I have blogged two previous Opening Days here at MLBlogs. In fact, my first blog entry on here was Opening Day of 2006. It was a great opener and that year I picked the Cardinals to win it all that year, because I thought they had the best team on paper. That was before they lost Mulder and Izzy. I would have not picked them if I had known that. But a young kid named Adam Wainwright stepped up to the plate to fill the role of closer. Wainwright would go on to give me the single greatest moment I have ever seen in Cardinal history….the big strikeout of Carlos Beltran with runners on in Game 7 of the NLCS.
It gives me hope about this season. Yes, we are missing Wainwright, who has since transitioned from closer to ace. Yes, we are missing Punto and there are ridiculous number of question marks in guys like Freese and Berkman. But you never know which young kid is going to step up and hit the game winning shot off the bench.
The 2007 Opening Day was my next and final Opening Day blog. I blogged off and on over the next few years, more off than on. And now here we are in 2011. Five years since that incredible year of 2006 and the impossible run of the team that nobody thought had a chance.
It’s time to prove yourselves again, Redbirds!
And with that here are my notes about Opening Day 2011….in no particular order:
- Hitting – The Cardinals hit plenty and got on base. Rasmus got a first inning triple and Holliday came through with 2 outs. Berkman and Freese, two big questions got back to back hits. But they never got that “big hit.” This was the proverbial thorn in the side from last year. Quite the opposite, as they grounded into way too many double plays.
- Beards – Um, what was with all the man scruff? Carpenter, Berkman and Pujols all had decent beards going on while Schumaker looked like Grizzly Adams out there. And Rasmus looked like he was trying.
- Defense – Defense has been a concern with the loss of Brendan Ryan and this ground ball heavy staff. And the worries proved accurate. Freese made a tremendous play up the line, but the middle infield guys made a couple of huge mistakes. Skip muffed a ball that should have been an easy strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play and instead turned into a run. And Theriot made an 11th inning error that led to the game winning run.
- Pujols – The guy who has 3 opening day home runs to his credit, couldn’t get the job done today. He would end up 0 for 5 and hit in 3 double plays. Pujols wasn’t worried and neither am I. All I got to say is tomorrow’s pitcher better look out because when he breaks out he will break out BIG.
- Bullpen – Franklin looked very uncloser-esque today. I hope this will be the exception and not the rule. The game winning run was given up by Augenstein. This is significant because he was the last guy to get a spot on the Cardinal roster, even beating out Salas who played in the bigs last year.
Overall, it wasn’t a horrible game. But it sure felt like 90% of our games from last year. Decent hitting, decent fielding and good pitching. But….they found a way to lose a game that should have easily been won. So much different than the champion Cardinals who always seemed to find a way to win. It is just the first game of the season so I am willing to cut them quite a bit of slack. I just hope I’m not still saying this at All-Star Break.
Many people are wondering if the Cardinal lineup will produce the runs it will inevitably need to this year. And while there are some question marks there, I feel confident in the lineup we have to put out there every day. I love Rasmus in the 2 spot. I think Berkman gets his swing back. I think Skip is better than a .200 hitter. I think Theriot finds his way as a leadoff guy.
But the pitching is the big unknown. Every year, every team wants more pitching it seems. And the breakout, unknown pitchers of the season are the ones who end up propelling their teams to the postseason.
Every one was excited about the prospect of trotting out Waino, Carp and Garcia out there every week. And then Wainwright went down. Wainwright was about as good as guaranteed every five days, so this is a tough situation.
The problem with people being excited about our top 3 is that Garcia is far from guaranteed. He had a great rookie campaign last year, no doubt. But now the hitters know him. And there is absolutely no way to know if he can repeat that success again this year. And as our number 3, we really needed him to. But now he’s our number 2. I have full confidence in Carpenter filling Wainwright’s spot. He’s been there and done it before. But Garcia now has to be what Carpenter was going to be. Guys like Loshe and McClellan have a little more slack as our 4 and 5 guys. They need to be decent, but they have some margin for error. Garcia, however, has to be consistently good if we’re going to have any kind of shot at this thing.
