Eduardo Sanchez fever is sweeping over St. Louis. The 22-year-old right-hander has exhibited a variety of filthy pitches, including a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a nasty slider, and a swooping curveball.
In fact, the last time Cardinal nation got this excited about a rookie pitcher was in 2006 when Adam Wainwright was thrust into the closer’s role. Wainwright went on to save four games in the postseason, including Game 5 of the World Series versus Detroit to win the championship.
Manager Tony La Russa has a reputation for favoring veterans over young players, but he gave Wainwright the job in 2006 and he’s in the process of giving Sanchez the job in 2011.
The process has been a wild and eventful ride. Eight blown saves later, the Cardinals are still struggling to find a legitimate closer.
Mitchell Boggs was cruising along with three saves until April 26 came along. In that game against the Houston Astros, Boggs came into the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead. What transpired was one of the biggest choke jobs in recent memory.
After a passed ball by catcher Yadier Molina, Boggs committed a fielding error and threw a wild pitch. Two more singles followed before the first out was made. Boggs would only make that one out before a walk-off single gave the Astros the win.
Since that collapse, La Russa has shied away from giving Boggs another save opportunity; those have mostly gone to Sanchez. People who claim that La Russa is playing musical chairs at closer need to actually watch games instead of looking at the box score the next day.
Yes, Fernando Salas had two spot saves. The first was a four-out save where La Russa kept Salas in the game following a run in the top of the ninth to push the Cardinals’ lead to four runs. The second came on the heels of an 11-inning game where Sanchez threw 25 pitches in two innings of work (translation: Sanchez wasn’t available to pitch so Salas got the save opportunity).
Trever Miller has the only other save, and that was because La Russa wanted the lefty Miller to match up with the left-handed batting Nate McLouth for the final out. This occurred in the same 11-inning game mentioned above. It’s also worth mentioning that the two innings Sanchez pitched were the ninth and 10th. Jason Motte got the first two outs in the 11th before Miller finished up.
What does this all mean? Well, it’s pretty clear that all signs point to Sanchez being the closer.
There was a flutter of uncertainty as to what La Russa would do after Sanchez came into a tied game in the top of the ninth two days ago versus Atlanta and allowed a two-run homer. The skipper quickly answered that question the next night by giving Sanchez the opportunity to close with a three-run lead; he successfully converted the save.
The Cardinals are using a closer-by-committee approach as much as the Washington Nationals are with Drew Storen and Sean Burnett and as much as the Baltimore Orioles are with Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara. Meaning, what a manager says and what he does are two different things.
Make no mistake about it – Eduardo Sanchez is the closer. And La Russa has shown that he’ll let Sanchez pitch through his mistakes, which says a lot about a manager who has a reputation for distrusting young players.
The Sanchez fever has fans whispering about the next Neftali Feliz. In fact, I-70 Baseball wrote about Sanchez as the “closer of the future” last August and even quoted a scout as saying, “Eduardo has very similar stuff. Neftali’s fastball may have more tail, but I would say Sanchez’s breaking pitches are a notch better.”
The last time the Cardinals had a rookie closer, they won the World Series. If nothing else, history supports the move.