St. Louis Cardinals: Time for quick-hook pitching moves
With the plethora of extra St. Louis Cardinals bullpen arms, Mike Shildt should turn to the bullpen early and often when his weaker starters struggle.
With three unreliable starters and a deep bullpen, the St. Louis Cardinals need only look to the 2011 postseason to see how they should proceed. When Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Miles Mikolas get in early trouble, don’t hesitate, Mr. Schildt — yank ’em.
On the way to the 2011 World Series Championship, Tony La Russa continually pulled starters before they’d pitched five full innings, and it worked. Six times in that postseason, the Cardinals rallied to win games after the starting pitcher struggled:
• NLDS Game 2 vs. Philadelphia, Chris Carpenter is out after surrendering four earned runs in three innings. Six relievers pitch and the Cardinals win 5-4.
• NLCS Game 2 vs. Milwaukee, Edwin Jackson is out after the Phillies score two runs in four-and-a-third innings. Six relievers follow, and the Cardinals win 12-3.
• NLCS Game 5, Jaime Garcia is out after four-and-two-thirds innings despite giving up just one run (the Brewers did have seven hits). Four relievers finish up a 7-1 Cards win.
• NLCS Game 6, Edwin Jackson is out after giving up four runs in two innings. Five relievers complete a 12-6 St. Louis victory.
• World Series game 3 vs. Texas, Kyle Lohse is out after the Rangers score three runs in three innings. Four relievers complete a 16-7 Cardinals victory.
• World Series Game 6, Jaime Garcia is tagged for five hits, two walks, and two runs in three innings. Six relievers appear and the Cardinals win 10-9 in 11 innings.
Mike Schildt has been willing to use the quick hook, as he showed on Tuesday when he pinch-hit for Michael Wacha after the starter had given up two runs in four innings. It didn’t work out because the Cardinals couldn’t score, but the bullpen once again did its job, shutting out the Rockies for four innings.
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No one’s saying Shildt and pitching coach Mike Maddux should panic every time a starter not named Jack (Flaherty) or Dak (Hudson) gets tagged for a run or two. Wainwright, with a 3.32 ERA over the last month, has pitched well of late, and Wacha and Mikolas can sometimes wriggle out of trouble. But when the Cardinals’ bottom three starters labor through four innings with 80-plus pitches, it’s time to warm up the bullpen.
Relief pitching won’t always be the answer. There’s always the chance that one or more Redbirds pitchers will be off on any given day. On Sept. 6, five relievers puked up eight runs in a 9-4 loss to the Pirates. That could happen again, but the odds are against it.
The Cardinals have five relievers (Giovanny Gallegos, Carlos Martinez, John Brebbia, John Gant, Ryan Helsley) with ERAs of 3.19 and lower, plus others (Tyler Webb, Andrew Miller, Daniel Ponce de Leon) who are generally competent.
That said, Shildt should curb his urge to use Miller in tight-game, late-inning situations. Despite a second-half ERA of 4.91 and a September WHIP of 3.00, Miller has been a frequent eighth-inning reliever, pitching 23 of his 46-plus innings in that frame. The lanky lefty, brilliant from 2014-2017, has had control problems all year and has walked more lefties (14 in 82 at-bats) than righties (12 in 87 at-bats). Turning to Miller with the game on the line just doesn’t make sense.