Leo Mazzone’s Criticism of the Nationals’ Handling of Stephen Strasburg Invites a Strong and Selective Reaction

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Leo Mazzone’s reputation as a pitching coach guru was bolstered by having three Hall of Famers and a pretty good background cast of characters with the Braves and was subsequently ruined by going to the Orioles and functioning without much talent. Like most coaches (and managers for that matter), it’s more about the talent than it is about any set of principles implemented by the coach or organization.

When Mazzone had Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, he looked smart. He had Rodrigo Lopez and Kris Benson with the Orioles and therefore, didn’t look as smart.

That said, it can’t be ignored that Erik Bedard had his two best and healthiest seasons working under Mazzone; that relatively pedestrian pitchers Denny Neagle, Kerry Ligtenberg, Greg McMichael, Mike Remlinger, and John Thomson blossomed with him as their pitching coach and did nothing notable anywhere else; that Kevin Millwood and Steve Avery developed under Mazzone; that Russ Ortiz, John Burkett, Jaret Wright and Mike Hampton all experienced a renaissance under him; or that the Braves came undone after Mazzone left.

Was it talent? Was it Hall of Famers? Was it technique? Was it Bobby Cox? Was it that the Braves in those years were super good and could’ve shuttled anyone out there and had them look better than they were?

Or was it a combination of everything?

Or is it something that can’t be defined as “this is why”?

Mazzone hasn’t gotten a pitching coach job since he was fired by the Orioles which leads me to believe that his reputation as someone who doesn’t adhere to organizational edicts—a version of going along to get along that’s been in place forever—is preventing him from being hired. Or perhaps it’s something else.

I don’t know and nor do you. This is why it’s silly to take Mazzone’s quotes about the Nationals’ parameters and much-discussed decision to limit Stephen Strasburg as the ranting of a has-been baseball dinosaur by referencing Steve Avery as “proof” (as Craig Calcaterra does here on Hardball Talk) that Mazzone’s way is one of the past and his opinions carry zero weight.

With the proliferation of self-proclaimed experts, stat sites, and insertion of viewpoints available at the click of a button, it’s hard to know which end is up. Everyone’s knows better than the previous person whether that person is an experienced baseball man or not. Dave Righetti and the Giants’ methods involving their young pitchers functioning similarly to the Braves of the 1990s drew old-school respect as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum flourished. But Lincecum wasn’t working under the Giants’ program and was essentially left on his own. So where does the credit lie? Is it Lincecum’s dad? Is it the Giants for their willingness to let Lincecum pitch without limits? And who gets the blame for his poor season and decreased velocity? Does Righetti get the accolades for Cain and Madison Bumgarner? How does it work?

The Yankees can provide reams of printouts and cutting-edge medical recommendations for their treatment of their young pitchers, but all are either hurt (Jose Campos, Manny Banuelos); inconsistent or worse (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain); stagnant (Dellin Betances); or have the fault shifted elsewhere for the Yankees’ shoddy assessments (Michael Pineda).

Did Avery get hurt because of the Braves’ overusing him or would he have gotten hurt anyway? Avery was another pitcher who learned his mechanics from his dad and was left to his own devices. It was only after he got hurt that those mechanics were deemed as the culprit. And now, years after the fact, Mazzone’s getting the blame.

Would he have gotten hurt anyway? Judging from the way pitchers are constantly injured—clean mechanics or not—it’s a pretty safe bet that he would’ve.

Will Strasburg get hurt? He was babied from college onward and still needed Tommy John surgery.

Some pitchers are overused at a young age and get injured; others stay healthy. Why doesn’t Calcaterra reference Maddux, who as a 22-year-old was handled by another old-school manager Don Zimmer and pitching coach, Dick Pole, and allowed to throw as many as 167 pitches in a game in 1988? Maddux credited Pole for teaching him proper mechanics and Pole has bounced from team-to-team because he—guess what?—asserts himself and doesn’t go with the organizational flow.

Jim Bouton wrote about this phenomenon in Ball Four when discussing why Johnny Sain hopped from club-to-club and never lasted very long in any one place. Ego and control are far more important to an organization than getting it right and iconoclasts don’t last unless they have massive success.

