Cardinals

WHEELER: Monday Roundup – Cards Struggles, Blues-Kings and NFL Draft

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St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mitchell Boggs watches a video replay board as he sits in the dugout after coming out of the game against the  Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on April 28, 2013. Pittsburgh won the game 9-0.    UPI/Bill Greenblatt

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mitchell Boggs watches a video replay board as he sits in the dugout after coming out of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on April 28, 2013. Pittsburgh won the game 9-0. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

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I have a lot to get into in this space today so I’ll save the words for the meat of the story without rambling on too long in the introduction…

CARDINALS

The Cardinals made a move in the bullpen today, sending LHP Marc Rzepczynski to Memphis and recalling RHP Seth Maness. I can’t argue with the move because Rzep has allowed 16 base runners and 7 ER (7.88 ERA) in just 8 innings of work. I do wonder, however, what happens next with Joe Kelly and Mitchell Boggs. Both have been worse than Rzep thus far.

Kelly has allowed 17 base runners, 8 ER and 3 HR in just 8 2/3 IP (8.31 ERA).

Boggs has allowed 27 base runners and 15 ER in just 10 2/3 IP (12.66 ERA).

So why does Rzep, one of just two lefties in the pen, get sent out instead of the other two? I’m not sure. I suppose we’ll find out at the ballpark this afternoon.

Maness is a strike thrower but he’s never worked out of the bullpen before so this should be interesting.

Again, I can’t argue with making a change or two given the performances of the three guys mentioned but Kelly and Boggs really are lucky they’re still in St. Louis. I like all three pitchers and believe in their talent but when the bullpen is costing the team wins the guys who aren’t getting it done are subject to being shipped out.

There is no room for error in the bullpen. Starting pitchers can work themselves through tough times, hitters can battle through slumps but when late inning relievers falter it results in situations that cannot be “saved” (pardon the pun). You can recover if a pitcher has one bad inning in the first 4-5 innings. After that it becomes much more difficult.

Because of that late inning reality the bullpen is the primary focus for people’s concern, and rightfully so, but the offense is struggling as well. The thing is, I have less concern about the offense than I do the bullpen. Why? Because hitting is harder and failure is more common.

Heck, even the best hitters fail 7 of out 10 times. Pitchers, especially relievers, have an expectation to succeed far more often than they fail. The odds are in their favor. Hitting is streaky by nature because you’re battling against the numbers every time you step to the plate. Pitchers with good stuff, however, are expected to succeed 75-80 of the time when it comes to head-to-head matchups with hitters and they’re expected to preserve leads (in save or hold situations) at an even higher rate than that.

The hitters are doing what hitters do. They’re fighting the odds and trying to catch a hot streak. The relievers, or at least several of them, are doing the exact opposite of what pitchers of their ability normally do.

That’s why the bullpen is the bigger concern, at least to me.

BLUES

So the Blues are what they thought they were all along, huh?

Funny. Roughly 5-6 weeks ago people were screaming for dramatic change. People actually wanted Doug Armstrong to “shake up the core” of this team. And what did I say?

Be patient and trust Doug Armstrong. And stop all the whining.

That made a few people mad at me but I was right.

Army did exactly what I expected him to do. He made the best move(s) possible under the guidelines given to him by ownership. Tom Stillman and Co. allowed Army to go get Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester, even though Bouwmeester comes with a $6 million-plus price tag for next year.

Armstrong is one of the best executives in hockey. When people were shouting from the rooftops like they had a better plan than he did all I could do was laugh out of frustration. “Can’t people just let the season play out before they lose their minds?” I asked that question a lot, both on and off the air.

But it’s playoff time and the Blues are right where they are supposed to be.

The Blackhawks ran away from the rest of the Western Conference early on and they never looked back. There was no catching a team playing at that level. They played at a 131 point pace. Nobody thought the Blues were capable of that. Let’s be honest, before the season nobody thought the Blackhawks were capable of that.

Compared to everyone but the Blackhawks, the Blues are right where they should be. They have a better record than Vancouver, Los Angeles (the defending champs), San Jose, Detroit, etc. and they have home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Now we can begin to judge this team.

Do they allow the Kings to continue pushing them around or do they push back?

Does the Blues’ added talent (Leopold, Bouwmeester, et al) change the dynamics between these two teams?

