The Curious Cases of Joe Kelly and Adam Wainwright

The narrative is messed up here.  At this time of the season for the Redbirds, the starter all would vote on in April to be carrying the team at this time is a man named Adam Wainwright.  He’s big, strong, dominating and recklessly brilliant on the mound.   He’s no-bullshit on the mound.  He’s fiercely confident and clears out the noise.   Off the mound, he’s funny, likes to dance, gets Jake Westbrook to move those old Indiana Jones hips, and claims to be an expert on barbecue.   Waino is the perfect baseball cover boy.  He goes against smoking, participates in charity, raises money through fantasy football and adheres himself to all crowds.

So why is this narrative impaired and crooked at the moment?  Joe Kelly, the unwanted man in May and someone who only found his way when Chris “General” Carpenter finally shut down his rehab mission.   Joe Kelly, the computer nerd who has a wickedly sharp sense of humor and a suspiciously sneaky high octane fastball to go with a deadly changeup.  Kelly, the unlikely hero from last year who mopped up Lance Lynn’s mess and politely went to the bullpen in September of 2012 when Lynn returned for his salvation.   Joe Kelly is the ace of this rotation during this maddening stretch run.   He doesn’t just beat teams.  He beats good teams.  He doesn’t just win games.  He wins important games.  He stops losing streaks and makes opposing teams scratch their heads.  They put runners on base against Joe, load the guns and fire blanks as Kelly escapes the inning with a strikeout.   Kelly is the unlikely hero of this rotation right now and without his 8 wins the team would be behind the Reds and sitting in a disappointing lake of crimson.  Kelly is amazing and a great story because in three months when trade talks bloom and the 2014 rotation starts to take shape, Kelly may find himself on the outside again.   Just wait.  Deep playoff run or not, Kelly will have to fight his way into next year’s rotation.   He was put up against Shelby Miller this past spring and didn’t lose via his pitching stats.   He lost before he threw a pitch.   Carpenter and Jaime Garcia bit the grass and Kelly couldn’t find his way into the rotation.   As Bernie Miklasz put it, he was the Porsche parked in the garage that only went on drives on night for no reason.

In April and May, Kelly threw 18.2 innings combined.  In June, he made 2 spot starts and pitched 5.1 innings in mop up duty for Shelby Miller in Oakland.   In July, he made threw starts due to the break and the need for Matheny to keep his arm sheltered when he wasn’t starting.  He won a game and got beat up by Miami and finished with an ERA of 2.55 for the month.   In August, Kelly didn’t leave any question and quickly made a statement.   On August 1st, with the Cards looking at a 5 game sweep, Kelly pitched 6.1 innings and beat the Pirates.  The rest has been laid out but let me give you the footnotes.   He didn’t beat scrubs in this stretch.   He beat the Dodgers, Reds, Braves and shut down the Pirates with victories in 3 games.   Let me repeat that.  Against a team that has driven the rest of the Cards rotation mad for the past month, Kelly has defeated 3 times since the beginning of August.   In back to back starts in September, Kelly has beaten the Bucs twice, pitched 12 innings, allowed 2 runs, struck out 9, walked 5 and threw 209 pitches.    Pittsburgh doesn’t like Joe Kelly.

Wainwright, the other side of the scale, troubled and misguided at the moment, will lean on his well earned pedigree and try to silence the critics and pitch well tonight.    As a fan, you will find out quick if Waino has it or not.  He gets hit hard early if he is off.  His curve will spin outside.  His cutter will be as straight as a Salas fastball.   He will look mean and fierce, but his pitches will be launched.  And trust me that the Pirates will be studying tape on Waino, going over his last two starts and finding out what the Reds are doing to the ace.  Waino’s problem is simple.  Pitch execution.  As a man who taught younger pitchers how to not tip their pitches and is under the watchful eye of Carpenter, I refuse to believe Waino is tipping.   It’s a tired arm issue.   It’s a poor execution against great hitters dilemma.  Waino has to be better because this Pirates lineup is stacked.   Why can’t he do something that Kelly has done 3 times in a month?  My friends, that is the greatness of baseball.   Little men rise up and surprise and older vets can fall as well.   Bad things happen to good pitches in a 162 game season.  The greatness of this game lies in its stiffening endurance.   I believe Waino will survive.  I believe he will find something tonight, react, pitch well and give us a chance to win the game.   This unlikely position Waino and Kelly are in isn’t bad for business.  It’s a realization that Kelly is a greater pitcher than most give him credit for.  The sabermetrics crowd are fooled by his work but the one thing that can’t be measured on Brooks Baseball and Fangraphs is how a pitcher reacts mentally in a tough situation.   With men on base and the stakes high, Kelly does his best pitching.   He likes to light the fires and get the room burning, but he is really good with a hose.  Look at the first inning last night.  Bases loaded, two out, Cardinal Killer Pedro Alvarez at the plate looking to do serious damage.   Kelly buckles down, makes a good pitch and gets a groundout.  Inning over.  Cards score 5 unanswered runs before running off with the game.  If Kelly gets solved there, the rest of the night could have been different.  This game is more temperamental and emotional that we want to give it credit for.   One moment can decide a game sometimes.   I don’t believe that was the case last night but Kelly always gives the offense a chance.   He has been the Most Unlikely Valuable Player of the second half.   The MUVP!  New award.

