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,
A poster, by the name of, “fixisin” recently left comments that he (or she…..no idea without a name) was not pleased about the Cardinals recent two losses, especially the 3-2 loss to the Cubs. After we got the leadoff runner on 2nd, the next 3 Redbirds were Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez and Allen Craig. Miles never even got to 3rd. Here’s my take on the game if you would like to read it.
While I was equally disgusted about the loss, he blamed it on Ryan Ludwick being traded to the San Diego Padres. I was sad to see Ludwick go, but I don’t know that this particular trade is to blame here. In fact, this was the first game since Ludwick was traded at the deadline (July 31st) that the Cardinals didn’t score 4 runs.
But I appreciate comments (I respond to every one) and I equally love stats, so I thought, hey, let’s look at the numbers and see what they say about the situation. Let me preface my findings though by saying that it’s still way too early to tell if the Ludwick / Westbrook trade is going to be to our advantage or not, but here are what the numbers say so far.
In 14 games with the Padres, Ryan Ludwick has batted .275, slugged .510 and driven in 8.
In that same span, Ludwick’s replacement in RF, Jon Jay, has hit .317, slugged .415 and driven in 4.
Jake Wesbrook, who we got in the deal for Luddy, has started 3 times for the Cardinals. In those 3 games, he has a 1-0 record, pitched 19 innings (average of 6 1/3 innings per game), a 3.32 ERA, walked only 2, while striking out 19.
Looking at all of this, Ludwick has decent numbers. It’s not MVP territory, but good solid numbers for a RF. At the moment, John Jay is outhitting him, (even with having an 0 for 3 yesterday), but as I said, it’s still early. There’s no way to know if Jay will cool off down the stretch run, while Ludwick, as a veteran with the experience, may continue to stay hot from time to time.
Westbrook has proven to be a good performer so far, but 3 games is a very small sample size. What will he be like down the stretch? Can he be that postseason wildcard that Jeff Weaver was for us in 2006?
As always, there are the intangibles that numbers don’t give you. Some in the Cardinal organization feel that Ludwick gone has taken the pressure of Colby Rasmus, now that he knows he will be starting every day instead of being platooned. Whether or not our favorite southern boy, Colby, is feeling more relaxed or not, in the 3 games following Ludwick’s departure west, he went 6 for 12. Ludwick is also known to be a very streaky hitter and the problem with that is there’s no way to tell right now whether that’s good or bad in considering the trade. Will he heat up at just the right time in the playoff push or slump a little bit in the upcoming month?
There’s also the salary considerations. Ryan Ludwick was going to be a free agent at the end of this year and likely to get traded anyway. He would be eligible for arbitration and going to be able to demand quite a bit more money. Something we are pretty tight on at the moment, considering the money we plunked down for Matt Holliday and the money you would HOPE they are ready to plunk down for Pujols, who is approaching the end of his contract, after the club option next year. So you really have to consider his benefit to the club this year and not what he would do next year.
And one of the greatest intangibles of all at this point…..we could potentially see the Padres and Ryan Ludwick in a post season game. If he hits a series winning home run against us, suddenly the trade isn’t looking so good.
So according to the numbers it’s working out for us so far, but my gut still says we should have gotten more for Ludwick. I know it was probably time for him to go since he’d be gone at the end of the season anyway and Westbrook has been solid thus far, but I wish we would have gotten more thrown in besides “cash considerations.” A decent 3rd baseman would have gone a long way to alleviate my concerns about the trade.
The game that started this discussion in the first place showed us that…..what we’re lacking is a quality 3rd baseman not a right fielder. Holliday, Rasmus and Jay are a very solid outfield. But there is not one decent 3rd baseman in the bunch. Felipe Lopez has been ok, but he’s not an ideal big league 3rd baseman by a long shot. Plus, if he slumps (as he has been) or needs a rest, who are his backups? Allen Craig? Aaron Miles? Come on. These are great bench players or for filling in at 2nd, but we need someone with an arm that can hit for average.
With David Freese and Tyler Greene out, a 3rd baseman has been a desperate need for the Cardinals and I don’t know how that’s going to improve. Freese is gone for the season and Greene’s return is unknown. And expanding the rosters in September is not likely to bring in the calvary.
I definitely was sad to see Ludwick go though. He seemed to be a great player and a great person in general. I was able to meet him once in a restaurant in Missouri after he had been signing autographs locally with some other Redbirds and he was really nice.
Thoughts? Are you still missing Ludwick or have you come to terms with the deal? Do you think Westbrook will be the starter we need or do you think we were fine with the Loshe / Suppan / Hawksworth combo?