Thursday, March 26, 2009

Batter up: St. Louis Cardinals

It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a team which you know fully well won't win. This season, in honour of an popular Internet meme, we'll present 25 things about each team. Any wagering or fantasy baseball advice is for recreational use only. At bat: The St. Louis Cardinals.
  1. They were supposed to crater last season, weren't they? The Cardinals are forecast for an 81-81 record. This puts them one or two major injuries away from their first losing season since 1995.
  2. Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, the best player in baseball, is nearing LeBron James levels of sick-making ubiquity. That Sports Illustrated cover story was very well-written mental bombast. Every generation of fans needs a beacon of hope, the too-good-to-be-true player, so here's hoping St. Albert of San Pedro de Macoris is the one. The higher you climb, the more you expose, you know.
  3. The Cardinals organization will be left a little red-faced in July when a national audience gets its first look at "Lake DeWitt," the two city block-sized hole in downtown St. Lou. Team president Bill DeWitt III had the brainstorm to build a huge ballpark village in the city's downtown next to the new Busch Stadium. At this writing, all they have is a softball field and a parking lot.
  4. Seeing the words "second baseman Skip Schumaker" together was weird at first, but like Mitch Kramer's older sister seeing her little brother at the same parties, you're just going to have to get used to it. Finding a good second baseman can be tougher than finding a decent local marmalade, never mind taking a surplus outfielder and putting him there.
  5. The Cardinals second-base situation might be a microcosm of something larger going on with the franchise -- or not. They had a good setup last season with Adam Kennedy and Aaron Miles, then released Kennedy with a year left on his contract and nontendered Miles rather than pay him $1.6 million. It sounds like cost-cutting.
  6. Speaking of which, it might be a stunner to see a club which has won two pennants and one World Series ranked as MLB's 21st-best organization (cripes, that's one below the team which employs J.P. Ricciardi!).

    St. Louis, in Dave Cameron's considered view, "... needs to be maximizing their World Series chances while Pujols is around, and for not being aggressive enough to do so, they’ve ended up in a spot where they are neither a top team now nor in the future."
  7. Chris Carpenter's spring training starts have been scrutinized closer than a State of the Union speech, which figures since he's barely pitched since helping the Cardinals win the World Series in 2006. The ex-Jay, who won a Cy Young Award in 2004, one year after Roy Halladay, hasn't allowed an earned run yet in Grapefruit League. He struck out six with no walks over five innings on Monday. Granted, it was fake baseball, against the Washington Nationals.

  8. The rotation might be "Carp, Wain and three days of rain," and that's only if Carpenter is healthy. Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are a decent front end of the starting rotation. The back end is Kyle Lohse (third starter who's really a No. 4), Joel Pineiro (fourth starter who's really a No. 5) and pitching coach Dave Duncan's pet project, Todd Wellemeyer, who is probably going to have a big-time evenout this season (his opponents' batting average on balls in play was .270 last season, tough to sustain).

    Wellemeyer is Twittering. He's only had two updates so far and he already has four times as many followers are our Twitter.
  9. Manager Tony La Russa is actually blaspheming himself by talking about having the pitcher bat, wait for it, ninth, like on every other National League team except St. Louis, where Pitchers Hit Eighth.
  10. Shortstop Khalil Greene was 13 fielding runs below average last season in San Diego. The departed C├ęsar Izturis was plus-8, so it's probably a good thing that the Cardinals have a fly-ball pitching staff. Greene is at least out of that Death Valley park in San Diego.
  11. Third baseman Troy Glaus is coming off shoulder surgery (bad thing), but he's in his contract year (good thing). The former Jay won't be back until May at the earliest, and one does wonder how long a 6-foot-5, 240-lb. player can hold up playing a position other than third base.
  12. Hitting the pitcher eighth did make sense when the Cardinals had Izturis, who's now with Baltimore. One of their starters, righty Braden Looper, had a higher OPS (.651) than his team's everyday shortstop (.628).
  13. Centrefielder of the not too distant future Colby Rasmus is ranked as the game's eighth-best prospect by Baseball Prospectus. Last season, he was third. Just saying.
  14. Keep an eye on what kind of plus power Rick Ankiel produces early in the season. Ankiel is trying to "cut down on overswinging" and become a better two-strike hitter after hitting .157 in such situations last season (the major league average is about .185, so he has plenty of company).