Mazzone’s not wrong here. In truth, nor are the Nats. There is no “right” or “wrong”. I disagree with the way they’ve implemented their plan because there were methods to keeping Strasburg’s innings down without going to the controversial extreme of shutting him down when they’re going to need him most in the playoffs (the 6-man rotation for example), but the smug condescension and retrospective denigration of Mazzone’s work is pure second guessing and random outsider expertise to prove an unprovable theory with the selective references to match.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—American League

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If you read the mainstream sites and clearing houses of “rumors”, you’ll see that at any given time approaching the July 31st deadline there are around 30 different trades with 50+ players that are supposedly being discussed. The problem is the majority of the purveyors of this sludge claim to have “inside information”. But it’s always the same players going to 10 different places, staying put, signing contracts or whatever other fiction they can come up with and it’s done to accumulate webhits and play you for a fool. Most of it is garbage. It’s probably wise to just ignore the “rumors” that pop up since most of them are formulated based on search engine analysis and have little-to-no basis in fact.

Let’s have a logical look at players that are or might be available along with predictions of where they’ll end up or if they won’t be traded at all. The teams listed are sellers, possible sellers or those who are willing or have the need to do something drastic. The National League will be posted at another time.

Tampa Bay Rays

James Shields, RHP—He won’t be traded mid-season unless a team gets desperate and offers 2-3 legit prospects to get him. He’s signed through 2014 and the Rays are still in contention. I do believe he’ll eventually be traded, but it won’t be until the winter.

Wade Davis, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Boston Red Sox

Kelly Shoppach, C—He’ll get traded in an “if this, then that” deal meaning if the Red Sox have to trade someone from the current roster to improve the starting rotation, they’ll trade Shoppach simultaneously to fill the created hole.

He’ll end up with the Mets.

Carl Crawford, LF—No one’s taking that contract now. They’ll try to deal him after the season to free money to sign Jacoby Ellsbury long-term and might find a taker if Crawford’s healthy and plays well over the final 2 months. Both Crawford and the Red Sox seem to realize that it would be best if the sides parted. The Red Sox signing him was a mistake; Crawford signing in Boston was a mistake.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Since the media created a ridiculous rumor out thin air that would’ve sent Crawford to the Marlins for Heath Bell and Hanley Ramirez, I’ve got one of my own (only not ridiculous). If they’re going to get rid of Beckett, they’ll have to take a similar contract in return. Beckett is owed $31.5 million through 2014. If the Marlins are desperate to get rid of Bell, how about Bell, Anibal Sanchez and Randy Choate for Beckett?

I’m sure Bell and Bobby Valentine would get along about as well as Valentine and Kevin Youkilis. Or Valentine and anyone else. Which is to say not well. At all.

Toronto Blue Jays

Yunel Escobar, SS—Escobar may have irritated his way out of another venue and the Dodgers need a shortstop. For some reason, the Blue Jays fancy themselves as contenders and need pitching.

Kansas City Royals

Jeff Francoeur, OF—He was with the Rangers when they went to the World Series in 2010 and if he was a defensive replacement for the Nelson Cruz in the 2011 series, they would’ve won. Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan won’t forget that.

Bruce Chen, LHP—They’re not going to trade him.

Jonathan Broxton, RHP—His strikeout numbers are down, but he’s had a solid comeback season as a closer. The cross-state Cardinals need bullpen help.

Jose Mijares, LHP—Everyone needs an extra lefty. The Dodgers are ready to buy.

Minnesota Twins

Justin Morneau, 1B—They haven’t made clear that they’re going to trade him, but if he goes I say—and have said for months—that he goes to the Dodgers.

Josh Willingham, OF—They’re not trading him.

Denard Span, CF—They’re not trading him.

Francisco Liriano, LHP—He’s in heavy demand and can start or relieve. The Yankees have long coveted him and could use him in either role.

Carl Pavano, RHP—He’s back in his office (the disabled list). He won’t be back in time to be dealt at the deadline, but he’ll get through waivers in August and wind up somewhere. The Red Sox will take him for nothing.

