March 31, 2011: Ryan Franklin readies himself on the mound in St. Louis. His jersey matches the date.
All championship teams have this in common; can you guess what it is? I’ll bet my baseball heads can.
The answer is a reliable closer—one who consistently gets the job done, especially in crunch time.
After witnessing Big Adam Wainwright close out the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series, many people in Cardinals Nation are starting to question whether or not Ryan Franklin is the man for the job.
Cardinals fans are quite accustomed to outstanding closers. They know when a pitcher is faking the funk—unable to get it done—and there is a faker in their sights.
Like a man on the corner selling snake oil, the snake-bitten Franklin blew another save. This one was against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday evening. After putting on an impressive hitting display in the first two games, the Cardinals could have walked away with a sweep.
Their batting average ballooned to .294, and they did it against the Dodgers—including their ace Clayton Kershaw. Alan Craig broke the game open on Saturday night with a three-run homer off Kershaw in the fifth inning.
The southpaw sat on the bench seemingly in disbelief after being yanked from the game. It was game, set and match for the Cardinals.
The Redbirds haven’t needed to use their closers in the last few games because their bats have been breaking games open. The first time a closer was needed in awhile proved to be costly.
Unlike the Yankees, a team built for outslugging their opponents and also relying on their closer, the Cards cannot rely on theirs—not at this point.
The blown saves started in the first game of the season against the San Diego Padres, and they’ve kept coming. It’s the biggest reason the Cardinals started the season way under .500.
Now they’re sporting an 8-8 record—good enough for second or third place in the division. But if they want to be serious contenders for the National League Pennant and the World Series, they’ll need to acquire or develop a closer.
If Franklin can get his mojo back, then the Cardinals will be all good. In the meantime, however, they’ll have to battle through a period of suspect closing.
This is something the Cardinals and their fans are generally not accustomed to. Since the 1980s, they’ve had closers such as Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Jason Isringhausen and Wainwright.
Franklin was one of the best closers in the National League last season and has been since 2009. He is 38 years old, though, and not as good as 41-year-old Mariano Rivera.
The Yankees have Rafael Soriano to back Rivera up. Soriano was an excellent closer for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Sounds like Franklin—last season.
This year, Franklin has issued more walks (two) than he’s gotten saves. His ERA is 11.57 going into the Monday of the season’s third week and his record is 0-2.
If this isn’t enough, hold on, Franklin’s underwhelming line gets worse:
While the Cardinals are smacking the ball all over the park at an unbelievable .290 clip, Franklin is giving up a .364 average to opposing batters. He’s supposed to be closing out to win games. Instead, batters are tapping him out like Matt Kemp did on Sunday.
Kemp smacked a walk-off two-run home run to avoid a sweep by the Cardinals and win it 2-1 for the Dodgers. The closer for St. Louis messed up a perfectly good pitcher’s duel between Chris Carpenter and Chad Billingsley.
Franklin’s four blown saves in five opportunities is the worst save percentage in the league in the first two and a half weeks of the season. Other teams are having issues with their closers including Oakland, the White Sox and Minnesota.
But Brian Fuentes and Matt Thornton are new to their respective roles closing for the A’s and Chicago. Joe Nathan is coming off surgery and reportedly took himself out of the closer’s role. The sometimes erratic Matt Capps replaced Nathan.
In the first month of the season, none of them have stunk it up like Franklin. Maybe he should do the same thing as Nathan—bow down. It’s not above him, I know that.
He’s volunteered to shut it down in the past. Maybe he has again this year, but manager Tony La Russa refused his offer.
Well, if this is true, then it’s time for Tony to make Franklin an offer he can’t refuse: Either close out the next chance for a save or get relegated to the bench.
Instead of 8-8, the Cardinals should realistically be 12-4. St. Louis was 6-4 on their road trip through San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles. They lost three games they should have won. They should have gone 9-1 on the trip.
If not for the blown saves, then the Redbirds would be at or near the top of the majors in terms of win-loss records. According to beat writer Bernie Miklasz, Franklin has a 90.3 save percentage since 2009.
That’s pretty good, but Cardinals fans have been all over him and it’s not because he lacks fireball status. He’s a smooth closer, unlike power closers Neftali Feliz, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Paplebon or Francisco Cordero.
I don’t think that has anything to do with it. It boils down to the fact that the Cardinals have had excellent pitchers and closers throughout their history. To their fans, closing out games is one of the least tolerable areas for messing up.
If the Cardinals saw Franklin as a Rivera type, then they messed up. It’s not too late to correct it. At this point, Franklin is like the guest who came to dinner unannounced and wouldn’t leave until all of the food was gone.
He’s not wearing out his welcome; he’s worn out his welcome. Maybe he could be a good setup man with the Redbirds—and I like him as a person—but it’s time for a resident in the closer’s role.