Instant take on this move is the Cards are taking a chance on a former closer who once saved over 40 games in a row. The Cardinals know all about the once dynamic right arm of John Axford because a few of those saves came against their team. Axford was a dominant closer as recently as 2011, where he closed 46 of 48 games in taking over for retired saves leader Trevor Hoffman. In 2010, he came up and helped an ailing Hoffman and closed 24 of 27. In 2012, the wheels came off. He blew 9 saves, walked 39 and gave up 10 home runs in less than 70 innings pitched. He just couldn’t convert the way he used to. It got so bad that Axford shaved off his trademark Wyatt Earp like mustache and adopted a new approach to the plate. It wasn’t sad to see because the Brewers are in our division and are a constant foe. Axford hasn’t improved much in 2013, losing the closer job and when he got the opportunity to shut the door, he has failed in all six attempts. After plowing through the NL with 70 saves in 75 appearances in 2010-11, Axford has gone 35-50 in the last two seasons.
Guess what Cardinals fans? He isn’t being brought here to close games or even pitch in high leverage situations. He’s just another arm who can pitch. This is John Mozelaik taking a bird with a broken wing off the scrap yard who is still young and durable and giving the tormented pitcher the greatest gift of all time. Yadi Molina. The catcher who has turned average aging arms and young raw rookie guns into seasoned vets in less than 5 months. Mike Matheny and Molina knows how to handle troubled pitchers and will implement Axford into pitching coach Derek Lilloquist’s system. This is a low liability move for the Cards with a potential upside. The Cards will pay a little of Axford’s 5 million dollar contract and he is arbitration eligible next season which means the Cards don’t have to bring him back. This is a good stretch for Mo and the team to make on a guy who was brilliant and confounded hitters only 2 seasons ago. One wonders if the Brewers collapse in the 2011 postseason, which involved an Axford blown save, affected the right hander at all.
It’s easy to dismiss this deal and cry out for a bigger move. There are parts of me that want the Cards to at least look at Dan Haren or Kyle Lohse. However, let’s not doubt Mozelaik’s ability to pull dull diamonds from the woods and turn them into shiny clean cut jewels. Remember last July when we made a deal for a nobody reliever called Edward Mujica and thought we were dumb to let go of Zach Cox. Well, Mujica was a dynamic 7th inning bridge and this year has turned into the NL’s second best closer(yes, better than Chapman). Cox is washing out in Double A for the Marlins. Axford has a more credible resume than Mujica as he arrives in Pittsburgh today. He has 106 saves in 4 seasons of work. He was once a great reliever. If there is anybody who can find that greatness again, it’s Molina, Lilloquist and Matheny.
Hopefully this means the Fernando Salas era has reached its conclusion. The ineffective RH can’t seem to pitch an inning without allowing a run and save me his Memphis stats. Those are minor league hitters and games that mean very little. All that matters is what he does up here. He has been crap for a long time. He isn’t what he once was in 2009. His fastball is flat and hittable. His sinker doesn’t do much sinking. Let’s call it a fair swap of RH talent here. Axford in and Salas out. This probably won’t happen but the best thing the Cards can do for Salas is designate him for assignment.
In other news-
*Michael Wacha going to Springfield and not Memphis means he is in line for a Tuesday start in Cincinnati. Springfield ends play earlier and Wacha will be turned loose. Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez are also candidates but in my mind they both lack the wow factor that we have seen from Wacha’s pitches lately. The college star deserves a chance to earn that fifth spot because this rotation can use a little lightning. As much as we don’t want to factor in Adam Wainwright’s season long pitch counts into the equation of the other night’s collapse, we have to be honest and say Waino has been a bit inconsistent in the second half of the season. The rotation could use more insurance.
*The bigger issue with Wednesday’s 10-0 ass kicking may stem not from the lack of Yadi Molina in the lineup but the missing presence of talented backup Tony Cruz. Cruz has caught Waino plenty of times and is a better hitter and defensive catcher than Rob Johnson. The Memphis veteran isn’t a good player. He can’t hit and his defense is average as best. The wild pitch that skipped back to the brick the other night would have been smothered by Molina or Cruz and it led to a bigger inning. Johnson’s ineffectiveness really makes me wonder what Mozelaik didn’t like about John Buck(recently dealt to the Pirates) or another catcher like Kelly Shoppach. Both of those guys aren’t gold glove catchers or big monster hitters but they are each better than Johnson. Once Cruz went down, it was time for Mo to find a catcher. That’s a fact. The bad thing is it can’t be done now. The waiver deal expired two days ago. We can only hope Cruz’s hairline fracture improves and Yadi’s knee doesn’t implode.
*Pete Kozma update. 3-44 in the month of August and rumor has it that his hair is falling out. The mullet is going down. His psycho analysis is edging closer to the breaking point. I feel like Pete is that poor kid in the classroom that the teacher keeps calling on for answers knowing Pete doesn’t have a clue. Maybe he is the player to be named later in the Axford deal.
*Really hoping Kolten Wong isn’t banished to the bench simply because David Freese had a couple of RBI hits. Wong is still a threat with his speed and solid defense and in my belief, will hit with more at bats.
*Do we need Dan Haren? He could boost the rotation but he isn’t required for us to win the division. Playoffs could be a different story, especially if hitters figure out Joe Kelly with runners on base. Haren would cost some prospects but offers experience, a hot hand and a guy you can count on in the playoffs. Do we need Haren? Does your car need a spare tire on the highway??? It wouldn’t hurt but isn’t a huge important factor right now. The rotation has shown an ability to bend but not break. Can we count on them holding it together for the next month and onward? That’s a dicey question.
The Cards begin the night a game ahead of the Pirates in first place and have the next 9 games against the Reds and Pitt. This isn’t the season but will definitely tell us which direction we are facing for the final three weeks. Division crown or wild card probable. Ask this blogger and I’d rather not deal with a one game playoff again. The Cards are good enough to win the division. After that, it’s too hard to tell. Depends on their play going into the postseason, but even then, the crapshoot begins. We went into the playoffs playing horrible in 2006 and won it all. We played fantastic baseball going into the 2011 postseason and won it all. Same for last year.
Baseball is like life in so many ways. It’s relative and ongoing.
Thanks for reading,