Oakland Athletics

Grant Balfour, RHP; Kurt Suzuki, C—The A’s can’t justify dumping salary while they’re hovering around contention. They’re not making the playoffs and are playing over their heads, but they’re playing well and moving anyone for reasons other than to improve the team is not feasible.

Seattle Mariners

Jason Vargas, LHP—Once the bigger names come off the board, Vargas is a viable back-of-the-rotation starter who’s relatively cheap and under team control through 2013. The Braves do lots of yapping about being in on “big” names like Zack Greinke, then wind up trading for a Vargas-type.

Felix Hernandez, RHP—They’re not trading him.

Brandon League, RHP—League is a mediocre reliever, but throws hard and has been unlucky this season. The Giants are always interested in improving their bullpen.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—What happened to this guy? The only thing I can see as possible is if the Angels are so desperate to get rid of Vernon Wells that they pick up the difference in the two contracts and send Wells to Seattle to get Figgins back. He was a very good player for the Angels.

Kevin Millwood, RHP—I’d probably prefer the veteran Millwood to Vargas. He’s been serviceable this season and has post-season experience. The Cardinals need some starting pitching.

Ichiro Suzuki, RF—According to GM Jack Zduriencik, Ichiro (.264/.290/.358) is still a “franchise” player. Jack Z can start cleaning out his office. Someone would take Ichiro, but evidently he’s not available. This is how teams that lose 90+ games for four straight years are built and maintained!

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The Back Of The Bubblegum Card Tells Much

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The Red Sox are going to finish ahead of the Yankees in the standings this year. That doesn’t preclude the Yankees from making the playoffs; doesn’t mean they won’t be dangerous if they make it, but the Red Sox are still better.

Bad starts, ridicule, laughter, panic—inside and outside the organization—aside, the two teams can be judged based on their players and prior performances. Looking at the back of the bubblegum card is not the end-all/be-all of analysis, but once you look at the individual histories of the rosters as currently constituted, the Red Sox are better over the long haul of 162 games.

Russell Martin‘s story is engaging enough, but the attacks on Dodgers GM Ned Colletti for non-tendering Martin (the public “thank yous” from Yankee fans) aren’t simply premature, they’re idiotic. The Dodgers were right to non-tender Martin. He’d been injury-prone; his numbers were declining from his rising superstar heights in 2008; he’d run the bases poorly; and his attitude was in question. It’s possible that health was his main obstacle; that he needed a change-of-scenery; or it might be that the American League hasn’t learned how to pitch to him yet.

Paranoia surrounds Phil Hughes and his overly-discussed and analyzed lost velocity; what makes it worse is that it’s being dissected by people who don’t know anything about anything, let alone pitching.

You can look at the career numbers of Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez and feel safe that they’ll perform at or close to their career levels. But the starting rotation is looking worse and worse; and in comparison to that of the Red Sox—atrocious start and all—it’s far weaker top-to-bottom.

Everyone invested in the Yankees success in any way still holds their collective breaths when A.J. Burnett is pitching; Ivan Nova, Hughes and the fifth starter grouping of FreddyGarciaBartoloColonKevinMillwoodCarlosSilva is frightening to contemplate if they have to rely on that amalgam all season.

Like Martin, Colon has done well; like Martin, it’s probably an anomaly.

It’s endemic of New York and Yankee fandom to take the smallest positive or negative and turn it into a cause célèbres. They had the “best bullpen in the universe”…until Rafael Soriano gacked up a game.

The “bubblegum card” argument does nothing but bolster the Red Sox credentials as the better team.

Do you think Kevin Youkilis will be hitting .148 in May 1st? That Carl Crawford will be at .132? That Clay Buchholz will allow over 2 homers a start? That John Lackey can possibly be as bad as he’s been so far?

Much as the Yankees are shocked by the play of Martin and Colon, the Red Sox are shocked in the opposite direction by the terrible starts en masse from most of their roster.

The difference is that the Red Sox players have a history to rely on and are at an age where expecting them to return to form is a near-guarantee.

Can the Yankees say that?

It won’t continue.

Even if their fan bases and media hordes don’t know this, the clubs themselves do.

The Yankees had better find some starting pitching.

Someplace.

Soon.

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Yankees Were Better Off With Mitre

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You read that right.

