Tag: Joe kelly

John Lackey: Most Valuable Cardinal

Outlaw cowboy William Munny walks into a bar carrying a double barrel shotgun and asks someone, “Who owns this joint?” That’s John Lackey in 2015. He walks into any baseball park, asks where the mound is and delivers a gem. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is or what the stakes are. The Abilene, Texas native is having his best season in 8 years.

On Thursday in Milwaukee, John Lackey dominated. He pitched seven innings, needed less than 90 pitches and restricted the Brewers from starting anything. He struck out 8 and allowed only 5 hits, lowering his earned run average to 2.79. Unlike other rotation colleagues, Lackey has been a steady beast the entire season.

When the Cards acquired Lackey stout at 2014’s trade deadline, some fans weren’t happy because the team lost some good “team guys” in Joe Kelly and Allen Craig. The deal was mint to me. Lackey was a proven veteran, someone who had been to war and back. A guy who helped shut the doors on the Cards 2013 season in Game 6 of the World Series. It also helped that Lackey would only cost the team a measly 500K in 2015.

Lackey was solid in Red the rest of 2014 and in the playoffs, but he’s been unreal in 2015. With Adam Wainwright sidelined, Lackey picked up the sheriff’s badge, blew it off and patched it onto his chest. With a few grunts, he’s supplied the team with that rare edge. Lackey pitches angry, carries his emotions on his sleeve, chest and forehead, and treats other teams like impostor’s on his will.

Lackey touched 200 innings, 150 strikeouts and left Milwaukee with a WAR(wins above replacement via baseball reference) of 5.1. That represents his highest WAR since the 2007 season. He has a 3-1 strikeouts to walks ratio and has scattered 18 home runs over those 200 frames. His fielding independent ERA isn’t too swanky at 3.57 but his ERA+ of 141 is quite nice. All in all, Lackey has been money and unlike Mike in Swingers, he knows it.

Lackey has even shed the home/road splits that followed him into this season. After a rough outing in Colorado(easily his worst as a Cardinal) on June 8th, Lackey has been great in road grays in 8 of his last 9 starts(the one mishap coming in San Diego where the Cards played regrettable defense behind him).

People make a big deal about quality starts, but Lackey takes it to another level. He provides the “high” quality starts. He’s pitched at least seven innings and allowed three runs or less in 19 different games.

Does all this cream and sugar mean the Lackey grounds will return in 2016? Nope. He’s pitching himself out of “comeback to the Lou” territory. As I stated last month, Lackey will receive a 3 year deal and the Cards will likely retain Jaime Garcia’s services. It’s just business.

For now, appreciate what Lackey is doing for a team in need of a veteran compass in a young rotation. He’s the dude, the general and the cowboy all in one leg kick and bullet to the plate. Come playoff time, he will be a force you want on your side and it won’t matter where the game takes place.

While he won’t get as much press or attention as Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez, John Lackey has been the most valuable Cardinal in 2015, bang for buck. Who called that a year ago? If you did, pat yourself on the back and have some coffee for me.

Slaying The Dragon in Pittsburgh

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With the series tied at a game apiece, The St. Louis Cardinals walk into the temple of doom in PNC Park today in Pittsburgh to attempt to slay the dragon that is Francisco Liriano. Every giant has a nemesis that’s hard to break than others. Muhammad Ali had Joe Fraizier. Mike Tyson had Evander Holyfield. Why use boxing references in a friendly game? When the playoffs begin, everything is a fight. The Cards have to find a way to beat this crafty lefty or they risk putting their 97 win season to rest without barely a whimper. It’s not time to panic ladies and gentlemen, but it’s okay to reach for the pain medication and talk to your priest. This was never going to be easy.

How do you beat man who dominated you during the regular season three separate nights? Watch more film, find a different approach at the plate or use a different bat and rub voodoo beads on it. There are several ideas but no true course of action. Cardinals starter Joe Kelly will bring his A game to Pittsburgh but can the bats support his methods? Will they wilt under the left-handed sun of Liriano’s changeup or rise up and stomp him in the first inning? If I knew the answer I’d tell you but this movie isn’t over yet and the script hasn’t even been finished. As die hard fans and bleeders for the game, we will just have to watch and see if Liriano’s 3-0 record and 0.75 ERA against the Cardinals is a thing of the past or a preview of the future. Let’s just hope for the best.

