St. Louis' unique bullpen philosophy 

October, 19, 2011

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have a strong bullpen, but they do not have a closer. Not in the traditional sense, anyway, with someone anointed as The Closer.

Tony La Russa has managed great closers in the past, from Dennis Eckersley to Jason Isringhausen, but he has chosen this year to refrain from bestowing the title of The Closer on anyone since Ryan Franklin lost that job in April.

[+] EnlargeJason Motte
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJason Motte and the rest of St. Louis' relievers are ready to be called upon at any time.
Lately, La Russa has been consistent in choosing Jason Motte to be the guy who gets the ball when the Cardinals have a lead late in games. But he won't refer to Motte as his closer now, just as he refused to call Fernando Salas the closer, even during the stretch when Salas regularly pitched the ninth inning and racked up 24 saves for St. Louis.

It's not the matter of a superstition. It's about La Russa trying to foster a culture in his bullpen, and Motte and others have bought in. Nobody comes to Motte before a game and gives him a heads up that he'll be expected to get the ball in the ninth inning, Motte said. The St. Louis relievers go into the game preparing to pitch when needed.

"We're sitting there in the 'pen and the phone rings," said Motte, "and every one of our guys are looking down at the phone and wondering who is going to be called. It doesn't matter who gets called. We all want to be in the game.

"It's a case of everyone leaving their egos at the door."

Octavio Dotel has 108 career saves, and sometimes the phone has rung for him in the early innings. Arthur Rhodes was one of the primary set-up men in the majors for years, and it could be that the phone will ring for him to face Josh Hamilton with runners on base in the fourth or fifth inning tonight. Salas was effectively demoted during the season, and he cheerily chatted Tuesday about how he doesn't have a role. "Whatever job they need me," he said. "Long reliever, short reliever. Whatever the manager says is my job, that's my job."

It's an unusual mindset among competitive professionals, but that's what the Cardinals have developed this season, as their bullpen went from being a debilitating weakness to a powerful strength.

• During the course of this baseball season, from February to October, Albert Pujols probably has spent more time with hitting coach Mark McGwire than he did with his wife, through batting practice and early batting practice and the time in the dugout between at-bats. In all that time he and Pujols have been together this year, McGwire said yesterday, Pujols has not talked about his impending free agency -- never mused about his future, or about his contract talks with the Cardinals in the winter, or how the market is shaping up for him.

"Not one word," said McGwire.

Pujols said after reporting to spring training that he would not talk about his future, and he has not, and McGwire sees Pujols' mental discipline for his hitting parallel to how he has handled his contract situation. "He's lived up to his word," said McGwire.

"His mental part of the game surpasses anyone I've been around, for what he goes through on a daily basis," McGwire said. "He understands the mental part of the game better than anyone."

Pujols artfully fended off questions about his future, writes Bryan Burwell, who was left to interpret scraps of words about his intention.

Two things about Pujols: I think he's going to take the highest offer made to him this fall, and I don't think anyone will offer more than the Cardinals. He's worth more to St. Louis than he is to any other franchise.

Chris Carpenter insists he's OK for Game 1 of the World Series. It was fairly apparent on Tuesday that he was amused by the questions about his elbow, and that the whole thing was overblown. Welcome to the World Series.

From ESPN Stats & Info:

Carpenter takes the ball for St. Louis in Game 1, and the Cardinals ace will face a Rangers lineup that includes six regulars who bat right-handed. Carpenter's main secondary pitch against righties is a tight-breaking slider that sits in the high-80s. Carpenter likes to work his slider down and away to get hitters to expand their strike zone. However, he faces a tough challenge in a Rangers lineup that features some of the most disciplined hitters in the league against sliders.

Carpenter got right-handed hitters to chase 47 percent of his sliders that were out of the zone during the regular season, a mark that ranked in the top three in baseball among qualified righties. However, Rangers righties combined to chase just 24 percent of the sliders they saw, led by Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli. Each of them ranked in the top six (Young first, Andrus third, Kinsler fifth and Napoli sixth) in the league in not chasing sliders against righties.

C.J. Wilson is looking to right the Texas rotation.

Lance Berkman offered a mea culpa.

The forecast for tonight: Lots of wind, lots of cold, some rain. With that in mind, here's some interesting stuff from ESPN Stats & Info:

With frost and freeze warnings posted across much of Missouri and temperatures expected in the 40s for Game 1, it's worth pointing out that neither team is used to these conditions.