As much of a butt of jokes as Sergio Mitre was, there are pitchers for roles and roles for pitchers; the Yankees didn’t need Mitre to be a starting pitcher despite the pretense they put up with him “competing” for a role in the starting rotation this year; they needed him to be a long reliever.

That’s what he was and he was okay at it; he never complained; pitched when asked; and for the most part was serviceable.

Today the Yankees traded Mitre to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Chris Dickerson. This comes a day after they signed Kevin Millwood to a minor league contract; the same Kevin Millwood who was said to be out of shape and threw an unimpressive session for scouts in a Scott Boras-arranged exhibition last week. The Yankees were the only team to send anyone to look at Millwood.

They have Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon vying for the final spot in the starting rotation. Ivan Nova will presumably be the fourth starter, although none of this has been officially announced as of yet.

What’s the plan now?

Is there one?

Since there hasn’t been a coherent strategy all winter, why should anyone expect something different as they continue the same pattern?

The Yankees had their entire 2011 blueprint contingent on signing Cliff Lee; when Lee took his talents to Philadelphia, the Yankees started scrambling in ill-disguised desperation. First it was a bizarre, Twilight Zone-ish attempt to bring back Carl Pavano; then they repeatedly called the Mariners about Felix Hernandez and have been told—over-and-over—that King Felix is not available.*

*After the attempted trade for Lee last summer that degenerated into an accusatory fiasco between the two clubs as to who said what and whether a trade had been agreed to, the Yankees supposedly decreed they weren’t going to deal with the Mariners again; what happened?

They’ve been pursuing Francisco Liriano and Brett Myers with the media treating these wish lists as if they’re the divine right of the Yankees to get the players they want simply because they want them.

Liriano and Myers aren’t available either.

So they brought in Garcia and Colon on minor league contracts; they were worth a shot and have pitched respectably this spring. And now they’ve signed Millwood.

Are they going to stick either Garcia or Colon in the starting rotation and the other in the Mitre role of long relief? How long’s that going to last?

Colon has relieved three times in his big league career and two of those times were in his rookie year of 1997.

Garcia has relieved once in his career.

That’s a combined total of four relief appearances for two pitchers who’ve been in 631 big league games.

Will they know how to warm up properly? Can they get into game face quickly? Will they pitch effectively in an unfamiliar role?

I highly doubt it.

At the very least, with Mitre, you knew what you were getting. It may not have been great, but you knew what it was. Games in which he’d enter as a long reliever generally meant the starting pitcher had put his team in a hole and they needed some length to get through the middle innings. The long reliever’s job is that and more.

If you watched Hisanori Takahashi with the Mets last season, you saw the true value of a competent middle reliever who could give 3-5 innings at a time. Takahashi entered games in which the Mets were in danger of getting blown out, calmed things down and gave the club a chance to crawl back into the game. With the Yankees lineup, that’s not a small thing as they’re never really out of any game.

Mitre wasn’t good, but he knew his place and was a usable piece.

With a rookie, Nova, as the fourth starter; either Colon or Garcia as the fifth starter; and Phil Hughes still on an innings/pitch count, wouldn’t they have been better off keeping Mitre than to trade for Chris Dickerson? Do they need another outfielder? Are they that worried about Curtis Granderson‘s strained oblique and were so undecided as to what they were going to do with either Garcia or Colon that they had to do this now?

This made no sense. In fact, it looked like the Yankees were confronted with the dilemma of what to do with all these over-the-hill and mediocre pitchers and jumped at the opportunity to get something for Mitre before the offer was pulled.

It was a mistake.

I published a full excerpt of my book 9 days ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Viewer Mail 2.25.2011

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Hank Steinbrenner:

I agree about Hank. Very entertaining and good copy for us bloggers.

Hank the Tank just says “stuff” and much of the time I don’t think it’s off-the-cuff and reactionary to a question he was asked; I truly believe that he plans these things. Maybe not verbatim, but he’ll have something in his head that he wants to get out, it eats at him and pops out in the most inappropriate ways.

I don’t understand why Hank chose Derek Jeter to pick at. It’s as if the mansion offends Hank’s delicate sensibilities. George used to give Jeter a hard time as well. I could see if Jeter was risking his reputation in places he’d be better-served to avoid, but Jeter’s been around too long and is too smart to risk it all now.