PNC Park will be rocking, with their fans pledging this two day period the ultimate sports holiday with the fate of their football team looming in the dungeon of the NFL and the hockey team just getting started.  For the first time in over 2 decades, the Pirates can clinch a chance to go to the National League Championship series.  It’s the Cardinals job to show up today and remind the Bucs who rules the Central and who has been to the postseason 10 times in the past 14 seasons.  In 2006 and 2011, the Cards were propelled by unexpected rookie contributions and a never say die will to survive in close games on the road, so they are built for this madness.   Remember Shea Stadium in 2006 against the Mets?  2011 with Chris Carpenter taking on his friend and foe Roy Halladay in high noon showdown for a chance to advance to the pennant?  The Cards have clinched big time series’ on the road and did the deed in hostile environments.   Areas unfit for a visiting team but tromped by the notion that when you are used to the playoff fever and have it running through your veins, settings don’t seem to matter.   What is the best way to quiet down a screaming crowd?   Take the field today and put up a 3 spot on the scoreboard.  Send Joe Kelly to the mound with a changeup that has befuddled the Pirates for the past two months.  Bat Yadi Molina in the cleanup spot and slide down the youthful power of Matt Adams to the sixth spot to load the guns.   Have young guns Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal ready to light up home plate with 100 mph fastballs.   Don’t feed the Pirates team too many fastballs because they love them.

Why did Lance Lynn not do well in Game 2?  No matter how effective his curveball was, he kept going back to his fastball to finish off hitters and it was punished for big hits.   Why in the world do you throw Pedro Alvarez a fastball in the 3rd with a man on and the game only 1-0?  It makes no sense to feed that hound some bloody cheese there.  Pound him with the changeup and curve.  Don’t feed these big Pirate hitters heaters unless you can throw it past them.  Shelby Miller showed a shade of why he isn’t starting Game 4 when he allowed an eighth inning solo home run to Starlin Marte.  Miller relies on his fastball to get outs and the Pirates love fastballs.  Kelly is a guy who sets up his fastball with his changeup and keeps the hitters off balance.   Michael Wacha is the same way.   Set up your heater with your changeup and also have the ability to finish them off with your changeup if the situation calls for it.   In the playoffs, it’s about adjusting to what works and what doesn’t work.  Kelly and Wacha have the mindset and arsenal to get it done.  Lynn and Miller do not.  End of story.

Will the Cards get another game at Busch Stadium this year?   It’s so hard to make predictions in sports because anything can happen and expectations can easily be tromped.  The Cards need to at least do what the Bucs did at Busch over the weekend?  Win one game and bring it back home.  Don’t worry about Gerrit Cole’s and his evil rookie sharpness looming in Game 5.  You’ve seem him now and have tape to work off of.   He isn’t invincible.  He is young and talented yet beatable and hasn’t pitched a Game 5 winner take all before.  Another guy wearing Cardinal Red named Adam Wainwright has pitched in several of those games.    Yes, I am typing hopeful thoughts because at this point it’s important to remind fans that the series is tied 1-1 and up for grabs.  Forget the PNC Park madness and go out and play baseball.   Keep it simple.

I leave with these words.   Every day is another chance to turn it all around.   The Cards sucker punched the Pirates in Game 1 and they turned the tables in Game 2.  What does Game 3 have in store for the Postseason Kings(Cards) and the mad hatters in Pittsburgh?   Does Liriano dominate and sour the minds of Cards fans everywhere and send us prepping for a cold winter?  Do the Cards scrap, take a patient approach, find a way to hit his slider and score runs and get Joe Kelly up early?   You just don’t know or can tell what will happen next between these two teams.  That is what makes baseball great.  That is what makes October baseball legendary.  Unpredictable sporting events keep the blood flowing in a world where so many things can make your body go cold.

Go Cardinals!

Thanks for staying,

Dan Buffa