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St. Louis' unique bullpen philosophy

10/19/2011

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.

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.

At right is a look at how each starting pitcher has fared in his career in starts with the game-time temperature at 50 degrees or below. Neither pitcher has started a postseason game with the game-time temperature at 50 degrees or below. Carpenter's last start under those conditions was in 2006, while Wilson's one start was in April 2010.

There were 39 games this season that were played at a game-time temperature of 100 degrees or higher; 27 of those were in Arlington, one of the reasons the Rangers had the highest average game-time temperature (80.02 degrees) in 2011.

The Cardinals played 15 games (10 at home) where the listed boxscore temperature was below 60 degrees this season. They went 5-10 in those games.

Overall the Rangers played 13 games with a boxscore temperature below 60 degrees, going 5-8 in those contests. All of those were on the road. Their "coldest" home game was on April 20 against the Angels, when it was "only" 62 degrees at game time.

CC Sabathia is a genial guy, but the intensity of his competitiveness is often underestimated. During the season, the Yankees and the Red Sox were in a battle of brushback pitches and there was talk that David Ortiz might get hit by the Yankees in retaliation for stuff that was going on. Ortiz read about this and told a teammate: "You don't think CC will throw at me, do you?"

His teammate responded, "Yes, he will."

Sure enough, Sabathia smoked Ortiz with a fastball, apparently because he thought it was the right thing to do, because it was part of the competition occurring between the teams. It could be that the Yankees are going to test the competitive side of Sabathia over the next two weeks.

Over the first three years of his deal, Sabathia has lived up to every nickel, going 59-20, pitching about 700 innings, being a great teammate. Sabathia can opt out of his contract -- although he really wants to stay with the Yankees.

But if the Yankees don't offer him a substantial extension, perhaps of two years or conditional options that lock in significant guaranteed dollars, what they'll be saying to Sabathia is that they think he's going to fall apart because of his physical condition, and that they don't believe in his future beyond 2015.

The guess here is that Sabathia would take that as a challenge, and would be willing to walk away from a higher annual salary to go pitch someplace where he can get a contract of more than four years. Sabathia will never spend the money he's already made in his career, and I don't think he really cares about the extra money he would make with the Yankees; I think he does care a lot about what he perceives to be mutual respect.

In other words, he'd rather take a six-year, $114 million deal with a team that indicates a belief in his future over the higher salary he would make with the Yankees. I think this has gotten to a point where the Yankees either are going to have to pay in an additional year or two to keep him, or he will walk away.

• This is Day 7 or Day 8 -- I can't remember which -- of the Boston-Cubs hostage crisis, with Theo Epstein's future stuffed in a closet someplace. The Red Sox and Cubs need to find common ground, writes David Haugh.

The Cubs have options if the Theo talks collapse, writes Phil Rogers.

The perception that the Cubs are losing valuable time right now is laughable. We're still about four weeks from the start of the GM meetings, and does anybody really think that Epstein is not already mentally preparing for the changes he wants to implement with Chicago? He'll hit the ground running.

Jed Hoyer could be targeted as Epstein's No. 2 in Chicago, writes Dan Hayes. Here's how it would make sense for Hoyer to leave the GM job of the Padres and become Epstein's lieutenant: If Hoyer believes that the Padres are going to have difficulty progressing, and that his job would be on the line in the next year or two, this would be the ideal time to leave. Hoyer could go to Chicago, be in a better position for success with the Cubs than he is in San Diego because of the team's resources, and then bounce to another GM job in a few years.

Josh Byrnes, who is the No. 2 man in the Padres' front office, worked for San Diego owner Jeff Moorad in Arizona, so there would be an easy transition there.

• Three Boston pitchers denied they drank beer in the dugout, as Peter Abraham writes. Jason Varitek says the Red Sox stuck together. Boston's ship is sinking fast, writes John Tomase.

• Sources say Major League Baseball is not close to getting the draft slotting system that it wanted at the outset of the labor negotiations with the union, and there is real doubt among club executives whether commissioner Bud Selig has the desire to dig in and fight for that change; rather, some believe he would prefer labor peace over a prolonged scrap. "This is the right time to have that discussion," said a high-ranking NL official. "And there was a lot of talk among the [owner] hawks that they were going to change the system. I don't think they have the stomach to go through that battle."

Other stuff

• Jerry DiPoto, regarded as a front-runner among those who are being considered for the Baltimore GM job, has a wealth of experience, as Dan Connolly writes.

The Royals hired some front office folks.

• Alfredo Simon's saga in the Dominican Republic is not over.

Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are recovering nicely from injuries.

T.J. Simers asks the question out loud: Is Arte Moreno the problem for the Angels?

• The Nationals could follow the Rangers' blueprint, writes Thomas Boswell.

Joe Blanton was pleased with some instructional league results.

• Clint Hurdle is all in for Pittsburgh, writes Bill Brink.

• A Mariners prospect is working on his game, as Geoff Baker writes.

I've got the Rangers in six, but I can't remember a World Series with two teams that mirror each other in the way they do in 2011. Strong offenses, deep bullpens, questionable starting pitching, two teams that can handle the NL and AL rules seamlessly. It should be great.

And today will be better than yesterday.