One thing I've learned about Tony La Russa over the years is that he never, ever takes an action without a reason, and, as I've also learned from listening to him on Sunday mornings, a sound reason. You can agree or disagree with him, but once he's had the opportunity to explain his position his actions seem to make more sense. An example of this might – might – be his apparent early elimination of Jason Marquis from the starting line-up for the first round of the play-offs.
The Birdhouse's own Ray Mileur has taken Tony to task over his stated decision to start Matt Morris over Jason Marquis in the first round. Is starting Morris over Marquis a pre-first round blunder, or is it more a demonstration of La Russa's lack of confidence in bullpen lefty Ray King? Consider the latter and one possible solution.
Frankly, King has been a bust this year, his performance in 2005 a dismal shadow of a fine 2004 campaign. I've maintained throughout the year that part of the problem is that King and departed fellow lefty Steve Kline were of such similar goofy personalities that he buoyed one another. Without Kline, King lacks some of the fire evident last year. Bernie Miklasz, in his excellent "Reading Time – 5 Minutes" piece in the September 24 Post-Dispatch, also alludes to the failing health of King's father as an additional burden.
The fact of the matter is that King has been blowing leads, giving up untimely hits, and generally failing in relief at least since the All-Star Break. Since that time, his ERA is approaching six, and he has allowed more hits than innings pitched. After a couple of upticks in his performance about the same time that Jason Marquis began turning things around, King has reverted to his poor pitching. King is trending badly downward.
When Ray King takes the mound, you can nearly hear the collective groan
at Busch Stadium. Worse, you can
also see the lack of confidence on his face. Once thought to be a possible closer in
the absence of Jason Isringhausen, King is probably fortunate that the minor
league seasons are over lest he might find himself in
Miklasz's suggestion is that fellow bullpen lefty Randy Flores should vault over King to be the top short relief lefty out of the bullpen. My thought on the matter is more drastic and conceivably controversial. I'm not sure that if I'm Tony La Russa I want Ray King filling a valuable play-off roster spot. One really can't argue that he has earned it. My solution would be to park King for the first round of the play-offs and move Marquis to the pen. If that were to happen Matt Morris becomes the de facto fourth starter.
Look what Marquis could bring to the bullpen. When Marquis starts, he tends to start strong, keeping his sinker down and inducing those ground-outs. In the sixth or seventh inning of a play-off game, as the starter tires and the lead-off batter gets to first base with less than two outs, a reliever that has an effective sinker is the perfect set-up for a double-play ball. In addition, Marquis' batting average is so gaudy that his presence in the line-up precludes a late inning double-switch, keeping La Russa's bench intact longer.
Obviously the down side to this argument is that Marquis has little or no bullpen experience. Granted, but he is young, determined, extremely athletic and versatile, and seems to be willing to do anything to help this team win. The question then is simply this – at this point in the season, who would you rather have on the mound in a crucial situation that screams for a lefty who can keep the ball down, King or Marquis?
I admire Ray Mileur's baseball acumen tremendously, but I personally will reserve judgment on La Russa's decision to start Morris until the whole play-off roster is made public. Morris's starting role may only be the tip of the iceberg. La Russa and Dave Duncan have several big decisions to make. The decision to start Morris may be more indicative of bullpen woes than a simple comparison between Matt Morris and Jason Marquis.
Special limited-time offer - receive 60 issues of the Sporting News plus the 128-page hardcover book "Ozzie Smith: The Road to Cooperstown" included with your one-year subscription to thestlcardinals.com. thestlcardinals.com Total Access Pass(tm)