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Pitchers Hit Eighth recently had a guest blogger come up with a whole fantasy team of St. Louis Cardinals. It looks wonderful, but as Rick Pitino would say Bob Gibson’s not walking through that door. Let’s get back to reality. Reality when it comes to fantasy that is…anyway! Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus are hurt. So where does that leave pitches for Albert Pujols? Things looked good last night against the Pirates, but with the Cards down 4 and 2 runners on of course they are going to pitch to him (Pujols just missed a dinger). PHE discusses stability on saves, pitching to Pujols, and not to get antsy with Ankiel.

FBHS: Last time we did this, we were talking about some uncertainties in the Cards bullpen. Ryan Franklin has been incredible saving 9 of 10 and keeping the ERA at 1.23. At the same time, Tony LaRussa (TLR to the PHE readers) has made unconventional decisions in the past. Jason Motte has not allowed an earned run in his last 12 appearances and Chris Perez proved to be a more reliable option than Franklin against the Reds on Mother’s Day. Will the merry-go-round at closer take another turn sometime soon? Who would be more likely to take it if Franklin faltered or got hurt, Perez or Motte?

PHE: I don’t think we’ll see any drastic changes in the way the bullpen has been used just yet. Yes, Franklin had a rough go against the Reds, but no one is expecting him to convert every save opportunity. If he blew one in ten all season long, I think Cardinal fans would be happy.
Something that has been lost in the Cards’ recent struggles with Cincy and Pittsburgh has been a strong showing from the bullpen. Of course they were the goats when the lineup was producing and they cost the team a few games. Now that the lineup is struggling, and the bullpen is holding serve after the starters spot the opponent a lead – no one is talking about how well the bullpen is pitching because they’re losing.

Tony appears to be settling into his routine with the bullpen, learning what he can count on out of each man. I like what we’ve seen recently, but if Franklin were to fall apart, I think you’d see a committee between Motte and Perez. They really are wildly different pitchers, with Motte overpowering and Perez starting to learn to get outs with his slider.

FBHS: Albert Pujols has always been a really really good baseball player. So good in fact that I booked a flight two months in advance to see him play in Washington only to have him take a day off for the one game I could see him play in the 40 hours I was in D.C. That’s another story though. Assuming Pujols plays 150 games he is on pace to set a career high in walks. You think he has the discipline to handle being pitched around more than ever?

PHE: That’s a great question. The injury bug that has hit the middle of the Cardinals’ batting lineup – sidelining Glaus, Ankiel, and Ludwick – has clearly placed more pressure and focus than ever on Pujols. Teams are increasingly pitching around him (or hitting him, but that’s another discussion) to get to ANYONE but Pujols.

Pujols must adapt and be able to content himself with taking walks and letting the guys behind him do their jobs. Chris Duncan will really be under the microscope now, as he figures to see the majority of at-bats in the cleanup role until Ankiel and/or Ludwick are back. Other hitters will have to step up as well – Khalil Greene was supposed to have some pop to go with his low batting average, right? Colby Rasmus is going to have to start going for extra bases a couple of times.
This is a critical stage for the Cardinals early on, if they want to remain contenders in the NL Central, they must be able to manufacture runs with big bats on the shelf. If they can come out of this two-week stretch playing .500 ball, I’d say they’ve done well.

FBHS: You wrote recently about what the Cards should do with Rick Ankiel who is heading toward free agency. On the field this year, how do you see that effecting him given the injury right now? Will he be extra motivated at the plate? Will he come back too soon? Is he worth keeping on a fantasy team’s DL?

PHE: Well, I don’t think it will affect Rick in terms of the injury. That was a horrible circumstance – becomes more of a life concern at that point, rather than baseball.
The guy is a competitor, he’s going to play hard regardless, as evidenced by his effort on the play running into the wall. I’ve never bought much into the whole contract year motivation, because these guys are professionals. This is their job. Sure, one good season right before hitting the market might cause a slight uptick in their next contract, but GMs are pretty smart. They’re (generally speaking) not going to go out and give Ankiel a huge contract if he comes back and hits 35 HR this season. He’s consistently proven that he can hit for power, but he’s also consistently proven that he can’t stay healthy for a full season.

Head and neck injuries are a big deal, and as such, I don’t envision the Cardinals’ medical staff allowing him to come back too soon. He was lucky to walk away without fractures or a concussion, only experiencing soreness and bruising. For the Cards to disable him for soreness and bruising indicates how seriously they are treating what happened to Rick. I expect that he won’t be back until he can run full speed, swing a bat, and throw without an ounce of pain. I would also expect a full battery of neurological tests, just to be safe. It’s important to consider that the team likely bears a certain amount of liability in the situation as well, if he’s sent back on the field too soon and he can’t go after that next big contract.

If you don’t want to keep Rick on your fantasy team’s DL, I will trade you for him and stash him on mine until he comes back. ;) He’ll be fine.

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