He has not shown that potential this spring. With a posted spring ERA of 7.94 ERA, I am tired of seeing title after title of, “Garcia looks to positives despite horrible performance” or some variation thereof. I get that the spring is the time to work out the kinks. I get that it’s about locating pitches more than the end result. But I haven’t always felt like he’s been locating real well. And I get that anything is possible until it starts counting. And that’s why I’m not grabbing my pitchfork yet. I’m willing to wait it out and see how he does come April. But I would be lying if I said Garcia doesn’t make me nervous. Let’s hope he can duplicate last year’s success and help make this a world championship team.
Garcia for the repeat,
When Spring Training first starts, it’s awesome. You go from being baseball deprived all winter to being able to watch games, listen to it on the radio in your car. But now I’m getting antsy. Spring has been enjoyable, but now I’m ready to get on with it. I’m ready to get to some real games and see the Cardinals start that long marathon that leads to October.
Despite some heartbreak (Waino’s injury), some minor setbacks (Carp’s injury, Berkman’s constant flare-ups, etc.), our team is looking decent. Freese seems to be progressing nicely and our power guys seem to be doing what they’re paid to do.
But there’s only one way to know for sure: play games that count. It’s the only way to know if Westbrook will be the innings eater he believes he will be. The only way to know if Freese can get through a full season with no injury. The only way to know if Berkman can be patched together enough to play outfield and produce at the plate. The only way to know if we can manage without our ace.
And I cannot wait to play those games that count.
Waiting on Opening Day,
Health is always a concern for every MLB team, as it is something that you can’t control, but is vital for a team to be successful. At times when a player goes down you might have a younger, expected player to step up, but that is something that can’t be counted on. Overall, you need a healthy team to be competitive into October.
The Cardinals haven’t been healthy for even a week.
The injury bug has always plagued the Redbirds, as well as every other team, leaving you saying, “what if” into the season. What if Carpenter hadn’t been hurt in October of 2006? What if Mark Mulder hadn’t been a huge disappointment injury-wise? What if we hadn’t wasted a year on Brad Penny to simply be hurt the whole time?
Before Spring Training even started, there were already a number of injury concern.
– Would Lance Berkman be healthy enough to play outfield?
– Can Yadier Molina hold out another year playing so many games behind the plate?
– Would David Freese be healthy all season?
– Would Kyle Loshe have a fully healthy year?
And on and on it goes. While not having answers to these questions, we have learned of some very serious injuries already within the Cardinal team. The biggest of this, of course, is Adam Wainwright. Wainwright underwent Tommy John surgery and while it was successful, he will be out for at least this season and even possibly into next. Nick Punto, although a smaller piece in the puzzle, is still an injured piece nonetheless.
And now, today, Carpenter and Boggs were taken out of today’s contest. Supposedly, these are minor things and would certainly seem so compared to Wainwright’s devastating injury. And if they were the only sources of possibly injury, it wouldn’t seem so bad. But on top of the ever-increasing pile of injuries that we have going, anything more seems like it would fall in the “straw that broke the camel’s back” category.
Carpenter would be at the top of the list of guys that absolutely cannot get hurt, with our other ace sidelined. We are lucky in the fact that we essentially have two aces, but Carp is going to have to stay healthy if we are going to be competitive at all. Hopefully, they are just being cautious and removed him before he could do serious damage. Hopefully, it is as minor as they are saying. Our offense needs to be healthy and strong to support some of our less than star caliber pitchers as well. Pujols, Holliday and Berkman all can make some serious noise if healthy, but David Freese will be a big piece there. A healthy Freese means that Yadi can man the plate and do what he does best and anything offensive would just be a bonus. It will also take some of the pressure of of Rasmus, who tends to play better the less pressure he has on his shoulders to perform.
You can’t write off the season before it starts, but the injuries have got to stop for sure!
Injury bug, go away, go away,
I stated that a returning lineup that includes Albert, Holliday, Rasmus
and a hopefully healthy David Freese should be pretty formidable. Then
throw in the defense and occasional offensive spark of Yadier Molina and
a returning staff that includes Carp, Wainwright, Garcia and Franklin,
the Cardinals should be a force to be reckoned with. Yet, last year
they fell to the the Reds with all of these guys (except, of course, for
So what was missing? It’s hard to say. But with the Reds likely to
contend again and the Brewers making moves to show they want to contend,
the Cardinals better find that missing piece. They are hoping it’s in
one of the new guys they’ve added to the team. So let’s look at this
band of newcomers and see what the potential is there.