It seems to me Hank—more than Hal—is offended at paying the salaries he does and the only way he can express that indignation is with his idiotic statements the type which he uttered earlier this week.

Perhaps that too is a calculated act; Jeter, as captain of the team, has to take the brunt of criticism directed at others in the clubhouse and keep quiet about it. Alex Rodriguez is too sensitive; Jorge Posada would explode; Mark Teixeira is too vanilla to criticize—that leaves Jeter.

I’m sure he doesn’t like it; doesn’t understand it; doesn’t agree with the bullying nature of segments of the Steinbrenner clan, but he knows the deal, shakes his head and lets it go.

Let Hank say his piece 3-4 times a year and go back to the horse ranch to scream at the trainers and maybe even the horses.

Who knows? About his horses, he might say, “He was too busy thinking about his future out at stud than the race…”

Know what? The same could be said of Jeter!

Tim Berger writes RE the Cardinals:

You can’t replace Carpenter. he’s worth 6 wins to the cards this season, which puts them back at .500. This doesn’t affect the win/loss percentages of the Brewers and the Reds (or if it does, it actually might give each of them a win). You can’t mute a loss of an ace, and your inference that they can recover even half of Wainwright’s wins back with Kevin Millwood is laughable. Healthy Scott Rolen – pretty lucky, run producing Jonny Gomes – pretty lucky. But Bruce and Stubbs are only getting better, Phillips actually had a down year, and Votto’s year is just a start. Lets start with facts, fill the middle with rational inferences, and end with reality – which spells an atom bomb sized whole for the Cards, one they likely cannot recover from.

Who said anything about Chris Carpenter? He’s supposedly healthy. If he gets hurt (not a small possibility given his history), then they’re screwed.

You missed the point of what I wrote. The value of Wainwright wasn’t the number of wins he accumulated as much as it was the quality innings he threw; they can patch together the wins elsewhere.

It’s beyond simplistic to say that because he was a 5.7 WAR player last year, then the Cardinals will be a .500 team without him. It’s like looking at a playoff series and matching the players up on a position-by-position basis—it’s meaningless.

I’m glad I made you laugh, but am not sure what’s funny. You’re telling me that Kevin Millwood can’t win 10 games for the Cardinals by showing up and being competent? Competence and durability is why Millwood is still around.

Jeff Suppan won 44 games in 3 seasons with the Cardinals from 2004-2006 with nothing in terms of stuff. Nothing. Millwood or some other cog can’t replicate that?

You don’t think they’re going to get a better performance from Kyle Lohse? He can’t be much worse. With a full year from Jake Westbrook, a minute improvement from Jaime Garcia and if whomever they plug into Wainwright’s spot is breathing and throwing strikes, they’ll have a win total in the mid-80s as a team; however many they win after that will determine their fate.

As for the Reds, yes Jay Bruce is getting better.

But what’s the genesis of the opinion that Drew Stubbs is getting “better”? He’s been in the big leagues for one year, hit with some pop, struck out a ridiculous amount of times and had a poor average/on base percentage of .255/.329. He’s got speed and is a good outfielder; in the minors, he never hit more than 12 homers and bashed 22 last year. You think he’s going to improve on that? Based on what?

As for Votto’s year being a “start”, you’re asking a lot. Another near Triple Crown/MVP season isn’t fait accompli. He’s a fine player and will put up big numbers, but a “start”? Really?

Obviously you’re a Reds fan and need to look for a few facts, rational inferences and reality of your own before pointing said stick at me.

You can equate the Twins trading Johan Santana in 2008 (and getting nothing in return) as losing their ace and recovering from an “atom sized hole” in their rotation; they nearly made the playoffs.

You can’t make these “season’s over” assertions in February especially with a team that has Albert Pujols in a contract year and Tony La Russa managing it.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Cardinals and Adam Wainwright:

The main issue (for me anyway) is that we don’t match up with the Reds, Brewers and Cubs when it comes to 1-2 in the rotation anymore. And, the bigger problem: team morale.

