The one thing baseball teaches us is how quickly things can change. Over the course of an endless baseball summer, a pitcher, a hitter or maybe an entire team can transform from an unsightly train wreck into a delightful masterpiece without much warning. Maybe that’s why baseball is the only sport without a time clock, because no one can predict when — or how often — these mysterious transformations occur.
Take the Cardinals bullpen as prime evidence of the quirks of these inexplicable transformations. The St. Louis relievers have spent the first month of the season as the unsettling train wreck on the horizon. No need to recite the bad numbers that made them the most unreliable bullpen in baseball, because you probably already know all of them by heart.
It’s why even the most passionate Cardinal loyalists would avert their eyes whenever Mike Matheny so much as made a move in the general direction of that phone on the dugout wall to get someone up in relief.
So how fascinating is it that within the span of a less than a week, we have all gone from cringing to now craving that the Cards manager go to his pen?
Go on and admit it. On Sunday afternoon even as starter Jaime Garcia kept going deeper and deeper into his very efficient 10-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, as he edged past the sixth inning, then into the seventh, didn’t you find at least a part of yourself hoping Garcia wouldn’t finish the game?
I wanted to see one of The Kids again.
I didn’t actually want Garcia to blow up. I just wanted to find any excuse to get another glimpse at one of the Cards young pitching phenoms. Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez, both who were called up last week from the minors to help stop the leaks in the back end of the bullpen, have already proved in their brief but impressive initial impressions what all the hype has been about surrounding their arrivals.
For the past couple of years, all I’ve been hearing about from every corner of the baseball world were the sounds of grown men gushing about the limitless supply of talented arms in the Cardinals farm system. So wouldn’t this be the perfect time to take advantage of all that talent?
If you want to say express-mailing Martinez and Maness up to the big club so soon smells of desperation, that’s only because we passed desperation about two weeks after the repeated late-game failures of veteran relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs, who were both shipped to the minors last week to make room for the rookies.
I would prefer to say that general manager John Mozeliak showed impressive patience not calling the kids up any sooner. What good is it to have all these stocked minor-league cupboards if you’re not going to use them under these particularly needy circumstances?
This is a fun team to watch, a capable team with a lot of talented weapons, which explains how the Cards have managed to stay in first place in the National League Central after the first six weeks of the season and now share a piece of the best record in the majors as of Monday in spite of their failing bullpen. It doesn’t make me nervous that Mozeliak made this move. It just makes you wonder how much better things could have been if he’d done it sooner.
Don’t bother me with the typical language of the seamheads and sabermetricians who qualify everything with “small sample size” and other such cautionary chatter. I don’t need a ton of advanced metrics to explain why I feel so compelled to say “wow” when I see Martinez throw so effortlessly to reach that kind of top speed on his fastball or Maness work so artfully and efficiently like a well-schooled veteran.
There are no clocks in baseball, so sometimes you just have to go on instinct to know exactly when it’s the right time in dealing with all these talented young arms. And it just seems like with everything else going so well for this ballclub — brilliant starting pitching, and a suddenly hot, but always resourceful offense. So why not take the chance with accelerating the arrival of The Future?
The Cardinals are doing things the right way. Regardless of the sport, winning doesn’t happen by accident. It does happen regardless of the daily hiccups of a endless season: in spite of hitting slumps, power outages, tired bullpens or struggling starters. You win because you know how to win.
And knowing how to win doesn’t stop in the dugout or on the field. It extends all the way up to the executive suites where GMs have to follow their own instincts and understand that sometimes the future is now.