What about the newly discovered “4th line” for the Blues? Do Chris Porter, Adam Cracknell and Ryan Reaves have the ability to impact this series like they did pretty much every game since they were put together?

I don’t have a good feel for which team will win this series. History indicates the Kings should be a heavy favorite but neither of these teams are exactly as they were a year ago. Heck, the Blues aren’t even the same team they were the last time they faced the Kings.

What I do believe, with 100% conviction, is that this will not be a run away for the Kings. This will not be a 4-5 game series. This looks like 6 or 7 games of nasty, physical hockey.

Game on.

NFL DRAFT

One disclaimer: I realize that nobody can effectively “grade” a draft immediately after it is over. It takes years to see if players underachieve, overachiever or simply live up to their billing. I know that. I admit it. That said, we can still evaluate what teams have done and come to some conclusions about their moves based on the information we have at hand now.

Now that I have that out of the way, I love what the Rams did in the draft.

Tavon Auston (8th overall) was the right pick. The Rams paid a steep price to get him but he was clearly the top offensive playmaker in this draft and that was precisely what the Rams needed. His explosiveness, both as a receiver and a returner, provide the team with an instant threat they haven’t had for years.

I don’t care about his size. Doesn’t matter. While we’re at it, can people stop comparing him to possession receivers who happen to be short? Austin reminds me a lot of Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. Smith is listed at 5’9″ 185 compared to Austin’s 5’8″ 175. Smith has been a dynamic, legit #1 receiver for a long time.

I definitely won’t guarantee that’s what Austin will become. That’s just who his game reminds me of and even if he’s just 80% of what Smith has been the Rams will love this pick for years to come.

Alex Ogletree (30th overall) has had off the field problems but he’s a Top 15 talent. It’s worth taking a risk, like they did with Janoris Jenkins last year, when you have a chance to get a playmaker. This guy was a stud at Georgia so with a stable locker room, and a head coach who understands how to handle players of all kinds, I think he’ll work out just fine.

Safety T.J. McDonald (71st overall) is a smart pick. Big kid (6’2″ 220) from a big program (USC) with a former NFL player for a father (Tim McDonald). He underachieved last year at USC but so did their entire team. He has the talent to be what the Rams want a safety to be and so far I’ve seen no reason to be skeptical of either Jeff Fisher or Les Snead.

Stedman Bailey (92nd overall) is a good depth receiver. He doesn’t have Austin’s big play ability but they two of them put up big numbers at West Virginia. I happen to think they made Geno Smith look better than he really was but I guess we’ll find that out moving forward.

Offensive lineman Barrett Jones (113th overall) is one of my favorite picks in this draft. He’s a 4-year starter for Nick Saban at Alabama. He was the Rimington Award winner as the best center in college football last year. He started at tackle, guard and center during his career at ‘Bama. Jones is smart and he’s been a core player on a championship team. With an aging and injury prone center on the roster (Scott Wells), this was a brilliant pick. I think Wells is still an impact player but Jones is a great heir apparent who could help at guard this year as well.

Brandon McGee (149th overall) is a guy I know a little about. He comes from my alma mater (Miami) and I’ve watched him play for the last 3-4 years. He’s been an up and down player on a team that’s not nearly what it used to be but he has talent. He has good size (5’11” 195) and very good speed. He’s not as explosive as Sam Shields (Green Bay) was coming out of Miami but he has better overall cover skills and is a better tackler. If he sticks I think the Rams coaching staff can mold him into a good player.

RB Zac Stacy (160th overall) is another solid pick. He is Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher (playing in the SEC against largely more talented teams) and he’s a smart player. I’m not calling him a future star but there have been more than a few good running backs drafted in the 5th round over the years. If he sticks, and I believe he will, he’ll make a nice complement to the backs the Rams already have.

Finally, a quick note.

I posted a 1st round mock draft last Thursday (RIGHT HERE) that didn’t have a single running back or quarterback listed. Well, I was only off by one player (E.J. Manuel who went to Buffalo). Most mock drafts, even those done by people far more knowledgeable about scouting football players than I am, had a few of them going in the 1st round.

I saw this coming from a mile away. None of the quarterbacks were worthy of 1st round consideration and running backs, with a few notable exceptions, are not valuable enough to spend 1st round picks on.

I’m no “draft expert” but I nailed this part. As for the rest of the mock, well, most of it was wrong.

Just like most others!

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