It’s my team. I’m behind them all the way no matter what. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say we aren’t the favorite in the NL Central anymore because of this. We’ll be lucky to be in the hunt after the All-Star break. And MY morale… well, not feeling much of it right now. Still dealing with the shock and everything.

This just blows.

It’s a positive that it happened so early in the spring that they’ll be able to come to grips with it, find alternatives and let it go by the time the season starts.

I wouldn’t worry about the 1-2 matchups—they’re generally overblown and much of the time the pitchers don’t face one another in the games.

I’m low on sympathy after what’s happened to the Mets in recent years. I understand though.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Cardinals and Kevin Millwood:

I watched Millwood in Texas and he’s no slouch. I don’t think he’s a big game pitcher, but he’s a grinder. He’s a durable veteran who does his job.

He may not be suited to be your #1, but the Cards already have one of those. Millwood could slot in nicely behind Carpenter.

People are forgetting about Garcia. He was a rookie and was terrific.

As I said earlier, they could do worse than Kevin Millwood; Dave Duncan is the man who coaxed 18 wins out of Kent Bottenfield. He and La Russa have had their gacks (I’m going to talk about that very thing in an upcoming post), but with a veteran like Millwood, what they’d need is innings and he can definitely deliver those.

Gabriel writes RE the Cardinals and the media:

I think nobody should bag the season without even playing the first game. No one knows how things are going to unravel. The tone of the news reminded me of tabloids, always looking to sell the shocking news instead of presenting objective analysis.

It’s a big loss and a huge story, but it’s not a catastrophe of monumental proportions. Things need to break right for them, but it’s not absurd to believe they can win without Wainwright.

You’re expecting objective analysis? Is there such a thing anymore?

Well, there is here, but elsewhere?

It’s mostly agenda-driven, twisted and self-aggrandizing knee-jerk responses or lame swings at comedy.

These types are looking for attention and, unfortunately, getting it.

Surviving Wainwright

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

With the news expected to be catastrophic regarding the condition of Adam Wainwright‘s elbow, the reactionary “experts” are already declaring the Cardinals 2011 season over.

A team managed by Tony La Russa; with Dave Duncan as a pitching coach; that still has Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Matt Holliday has had their season declared over.

It’s a bit premature.

Does it make things more difficult?

Absolutely.

Does it end their season in February?

Of course not.

Here’s how and why the Cardinals can survive the loss of Wainwright.

WAR—this is what it’s good for.

This is one of the few instances in which the statistic Wins Above Replacement (WAR) has some use. For me anyway.

Granted, Adam Wainwright is one of the best pitchers in baseball with a post-season resume of coming through with the games on the line.

Forever linked to Carlos Beltran as one who came through (Wainwright) and one who failed (Beltran), that defining career moment of a devastating and perfectly placed curveball to end the 2006 NLCS sent the Cardinals to their championship and the Mets into the beginning of their tailspin that’s still going on.

For the record, as I’ve said repeatedly, Beltran is not to blame for that strikeout; Babe Ruth himself couldn’t have hit that pitch. No one could’ve hit that pitch. It was beautiful in its devastation and the credit goes to Wainwright with no blame to be placed on Beltran.

Of course it’s impossible to “replace” Wainwright, but his 5.7 WAR from 2010 is something that can be accounted for with La Russa’s strategies; Duncan’s reclamation skills; a step up in performance from Kyle Lohse; and continued improvement from Jaime Garcia; and durability from Jake Westbrook.

The positive of WAR I just elucidated is also the negative—the Cardinals are not going to replace Wainwright with a ham-and-egger baseline minor league pitcher. They’re going to need either a step-up performance from the above mentioned names and to find someone to mold into a serviceable arm to take the innings. The innings are more important than that accumulated wins of Wainwright.

Garcia/Lohse/Westbrook and…?

There’s talk that the Cardinals are looking at Kevin Millwood. On the surface, Millwood was awful for the Orioles last season, but that may have been due in part to being an Oriole; that there’s a misinterpretation of his performance based on a 4-16 record; and that he’s still floating around with the dearth of pitching available.