A Few Random Notes on the Team before I shove off for some movie work-

*The loss of Allen Craig is potentially hazardous to an enigmatic offense.   It does provide Matt Adams with an opportunity to play every day but the 2013 Big City everyday menu comes down to a strikeout or a home run with singles mixed in.   Losing Craig is bad news, even if it is for 2-3 weeks.    He has 97 RBI and hits .452 with runners in scoring position.   He can play RF and 1B respectfully and is a hit machine.   You can’t make hitters as clutch as Craig.   He is a destroyer who is on the bench and the updates on his injury are scary.  It’s not a fracture but it could be awhile before he comes back.  Well, stab me in the stomach already.   Craig’s right foot is still swollen from a weird turn at first base on Wednesday and he is in a walking boot.   Those two things have to disappear and then Craig can take swings and try to come back.   It’s going to be painful.   The injury was to his right foot, his planting foot which gives him his power.  It’s a good thing he can reach out and poke 2 run singles to left and right but still scary thinking how long he can play with it.  What is his pain tolerance and how effective can he be?  Part of me wants him to get as healthy as possible before returning.  Pinch hit duty at first.  This is where the DH comes into play in the AL.  Players nursing leg/foot injuries.   Craig’s role down the stretch is as important as any other issue with this team.

*Matt Carpenter makes a strong case for the MVP of this team in 2013.   Sorry Yadi Molina.  You are the best and deep down arguably the MVP but Carp Jr. challenges the theory.  He provided us with a legit leadoff hitter.  He plays multiple positions that range from 2B to the outfield.   He has 172 hits and 109 runs scored on September 7th.   He has collected over 60 multi-hit games and has 47 doubles and 7 triples.   His on base percentage is .385 so pitchers really hate him.  His batting average has been a steady .315-.325 all season long.   He also has driven in 68 runners and has 10 home runs.   The guy has been a deal breaker all year.   He gets on base for Craig and others to drive him in and made a smooth transition to 2nd base.  He’s pretty great and still young and cheap.

*That Edward Mujica guy is 36-39 in save opportunities.   Not bad for a guy who game over in a trade from Miami and created more puzzlement than excitement.  I feel good for Eddie and hope he gets paid well in the coming years for his newfound ability.  I don’t think he will ever be as good as he has been this season though.

*I really hate the warning game that the Umpires play when a batter is hit in a blow out game.   Molina got knocked down last night which prompted the ump to warn the pitcher.  John Axford enters the game, hits a batter and gets tossed.  It changes the game because no one can pitch inside and be effective.  It’s a handicap.   It’s stupid and unneeded most of the time.  Why do it unless you know for sure the pitch was thrown on purpose.  I do applaud Axford for getting his two cents in before leaving.

*David Freese isn’t getting any better folks.  Consider this my latest update that the former All Star is slipping.  His defense is cracking and his bat is weak.   He launched a 420 foot home run in Cincinnati on Thursday but hasn’t done much else this week.  He’s hitting .214 in his last 10 games.  He’s struck out 89 times this year.  He is slugging .377.   His power numbers are worse than Jon Jay.   Kolten Wong’s bat needs seasoning and at bats which means in my eyes Freese is seeing less playing time down the stretch.  Let his previously clutch bat come off the bench.  Sad but true.

*Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook can politely leave the team now.  Lynn has a 4.56 ERA since the start of July and has thrown 5 horrible starts in a row.   He is a child on the mound, will NOT improve and can only cost this team wins.  Mozelaik didn’t admit point blank but defined insanity when talking about Lynn getting the start against Milwaukee next week.  For me, that’s the final straw.  Facing a bad team at home, if he falters, cut his check and kick him out to the bullpen.    Westbrook came back last night and allowed 3 earned runs in 1.1 innings of work.  Save me the bad luck talk and oddly placed ground balls.   Westbrook is garbage and ugly to watch.   He isn’t a good bullpen arm and will only get ripped apart in the rotation.   September is the time to cut fat from your lean team and Lynn and Westbrook are the overcooked fatty ribs at the barbecue.   Insert Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez into their roles immediately and tell me good things won’t happen.   Sticking with Lynn and Jake is like saying it’s okay to carry dynamite through a burning building.

*I agree that bench is weak and the Craig injury makes it look even weaker.  With Adams off the bench, you have Brock Petersen, Adron Chambers, Ryan Jackson, Aubrey Perez and Shane Robinson.   A few more sure but no real threats.   I find it hard to believe Mozelaik couldn’t have found some bench support in August to create depth just in case Beltran’s back acted up, Molina’s knee broke down again or Craig suffered another weird injury(remember him crashing into the fence in RF in Houston in 2011).   There isn’t a lot of depth on the bench.

I think I’ve worn out my welcome here.   2,000 words on the rogues in red.   Thanks for reading and Go Cards!

-Dan Buffa

@buffa82 on twitter

United Cardinal Bloggers

Arch City Sports

http://www.doseofbuffa.com

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Author: D. Buffa

A regular guy who feels a journalistic hunger to tell the news. I blog because its wired into my brain to write what I think in print. I offer an opinion. A solo tour here. Take regular stories and offer my spin on them. Sports, film, television, music, fatherhood, culture, food, and so on. Commentary on everything. A St. Louis native and Little Rock resident who wants to write just to keep the hands fresh and ready.

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