Thursday, August 20, 2009

Smoltz To Start For Cards; Just Don't Get Used To It

Sitting comfortably with a six game lead over their division rival Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals add a former Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer to their pitching staff. The Cardinals sign John Smoltz hoping that he will either fill in as their fifth starter, or give them a right handed option out of the bullpen.

Smoltz has had great success as both a starting pitcher and a closer throughout his career. Smoltz led the NL in wins in two seasons (1996 and 2006) and saves in 2002. The Cardinals are hoping that his versatility will help them down the stretch and into October.

The General Manager of the Cardinals, John Mozeliak, said that Smoltz is likely to start on Sunday in San Diego. He says that pegging Smoltz as a starter was not a "negotiating ploy" on Smoltz's part. Mozeliak said, "The reason for the start was just to get him work and know what we have." Based on Smoltz's performance Sunday (or whenever he actually starts), the Cardinals will decide how to use the 42-year-old.

Smoltz is the latest Cardinals addition in a season that has seen St. Louis revamp their roster with several new faces. Outfielder Matt Holiday joined the team via a trade with Oakland in late July shortly after shortstop Julio Lugo was acquired from Boston. Utility infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa was traded to St. Louis in late June from the rival Cubs.

For anybody wondering why the Cardinals, in the midst of an important divisional race, would go out and take a chance on an over-forty pitcher whose performance this year was nothing short of dismal, realize that this comes with very little risk to St. Louis.

To begin with, St. Louis is responsible for roughly $102,732 in salary to Smoltz this season, plus any postseason award bonuses that he may earn. That is a prorated portion of the Major League minimum of $400,000. Boston, who signed Smoltz to a 1 year $5.5M contract before the season, absorbs the bulk of his contract.

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On the baseball side of things, if Smoltz bombs on Sunday and throws another stinker then kudos to the Cardinals for giving him a chance to earn a spot in the rotation, but he'll almost certainly be relegated to a spot in the bullpen if that is the case. If he is put in the bullpen, don’t expect to see Smoltz closing out many games, the Cardinals already have a pretty good closer in Ryan Franklin (1.16 ERA, 30 saves, 2 blown saves and a .185 opponent batting average).

Smoltz started eight games for the Red Sox, failing to ever pitch more than six innings. In his last start on August 6, he allowed eight runs in 3.1 innings. In his previous three starts he allowed five runs in six innings (7/31), six runs in five innings (7/26) and six runs in 5.2 innings (7/20). He allowed at least five runs in six of his eight starts this season. He is a future Hall of Famer who has clearly past his prime and is out of place in any rotation in 2009. Unless the change of scenery works miracles for Smoltz, don't expect him to start more than a game or two for St. Louis.

It's worth pointing out, however, that Smoltz impressed at the beginning of most of his starts this season. In reverse chronological order:

· August 6: In the debacle in New York, his last outing as a member of the Red Sox, he held the Yankees scoreless through the first two innings and allowed only a run in the third before his fourth inning meltdown.

· July 31: He held the Orioles scoreless through two at Camden Yards.

· July 26: About a week earlier, he held Baltimore to one run through two innings in Boston.

· July 20: He held Texas scoreless through three innings before allowing a run in the fourth and five runs in the sixth inning.

· July 11: He allowed only one run against Kansas City, the sole run coming in the fifth.

· July 6: He held Oakland to zero runs through three innings.

· June 30: The first of his three starts against the Orioles, he held Baltimore scoreless through the first two innings before allowing a run to score in the third.

· June 25: In his Red Sox debut against the Nationals, he allowed four runs in the first inning and another in the third, his only poor showing to begin a ballgame this season.

Smoltz is best used out of the bullpen in the waning part of his career. He seems to have an inning or two in him before he gets blown up. Smoltz will prove useful to the Cardinals down the stretch if they use him as a middle reliever in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning before bringing in Franklin to close the game in the ninth. The guy hasn't completely lost it; he was just used poorly by Boston. Then again, Smoltz did appear willing to come out of the bullpen at the beginning of the season before later balking at the idea. So who really knows who's to blame for his failure in Boston?

With Boston slipping and St. Louis moving closer and closer to the postseason, the change of scenery may do Smoltz some good; as long as his new scenery is from the right field bullpen in Busch Stadium, of course.

Written By Danny Hobrock

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