The offense looked like something other than sleepwalking in yesterday’s match against the Giants. The question is was that a one time fluke or was it the outbreak they needed to start consistently pushing runs across the plate? Today’s game just might tell us as the Redbirds open up a 3 game series versus Arizona.
David Freese especially had a banner day. He went 3 for 4, smacking in RBIs every chance he got. And to cap it off, he added a solo shot for his first home run of the year. All in all, the ‘Birds scored 6 runs in 11 hits, which is drastically more than they have been doing and easily at least what this offense is capable of on a regular basis.
When you have guys like Pujols, Holliday, Berkman, Rasmus and Freese, you expect to score runs. Bottom line. I should also say Kyle Loshe has really been quite good. Certainly much better than I expected him to be. Who would have thought pre-season that we would love the pitching and watching a struggling offense? Not I.
So what do you think? Will the Cardinals continue to break out and score runs? Will Pujols figure out how to get above .200 before April is over? Post below!
Fun to watch your team score runs,
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.
More players were cut in the Cardinals camp, getting the overall roster closer to 25. They cut 10 overall, but most of these were not big surprises. Extra pitchers and a catcher were certain to go as well as a couple of very green infielders.
The only name that may have surprised some was Matt Carpenter. This non-ace Carp was tearing it up at camp, making many question if he had the potential to make the Opening Day roster. But he has not and I think this is the right decision.
When you have a guy like Daniel Descalso in camp who has that experience, why not give him a shot? While Carpenter was looking good, he’s still brand new. Look at many of the other minor leaguers who put up good numbers and then proceeded to look like little leaguers once they hit the Big Time. All that does is damage their confidence as they are bounced around from the Minors to the Majors and back down again. I say, send Carp down, give him some time to really grow as a hitter, learning to make those adjustments, developing his skills and then bring him up when the time is right.
It’s good to know that he’s there, especially if something happens with Freese again. But until that time, I think we’re good with Freese, Theriot, Descalso and Skip. And hopefully before long Punto is back in the fold as well.
The 2011 Redbirds are starting to take shape and it’s certainly promising. Just thinking about the 2-5 spots being Rasmus, Pujols, Holliday and Berkman should be enough to give many teams chills. While our pitching will certainly be lacking, we definitely have the big boys with the big bats to get the job done. With Rasmus having uber protection, I expect him to be strong this year. And I also expect Berkman to hit well as long as he remains healthy. If both of those things are true, than anything that Skip or Molina does is just icing on the cake. Hopefully that will take some of the pressure off of them.
One of the biggest things I’m looking at this year is how good of a table setter Theriot is. The Cardinals have lacked a really great leadoff man in recent years, which has led to a lot of their shortfall. It’s not a coincidence that the year the Cardinals won the World Series, we had David Eckstein. Whether a walk, a HBP or a squirrely hit, he always seemed to get the job done. He didn’t struck out much and he made the pitchers work right from the beginning. If Theriot is half that good, the Cardinals have a lot of potential this year!
Trimming the fat,
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,
Albert Pujols – The most obvious and most talked about returner to the Cardinals lineup. Pujols represents the “no doubter” in the Cardinals lineup. Plays first and bats third. So automatic that even with all of LaRussa’s lineup tinkering, this isn’t likely to change. The only exception to that would be if LaRussa decided to flip flop him with Matt Holliday, if Holliday is slumping. Pujols is also one of the few guarantees in the lineup when it comes to production. Pujols slump lasts long and when he comes out of one, it’s usually with a bang. He’s also never been injury prone in his career. Some minor flare ups here and there, but nothing major. We all know it’s up in the air if Pujols is going to be a Cardinals in 2012 and beyond, so for now, just enjoy him while we got him.
Matt Holliday – This was the guy they shelled all the money into last year as a free agent, in order to form a solid team around Pujols. He serves as protection at the dish and a decent defender in left field. This is an all-star caliber player and when he’s hot, he’s HOT, but like many a Cardinal outfielder before him, he can be prone to a cold streak or two. His consistency in protecting Albert will be huge to the success of 2011 Cardinals.
Yadier Molina – Believe it or not, Yadi is now a griseled veteran with seven years under his belt. His season ended a couple weeks early last year due to injury and what else can you expect? He had already caught way more games than pretty much every other catcher in the league. Yadi’s a gamer, no doubt about it and the pitching staff has expressed their appreciation. They trust Yadi behind the plate and having a guy like that back there makes our pitchers that much better. They don’t pay him for his offense, but I’d like to see him bump it up a touch this year. On a completely other note, I’d also like to see him kick the crap out of Brandon Phillips. 🙂
Colby Rasmus – It’s hard to fully appreciate Colby when a guy like Jimmy Edmonds is retiring. But he’s also still very young and making a name for himself. He’s a good hitter and fielder, but I don’t believe he’s reached his potential yet. He needs to be a tad more patient at the plate and lower his strikeout rate. Part of the problem is probably his lack of focus. Last year, he made headlines for comments about “wanting a trade.” Hopefully, he can learn from a guy like Pujols when it comes to that sort of thing. There’s a time to talk and during the season is not it. Put your head down, shut up and play the game. If he can do that, he has the makings of being a big time player. If he can’t, just call him J.D. Drew and trade him already.
Skip Schumaker – It’s still unclear what Skip’s going to be in the world of baseball. Infielder? Outfielder? Lifetime utility guy? Journeyman? Whatever it is, I have enjoyed his contributions to the Cardinal team. He always seems to be working hard at whatever role is thrown his way. And when he asked, he turned himself to a pretty good 2nd baseman. He also had a down year at the plate in 2010, hitting well below the .300 mark he had reached in his previous three seasons. With a plethora of utility type players on the lineup, it’s likely that Skip will see some time at a variety of positions and places in the lineup, but you have to think that he’s going to see a lot of time as the leadoff guy. But in LaRussa’s crazy world, nothing is guaranteed.
David Freese – Though he hasn’t spent much time as a Cardinal due to injury, I’m still including him in the returning players, as he was THE 3rd baseman for the first part of last year. The Cardinals are needing much longer from him this year. Reports have been that he is taking it easy during Spring Training so as not to re-injure anything. During his brief stint, however, he did show a lot of promise. He has the potential to be a great contributor this year and years to come, especially as we inevitably lose higher paid players.
Jon Jay / Daniel Descalso / Tyler Greene / Allen Craig – Four guys who saw various amounts of playing time last year at the Major League level. Where they fit this year remains to be determined. Right field that became a platoon on the departure of Ryan Ludwick last year is back to probably a one-man show upon the acquisition of Lance Berkman. It remains to be seen who is in St. Louis and who is elsewhere upon the arrival of Opening Day. At least a couple of these guys will find themselves filling utility roles and backups for starting guys. Greene was used quite a bit last year when Freese went down. And rumor has it that he might even see some time at center. But that shouldn’t be surprising. LaRussa has a tendency to want a team of guys that can play multiple positions to allow for creative lineups and subbing situations. My main hope is that Jay gets another hot streak going like he had last year and is a force off the bench.
On paper, the returning guys are pretty solid. But injuries and down seasons can certainly change things. This team is built around Pujols and Hollliday and I expect both of these guys to deliver what we’re used to seeing. If the other guys like Molina, Freese and Skip can up their game, it looks to be a good year for the Cardinals.
Next up will be the returning pitching staff.
Solid veteran lineup,