The Cardinals Need to Break Their Bad Jaime Garcia Habit

The next time out, Jaime Garcia may turn into a sorcerer again … bending and whiffling pitches to make hitters look like fools. This does happen on occasion. Ten times this season, Garcia has crafted a quality start … a true quality start. And on those special days when Jaime can make the baseball do tricks you won’t find a more impressive magician-pitcher.

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In his last 18 starts, Garcia has a 5.23 ERA.

Problem is, we don’t see the dazzling version of Garcia too often.

Garcia has 1.48 ERA in his 10 quality starts.

In his other 18 outings, Garcia has been bludgeoned for 17 homers and a 7.10 ERA.

Garcia was mostly good, and sometimes great, in the first two months. But except for the occasional wizardry, he’s pretty much been a speed bag for hitters.

In his last 18 starts, going back to June 1, Garcia has been pummeled for a 5.23 ERA. He was simply horrendous again on Thursday night at Busch Stadium, enduring the Brewers’ batting-practice barrage for 3.2 innings that included eight hits, two homers and five earned runs.

Manager Mike Matheny patiently watched Garcia get trashed — perhaps until someone mentioned that the Cards have an 11-reliever bullpen.

(Yeah, even though rookie Mike Mayers came in later and got torched for six runs, that’s irrelevant. The point: you can’t let your starter, and the game, drift away from you so early in the game.)

In a 12-5 loss to Milwaukee, Garcia’s latest false start pretty much put the entire ballpark (and home dugout) into a state of depression. The Cardinals were embarrassed again at home, with their record at Busch Stadium sinking to 30-38. In 104 years of St. Louis Cardinals baseball, this team is on a course to finish with the fifth-worst home winning percentage (.441) for a full season in franchise history.

The hope was that the Cardinals would come home, dig in, do away with this nonsense, and finally play good baseball at Busch to launch the final 24-game stretch of the season. After five months of relative home-field futility, the Cardinals returned from a 5-4 road swing, coming back to Busch for their first September series.

And then bad Jaime showed up again, doing the buzz-kill thing. With this sad loss — which probably sent many at-home viewers over to the Panthers-Broncos NFL game NBC — the Cardinals slipped onto the third rung on the NL wild-card ladder. With another lost night burned off the schedule, the Cards trail the Mets by a half-game, and the Giants by one game, in the competition for two wild-card passes.

The Cardinals aren’t exactly rolling around in plush pitching depth these days. Injuries to Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzalez and Tim Cooney have wiped out much of the insurance and reduced the list of alternative rotation options. Rookies Luke Weaver and (especially) Alex Reyes have mostly been effective. But Reyes has been assigned to the bullpen again, which makes sense given the burn-out factor among some STL relievers because of Matheny’s tendency to overwork his personal bullpen favorites.

Still … since we’re talking about making sense …

Is it smart to stay with Garcia when he  (1) repeatedly puts a contending team into an early-game deficit position and (2) frequently comes up short in supplying innings?

I’ve pretty much arrived at the “PLEASE … ANYONE… BUT …. JAIME”  level of duress.

Here are few reasons why:

— Garcia has 10 quality starts in his 28 starts this season. How bad is that? So far this season 37 pitchers have made at least 28 starts. Among those 28 starters, Garcia is tied with Robbie Ray (Arizona) for the fewest number of QS.

— Among the 88 MLB pitchers that have made at least 15 starts since June 1. here’s how Garcia ranks in some important categories:

  • 78th of 88 in ERA (5.23)
  • 76th of 88 in fielding independent ERA (5.01)
  • 79th of 88 in homers allowed (1.64 per 9 innings.)
  • 73rd of 88 in WHIP (1.47.)
  • 75th of 88 in base runners per nine innings (13.67.)
  • 77th of 88 in opponents’ onbase percentage (.350.)
  • 84th of 88 in opponents’ slugging percentage (.509.)
  • 83rd of 88 in opponents’ OPS (.858.)

Garcia has received plenty of run support over this 18-start stretch; the Cardinals have scored an average of five runs per start while Jaime is in the game. Despite the generous offense in backing Garcia, the Cardinals are only 8-10 in his last 18 starts.

And in Garcia’s last five starts — coming at the most critical stage of the season — the Cardinals are 1-4.

I suppose that’s to be expected when your starter is getting bombed out; Garcia’s ERA in his last five starts is 8.06. During this violent stretch opponents have used him as a tee, averaging 3.16 homers per nine innings, slugging .679, and taking the punishment that comes with an opponents’ 1.078 OPS.

I realize Matheny is in a tough spot here. It’s easy for me (or anyone) to say “pull Garcia” from the rotation, but the manager doesn’t have many appealing options. But he does have at least one option.

With an overpopulated bullpen — courtesy of the traditional September roster expansion — Matheny has more relievers to utilize.

That gives him the flexibility of re-inserting Reyes into the rotation and scratching Garcia.

Will this happen? No.

Will Matheny give serious consideration to making this switch? No.

So why am I writing about this? Answer: it’s therapeutic.

But I don’t want to have to watch the Jaime Garcia show again next season. Just thinking about the Cardinals picking up Garcia’s option and having him block the path Alex Reyes for a spot in the rotation is something I can’t even begin to process … not unless I want to smash my laptop.

Thanks for reading and have a fantastic weekend…


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