    Rick Ankiel is apparently awesome in MLB 09: The Show, which is a pretty addictive video game.

  15. One of the best pieces in The Best Sportswriting of Pat Jordan is a profile on Ankiel, right not long after his infamous meltdown as a pitcher.
  16. The best job in baseball is "closer of the future." Everyone just assumes if you can throw 95 mph, mix in a wicked slider, and have a snarly mien, then you're going to be good. The Cardinals have not named a closer, which only increases speculation about Jason Motte, who had 110 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings in Triple-A last season.
  17. The Cardinals have only two lefty relievers in camp, Dennys Reyes and Trever Miller. That means La Russa won't be able to use six pitchers to get the last six outs as often as he would like.
  18. Right-hander Clayton Mortenson attended Gonzaga, played in Memphis last season, was born nine days after Villanova won the Final Four in 1985, and he plays for the Cardinals, who have the same nickname as Louisville. One wonders what his NCAA Tournament bracket looked like.
  19. Former Ottawa Lynx Joe Thurston, now with the Cards, has a shot at making an Opening Day roster for the first time in his careery. Thurston raked for Pawtucket last season (.316/.367/.456), and he can play six positions, which probably endears him to La Russa.

    Thurston turned 29 last Sept. 29, so this is supposed to be his lucky year.
  20. You can count on some Toronto media numbnuts evoking the base stealing-happy 1980s Cardinals at least once a summer, especially when the Blue Jays are having trouble scoring runs. It's funny how they never remember 1983, '86 or '88, when the Cards led the league in stolen bases, and finished with losing records.
  21. The St. Louis hitting coach is Hal McRae. How can one of the sport's first full-time designated hitters in good conscience work for a team in a league which refuses to play by modern baseball rules? Just kidding, but not really. McRae got only one official at-bat when the Royals beat the Cardinals in 1985 World Series, the last one which did not use a DH.
  22. The greatest Stan Musial statistic, as related by the late, great Don Chevrier on a CTV Blue Jays telecast back around 1986: Stan The Man hit 475 homers and never cracked a bat.

    A friend once wondered if there were any shenanigans involved in Musial finishing his career with 3,630 hits, 1,815 at home, 1,815 on the road. Well, the Cardinals pinch-ran for him in the sixth inning of his last game, and it went to extra innings, so yes.
  23. Sometimes in the journalism business, you root for players to do well because you're thinking of the headlines. In that regard, you should hope St. Louis farmhand Nicholas Additon ("Nice Additon to Cardinals staff") makes the majors. It's just begging to be misspelled.
  24. Where have you gone, Preston Wilson? Three seasons ago, one of the most obscure RBI champions of all time (yes, Preston Wilson won a RBI title, so you know it's useless stat) helped the Cardinals win the World Series. He is is now playing for the Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks. That could not have anything to do with the fact his stepdad, Mookie Wilson, played with Ducks manager, Gary Carter. (Have the jokes about the Kid managing the Jays some day got old yet?)
  25. In the final summation, two of the Cardinals' three big hitters (Glaus and Pujols) and two best starting pitchers have injury issues, they're trying a new middle-infield combo and their bullpen had a 4.20 ERA last season. Their division is bad, though, so that might save them this summer, at least a bit.


Pitchers Hit Eighth said...

That's really a very good summation of the Cardinals' off-season and upcoming campaign in a nutshell.

I'm still holding out hope that TLR will hold to his trend-setting (trend-bucking?) ways with the pitcher in the eighth slot, else I might have to rebrand!

If Rasmus makes the team, I think you'll still see a lot of pitcher eighth - Schumaker lead-off, Rasmus in the nine hole (second lead-off in Tony World). All depends on platoons and trying to find playing time for all of those outfielders.

Oh, and PS, I hate to ruin your fun on number 23, but it's actually Additon - there's no second "i" in there. :)


Ron Rollins said...

Wow, feeling a little anger at the Cardinals today?

Are you really that upset about the Rolen trade?

sager said...


No, no anger ... just an appraisal of the situation. I laid it on a little thick with the Pujols comment; a friend e-mailed me the link at a bad time! St. Albert deserves everything he gets, including a town named after him in the province of Alberta.

Pitchers Hit Eighth said...

LOL Ron!

Has Pujols assumed the "savior" tag now that previous "he's gotta be clean, he's going to bring baseball out of this blight" carrier ARod has been outed?