Lance Berkman – Arguably, the biggest name added to the Cardinal roster,
this is an interesting move on many levels. It was not long ago that
Lance Berkman struck fear into the hearts of Cardinal fans everywhere.
There are two guys over the years that I would classify as true
“Cardinal killers” and they are Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. As a
‘Stro Berkman had a big bat, under a team that always tragically
underperformed. Though he’s a 1st baseman by trade, Pujols has the
position well under lock and key. So they claim that he was brought
over as an outfielder. And outfield he will clearly play in 2011. But
we’re stupid here. He’s also provides a safety net. Should the Redbird
brass not be able to retain Albert’s services past this year, Berkman
could easily slide into that spot, while we look elsewhere for a right
fielder. Smart move, I say, with major upside. Berkman underperformed
with the Yankees, but I still believe he has some sting left in that big
bat of his.
Ryan Theriot – The Cardinals had a perfectly capable defensive shortstop
in Brendan Ryan. However, his offense last year was atrocious.
Moreover, he apparently clashed with LaRussa although they claim that’s
not why he was sent packing. In any case, I’m not in the clubhouse, I
don’t know if the criticism of Ryan was fair or not. I do know that if
getting rid of him and signing Theriot is what it takes for this team to
mesh, then I’m all for it. Though I will miss the socks.
Nick Punto – The utility infielder should be an great asset to the
Cardinals. Although, it was just learned today that he will be out for a
couple of months with a strained groin. So, he should be a great asset
if / when he is healthy. The problem for the Cardinals last year was
that if someone went down (Freese) or needed a day off (Ryan or
Schumaker) all that was left to fill the void was Tyler Greene. Greene
was able to fill that need in some areas, but certainly not in all.
Punto serves a great utility man. There are so many options here
LaRussa’s head will be spinning. Punto can play 3rd, should Freese need a back-up again, he could play 2nd, putting Skip in the outfield if one of the outfielders need a day off, he can fill in at short. And as long as everyone stays healthy I expect to see a lot of mix and match here.
Gerald Laird – I’ll be honest. I know nothing about Laird. The Cardinals have brought in him to be a back-up for Yadi. They would like to spell the often played catcher a little more often than they have in the best. From what I hear, his skill set is similar to Molina’s in the fact that he’s a backstop first, a hitter second. What’s really upsetting about this whole situation though is that we had to go find Laird in the first place. He’s a replacement for last year’s backup catcher, Jason LaRue. LaRue was forced into retirement when he suffered a concussion during an on-field altercation between the Reds and the Cards. The Reds’ Johnny Cueto bicycle-kicked LaRue in the head.
Newcomers + Returners = Solid Team,
Chris Carpenter – The once obvious clear ace in the Cardinals rotation, though some would now perhaps give that distinction to Wainwright, he is still a part of one of the better 1-2 punches in baseball (Philadelphia beastly rotation aside). Carp has always been a no-nosense type of guy with the media, fellow players, in pitching and it’s one of the things I love about him. He is going to have a lot to prove this year, namely that at 35 years old, he can still deliver the good stuff. Otherwise, it’s very conceivable that it may be his last year in a Cardinal uniform. And even if he does, that could still well be the case. The Cards have an option on him for 2012, but a lot of his future could depend on the Pujols situation. If they can’t sign Pujols and Carp is still healthy, I’m sure they pick up his option. If they do sign Pujols, Carpenter could be a guy that they buy out. They’ll have to save money somewhere and an aging pitcher, however, good, seems the first place to do that.
Adam Wainwright – Maybe Wainwright hasn’t been “the face of the franchise” in so much the same way Carpenter has been over the last few years, but he’s getting there. As I said above, many seem him as overtaking Carp in that ‘ace’ role. For my money, as soon as he K’ed the mighty Beltran to end the NLCS, I was a Wainwright fan for life. I love listening to Adam give interviews. Still a southern boy through and through (though not as much as Colby), he just seems to enjoy talking baseball and pitching. Nothing fancy about him, he just does his job. I fully expect to see him make another run at a possible Cy Young. And perhaps one of these years, the other pitchers will actually let him reach it.
