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Greetings, Cardinals fans! Though many months have passed since I last posted, all is well because the end-result of last season was less-than-pleasant. As I sat in a Boise, Idaho bar on tour with a good friend of mine watching the final outs of what was a series of missed opportunities and poor executions, an expletive-filled tirade of alcohol-induced sadness would have been all my feeble fingers could have produced. And that’s not in anyone’s interest.
As I sit here, we are just a few days removed from the trade deadline in which beloved Cardinals Allen Craig and Joe Kelly were dealt to the Boston Red Sox for the not-so-lovable John Lackey. Also dealt was youngster James Ramsey – a former first-round selection who, at 24 years old, has figured out Double-A pitching fairly well with a .916 OPS at the point of the trade – to the Cleveland Indians for recovering and struggling Justin Masterson.
Masterson averaged just barely over 5 innings per start with Cleveland before being sent to the disabled list with an apparently medically baffling and exhaustively explanatory “right knee injury.” With an H/9 and BB/9, respectively, of 9.7 and 5.1 he is far and away from his 2013 1.202 WHIP. While his K/BB ratio suffers mightily as well in comparison to last year’s All-Star campaign where he tallied 2.57 strikeouts between walks versus this season’s 1.66. It’s difficult to say if 2013 is a reasonable expectation of Justin Masterson or if 2014 is more representative of his abilities; in 4 seasons of 29 or more starts he vacillates between the better and the worse of the two.
In his first start since being activated from the Disabled List and his first with his new ball club, a rested knee seemed to do little for Masterson’s rubber-woes. He allowed 7 hits and 4 walks, exiting the game after the top of the 6th having thrown 90 pitches, 61 of which for strikes. Establishing what exactly is hampering Masterson’s knee may well be the key to success for him in a Cardinals uniform.
Both Masterson and his other new-arrival teammate John Lackey were faced with an important first start for the Cardinals against our division-leading rival in Milwaukee. While both came away with a victory, one fared significantly better than the other.
John Lackey has been very much John Lackey-like this season. He’s been very reliable for Boston thus far starting 21 games with a 3.57 FIP and a 3.63 K/BB ratio. He’s also averaging nearly 6 2/3 innings-per-start and has a complete game to his credit – what should be a complete game shutout – after holding the Twins scoreless on 3 hits and a walk with 9 Ks over 9 innings on July 18th. Unfortunately for Lackey the Twins pitchers combined to hold the Red Sox scoreless into the 10th inning when the bullpen surrendered 1 to Minnesota and Minnesota returned the favor twice-over for a 10th inning Red Sox victory.
In an important series-ending game against Milwaukee, Lackey stepped onto the St. Louis mound for the first time in this uniform. Though surrendering a single run in each of the first two innings, Lackey located his low-90s fastball and sharp slider well and proceeded to clamp down on the Milwaukee batters in the proceeding innings. Allowing 7 hits, he walked none and struck out four to hold the Brewers through 7 innings before turning the ball over to the very capable Pat Neshek and rolling-Trevor Rosenthal to close out the game. It certainly didn’t hurt the Cardinals that a strained rib cage forced Brewer Matt Garza off the mound in the 6th inning with a one-hit shutout in the works.
Lackey proved strong with a Quality Start at a much needed time to bring the Cardinals within 1 game of the division lead. With the 49-62 Red Sox pulling into St. Louis and the Brewers hosting the Wild Card leading Giants, Lackey’s win sets the Cardinals up to regain the NL Central lead this week. Here’s hoping for some active bats against a Jon Lester-less Red Sox.