Rasmus who have a combined 50 homers and 154 RBI.
The biggest difference between the Reds and Cardinals has been pitching. That’s not to say that Cincinnati hasn’t had their struggles and issues with injuries. The fact is the Reds have been able to call up young arm after young arm that has come in and pitched admirably for that team.
They’ve only gotten 19 starts out of Aaron Harang who continues to get hurt after back to back 16 win seasons in ’06 and’07. The Reds were counting on him being healthy. They also were relying on young pitcher Edison Volquez who missed the first half of the season with an injury and Homer Bailey, another young arm who missed all of June and July. So the Reds relied on Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto who are a combined 28-15 (Wainwright and Carpenter are 34-19) and they took chance on their first round draft pick of 2009, Mike Leake, a guy who skipped the minor leagues and in his first season in the majors is 8-4 in 22 starts. However, he too has been shut down because of arm fatigue since August.
The difference is that when you combine the Reds starters after their top four (Arroyo, Cueto, Leake and Harang) they have gone 16-14 in 43 starts. The Cardinals, after their top three (Wainwright, Carpenter and Garcia) have gone 10-22 in 46 starts. That’s a difference of eight in the loss column…the margin the Cardinals trail the Reds at this point in the season.
Steady moves by Jocketty by bringing in veteran everyday players while relying on a young pitching staff that has been building for the last four-five years in the minor league system has paid off bigger dividends that Mozeliak’s plan of bringing in and using veteran pitchers in their early to mid 30’s and leaving the everyday play on the field to light hitting reserve players or unproven minor league players.
At this point, in the third season of the post-Jocketty, Mozeliak era, it’s clear that in speaking in sports clichés…Mozeliak can’t even hold Jocketty’s jock when it comes to fielding a winner.