A logical fallacy would suggest that if the 36-year-old Millwood had anything left, someone would’ve signed him already. Millwood wants a major league deal and looked to be biding his time for an eventuality like the Wainwright injury. He was very good for the Rangers in 2009; and last season, he provided 190 innings for the Orioles. Innings are what the Cardinals need right now and Millwood has proven that he can gobble innings.

Manipulated by La Russa’s bullpen management and Duncan’s mechanical tweaks along with having a very good team behind him, there’s no reason that Millwood can’t account for at least part of the Wainwright’s loss. No, the Cardinals won’t be as intimidating without Wainwright fronting the rotation, but they can absolutely survive.

Getting past the immediate response to a 4-16 record—look at Millwood’s Gamelogs from last season—you see he was quite serviceable and occasionally good.

There are other veterans like Pedro Martinez to consider or perhaps Jarrod Washburn. The in-house options include Mitchell Boggs who was a good starter in the minors.

You can forget about Joe Blanton.

The Phillies would be stupid to trade him considering the age on their rotation; he’d do the same things for the Cardinals as Millwood; and the Phillies would not want to send to Blanton to a potential playoff opponent.

It’s not ideal, but the Cardinals can get by without Wainwright.

A weak and winnable division is rife with opportunity.

Much was made of the Reds reaction when the news of Wainwright’s injury reached their clubhouse. Jonny Gomes was accused of  singing (which he denied and clarified—link); Dusty Baker commented in wonderment as to whom was going to get the blame for the injury.

Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa are not friendly and it was a wry message from Baker to the public at large that injuries happen to pitchers without the need for a convenient scapegoat.

Baker is a target for the dual downfalls of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood; it’s ignored that it was Jim Riggleman who abused Wood in 1998; that Prior was always an injury waiting to happen.

It’s meaningless whether or not Gomes was outwardly happen, misunderstood in his reaction or is quietly pleased that the Cardinals are weaker but saddened at the injury to a star of the game.

What matters is the truth; the truth is that it’s human nature to feel some sense of satisfaction at that which benefits themselves. These things happen between teammates, let alone competitors. Do you really believe that the on-the-bubble reliever in spring training is joyful when his competition for that last spot in the bullpen does well?

No.

The Reds chances to win the NL Central are helped by Wainwright’s injury and it’s dishonest to suggest that they’re having sympathy for the Cardinals.

I’m not sure if the Reds should be laughing all that much though.

I thought the Reds were remarkably lucky last season that they got a healthy year from Scott Rolen and were able to overcome Brandon Phillips‘s mouth to the degree that they did. They did almost nothing to improve this past winter and have dramatic question marks remaining.

The NL Central might only take 85 wins for the title; the Reds are in the mix for that number, but so still are the Cardinals along with the Brewers and even the Cubs.

Laughing now is probably not the best move for a Reds team that had a lot go right for them last season.

Selfish agendas stay the same.

With or without Wainwright, looking at my predictions for the 2010 NL Central, I doubt much would change aside from the numbers of wins the teams will accrue.

Casual observers, hypnotized by the star power of Carpenter and Wainwright, don’t realize how good Garcia was last year; Westbrook is a solid pro; and if the Cardinals are able to coax a better year out of Lohse (he can hardly be worse than he was), they’ll be okay.

The loss of Wainwright would be equivalent to the Yankees losing C.C. Sabathia; the Phillies losing Roy Halladay; the Dodgers losing Clayton Kershaw; the Giants losing Tim Lincecum. But it all has to placed in the proper context.

The division is open; the Cardinals have a good team that can hit and pitch; a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach tandem. The devastation is muted by these factors. It would be hard for the Yankees to compete without Sabathia considering their division; the same goes for the Dodgers in the NL West; the Phillies and Cardinals can account for the absence of such a force because of circumstances.

Count out the Cardinals at your own risk because it wasn’t all that long ago that they collapsed at the end of the 2006 season and nearly missed the playoffs, then recovered to win the World Series.

Greeted with such terrible news at the open of spring training, there are teams that would bag the season now. In February. The Cardinals are not one of those teams. In fact, they’re more likely to come out swinging with both fists. If you’re not paying attention, you might get caught with one of said fists and subsequently knocked out before knowing what hit you.

The Reds should take heed amidst their gloating, silent and otherwise. Because by October they may not find many things to laugh about.