Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dave Duncan and the 5 Reason the Cardinals are in the World Series

by Jeremy Bird

I have been a St. Louis naysayer since the Cardinals started to collapse towards the end of the season. Scratch that. I have been a St. Louis naysayer since Mark Mulder went down and the best pitching savior GM Walt Jocketty could find was the 3-10 struggling Jeff Weaver.

Sure, I grew up on Cardinal baseball. Yes, I still remember Willie McGee’s wall-scaling catch in the 1982 World Series. Still remember Bruce Sutter closing it out. Sure, I wanted them to win it all again in ’06. But, I am too old and cynical to ignore reality.

No way would a St. Louis team with a starting four including Anthony Reyes (6+ ERA), Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver make it to the World Series.

Just two weeks ago, in this column, I predicted the Mets to take down the Cards in 6 games. I was praying for major rainouts and wondering how the Cards could win a single game without Carpenter on the mound.

I have been a St. Louis fan all my life, but sometimes you just have to be realistic. Listen to reason. You can’t win with Juan Encarnacion hitting fifth. You can’t win with a rookie closer who did not have his first save until September of this season.

No way we could get to the Big Dance with a bullpen full of untested rookies and a left-field platoon of Preston Wilson and Scott Spezio.

Who would have thought Jeff Suppan would have become a CY Young pitcher all of the sudden? Who would have thought Jeff Weaver would have remembered how to pitch after an abysmal season? No way would Adam Wainwraight, the rookie with little experiencing saving games at any level, strike out the Cardinal-killer Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded in the ninth of game 7?

Well, there a few reasons why the Cardinals, with the second worse regular-season record of any World Series team, have made it this late into October. And, if the Cards win the series, these will be the reasons for another ring.

Reason #1 Cardinals are in the World Series — Dave Duncan
The Cardinals pitching coach has always been respected. After bringing Weaver to life and walking Anthony Reyes through some tough games this postseason, people should really start to take notice of Duncan’s skills. Not only that, he has taken a very young bullpen and showed them how to pitch. Not to mention that if it were not for him, the Cards would not have Chris, Dave’s son, who has had some huge hits this postseason.

Reason #2 Cardinals are in the World Series — The Jeffs
Jeff Suppan has been lights out. Right now, he is Cards ace and the only reason we beat the Mets. While not nearly as good as Supp, Weaver has kept the Cardinals in every game he has pitched this postseason. Even in Game 2 of the World Series, he kept the red Birds in the game through some tough innings.

Reason #3 Cardinals are in the World Series — Rookies in the Pen
Adam Wainwright is a phenomenal pitcher. Some day he will win 20 games as a starter. Now, as a closer, he has shown the poise of a veteran. But, the set up and long relievers have been equally impressive (minus the meltdown against the Mets in Game 4). The Cardinals bullpen was supposed to be a huge weakness coming into the playoffs. Now, it is one of the team’s biggest strengths thanks to a cadre of rookies under Duncan’s watch.

Reason #4 Cardinals are in the World Series — Yadier Molina
The guy has always been a great defensive catcher, throwing out over 40% of all base runners in every major league season. At the plate, he has been a different story. After batting .217 this regular season, he has gone on a tear this postseason. His homer in the ninth inning against the Mets in Game 7 was the icing on the cake. He is hitting over .400 in the playoffs. Even his outs against Rogers were for the most part hard hit balls. Defensively, he has been consistently strong behind the plate, mostly in blocking balls and working well with the young pitchers.

Reason #5 Cardinals are in the World Series — Tony LaRussa’s crazy move
Mostly, I think LaRussa manages too much. He tends to make moves to make moves. In hindsight, however, the best move he made all season was NOT to start Chris Carpenter on the last day of the season when the team faced a playoff game against the Astros if they lost and Houston won. The move worked out brilliantly, and Carpenter was able to start Game 1 in San Diego. That game set the tone for the series, and set up Carpenter for Game 4 in St. Louis, where the Cards closed out the series. If it goes back to San Diego, the Cardinals might have been out in the first round. At the time, the move seemed crazy. Now, LaRussa seems like a genius on that move.

Sure, the Cardinals have Pujols, a rejuvenated Rolen, the still potent (sometimes) Edmonds, and a good bench. But, without the young bullpen, the two Jeffs, one of the best young catchers in the game, a great pitching coach and a crazy managerial move, the Cards would never be in a position to win the World Series.

Me? I’m still a naysayer. I think the Tigers’ pitching, pine tar or no pine tar, will be too much for the Red Birds over the next five games. But, damn is it fun to watch such a rag-tag, banged up team compete.

Jeremy's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays

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