Jake Wesbrook – Now this guy will be interesting to watch. He was a Cardinals for only a little while last year, but now has been signed for two additional seasons. He didn’t do anything spectacular last year, but he was also brought over only in time to try and save an already sinking Cardinal team. What will he be like sitting under Dave Duncan for an entire season? Will he crash and burn a la Brad Penny? Or will he be the latest Duncan testimony a la Jeff Weaver? Time will tell.
Jaime Garcia – Jaime is the player I am most excited to watch in 2011. He had a totally unexpected and awesome breakout season last year. The question on everyone’s minds will be whether or not it was a fluke thing or if he can step up again this year. The Cardinals need him to be as good as he was last year if they’re going to think about getting to October.
Kyle Loshe – The guy that the Cardinals for some reason badly want to be their 5th starter. I have no idea why. This guy is completely maddening to watch pitch. Maybe they feel they have invested too much into him, but at some point you have let him go. Even at his best, this guy’s not a front of the rotation type of guy.
Ryan Franklin – The solid closer. I trust him in a ballgame and he’s cheap for the Cardinals, considering the money they’re pouring in to a lot of other places. But the problem again is that this is his last year before free agency. The plus is that hopefully he’ll want to make a good impression, but the negative is that it serves as a distraction.
Mitchell Boggs / Kyle McClellan / Trevor Miller / Jason Motte / Fernando Salas / P.J. Walters
Various members of the Cardinal ‘pen that have pitched from a little to a lot. A lot of arbitration eligible players in this group and also unclear in what they have to offer. There’s a couple of exceptions to that, such as that Motte throws heat. But for the most part, it’s always hard to know what your set-up men and other various bullpen roles are going to do. We’ll see soon enough how this is going to all shake down.
The Cardinals have a returning starting rotation in Carp, Wainwright, Garcia, Westbrook and Loshe. But that is doubtful to be the starting rotation come the end of the season. There’s no guarantee for some of the staff who will be in St. Louis at the beginning of the season and who will have to work their way up there. Spring Training will help get all of that sorted out.
Next up are the newcomers.
One of the best 1-2 combos out there,
I admit it. I thought we didn’t have a chance to win this game. When the Braves scored 3 runs in the first, partly because of 2 errors, I threw up my hands in disgust. 3 runs in the 1st inning? With the kind of offense we’ve been having? Come on. And that third run coming off the bat of Derrek Lee? You had to see that coming. He has changed uniforms, but he’s still a Cardinal killer.
Warning to Cardinal pitchers:
Or have you already forgotten the 4 home runs he belted against us in 3 game against the Cubs, the last time we played them? Walk him. Seriously. Until we have 10 runs, WALK him.
Maybe I’m a horrible Cardinal fan for giving up after 3 runs in the 1st inning, but I don’t think so. This team just doesn’t always instill a lot of confidence. I want to believe. So badly, I want to believe. But when your team goes 4-11 in their last 15 games, they make that difficult. Yet, the Cardinals are still in the hunt. And so I watch. And pray. And yell. And occasionally throw things at my TV. And cheer. And ask Larussa what the heck he is thinking. And many other things because I just can’t give up on this team until all 162 games are played. In the meantime, my heart may give out.
The Reds have done their best to let us back into the hunt after we tried our hardest to give them the division. But the Cardinals playing average baseball right, a step up from the horrible baseball they were playing, have only gained a little ground. We are now five games back. That’s right. FIVE games back. Still a long way from ordering the celebration champagne, but close enough to make me look at the clock every hour hoping that that the 7:15 start time will get here already.
Tonight was one of those nights, where if you didn’t know any better, you would think this was a 1st place team cruising to the playoffs. As my title said, ‘When it rains, it pours.’ When they are clicking, the Cardinals have as intimidating offense as anybody. Even after losing Matt Holliday to ejection, the Redbirds were merciless against the Braves, battering them with hit after hit. In the end they would get into the double digits, putting the Braves away 11-4. Wainwright was solid and effective, going 8 innings and striking out 7, tying the league lead with his 18th win. Production was up and down the lineup, from Skip leading off and going 3-5, Rasmus have a 4 for 4 night with 2 home runs and 3 separate Cardinals going deep. It was a great night to be a Cardinal fan.
It continues to be a long, hard, uphill struggle, but the Cardinals are clinging on to life. Let’s hope they can keep it going against the Braves tomorrow. Carp’s on the hill for us, which means I like our chances.