The St. Louis Cards Are Not All Right

When you're a fan of a baseball team, spring training should be a time for hope. Whether you actually believe your team will win the World Series or not is besides the point — they could win the World Series. And that could is good enough.

And then stuff starts happening, stuff that chisels away at the facade of could and uses the broken pieces of promise to build a nice little castle of doubt.

Such has been the headline of St. Louis Cardinals spring training 2011.

It started with the interminable Albert Pujols extension negotiations. Without knowing the exact details of the proposals from each side, it basically comes down to Pujols wanting Alex Rodriguez-Plus and the Cardinals offering Ryan Howard-Minus. The fact there was no agreement by the "deadline" was bad. The follow-up stories about him landing with the Cubs was worse.

(How bad would that suck? Imagine your spouse is everything you ever wanted — hot, great cook, great in bed, great sense of humor, makes big money. Now imagine that spouse left your ass for your worst enemy in the whole world. And now imagine that your enemy works with you and you will have to see your awesome ex-spouse 19 times a year at work functions, and he/she will be draped all over your enemy's arm. Oh, and your kids like your enemy better than you, too. That's how much it would suck.)

So that was bad, but we Cards fans could get around that. Sure, it was a distraction, but Pujols is still on the team this year, and that's what matters. We'll worry about next year in November.

And then Adam Wainwright tore up his elbow and went down for the year. Now we're talking some serious trouble.

I know Waino gets recognition outside of St. Louis, as well he should given his recent success (29-19, 2.53 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 8.3 k/9 last two years). But he is straight revered here in St. Louis. In fact, if you asked all Cardinals fans who their favorite player is, my bet is Waino beats Albert. A little of that is because St. Louis is racist and likes white people better, but still. Wainwright going down is a big freaking deal.

So we're down two strikes, but two strikes isn't out. It just means you've lost all your room for error. If we can get through the rest of spring without another disaster, hopes of another NL Central Division crown and deep trip into the postseason are still alive.

Except the chances of us making it very far without another disaster seem pretty slim. Consider:

* Chris Carpenter already had to leave a start with hamstring soreness. He should be fine, but he's still about to turn 36 and only once in his career has he pitched more than 200 innings in a season and not gotten hurt the next year. He pitched 235 innings in 2010.

* Without Wainwright, it's doubly important that 2010 rookie phenom Jaime Garcia match or surpass his freshman totals. Except he pitched 163 innings last year, up 110 from the 53 he pitched in 2009 coming off of Tommy John surgery. If I'm not mistaken, there's some pretty strong anecdotal evidence to suggest young pitchers who make dramatic jumps in innings pitched tend to regress the next year.

* The rest of the starting pitching staff consists of Jake Westbrook (career record of 73-75 with a 4.29 ERA), Kyle Lohse (88-98, 4.79) and probably Kyle McClellan (last start in 2007 as a 23-year-old with Palm Beach of the Florida State League). I know Dave Duncan is a guru of lemons-to-lemonade, but we're asking for a lot here, no?

* With such a shaky starting staff, the bullpen had better be nails. Too bad they had to pull one of their best relievers in McClellan out of the 'pen to take over a starting role, and their closer, Ryan Franklin, is 38. That's not to say Mitchell Boggs can't step in for McClellan and Jason Motte can't step in for Franklin if need be, but there's still too much uncertainty considering the state of the starting staff.

* The new right fielder is supposed to be 35-year-old Lance Berkman. The last time he played the outfield on a regular basis was 2004. The last time he played the outfield at all was 2007. He's already missed time this spring with soreness in his elbow (because he's not used to long throws) and calf (because he's old and his nickname is Fat Elvis). What are we putting the over/under on DL stints? Three? Four? Seven?

* The best young player on the roster is Colby Rasmus, who clashes with manager Tony La Russa and still wants to be a home run hero instead of just nailing line drives all over the park. He's young, but he's got to stop running to daddy any time the skipper tells him something he doesn't like. There's just a little bit too much J.D. Drew potential there for my liking.

* I like the transition from Brendan Ryan to Ryan Theriot, basically because Ryan was a spaz whose bat made David Eckstein look like Mark McGwire. Still, Theriot has already reached his career ceiling and it's right around a .275 batting average and .320 on-base percentage. I love scrappy as much as the next guy, but there's a reason scrappy guys are known for being scrappy — because they don't have the talent to be known for anything else.

* While the Cardinals lost Wainwright after a failed winter of playing contract chicken with the best player the franchise has seen since Stan Musial, the Brewers added Shawn Marcum and Zack Greinke, the Cubs added Matt Garza and Carlos Pena, and the Reds returned everybody from last year's division championship team. Fourth place is not out of the question here.

So there you have it. The Cards have a great one-two with Pujols and Matt Holliday, and Carpenter is a true gamer, but only a fool would put money on St. Louis as the favorites for the NL Central, let alone with World Series. And so while the Cards may still have hope, it's more a Pirates kind of hope than the normal Yankees kind of hope, and that's not cool. That's not cool at all.

Play ball.

Comments and Conversation

March 7, 2011

David:

Great article. Enjoyed reading it.

March 7, 2011

Jim:

St. Louis is racist? Really? Come on man. Hope you get a lot of heat for that one. Totally uncalled for and inappropriate.

March 7, 2011

Don:

Entertaining article, which for some reason had to be soured. I agree with Jim. The racist remark was uncalled for and just plain dumb.

March 7, 2011

kyle:

Sounds like you are a cubs fan, after reading this story. Baseball is a game of hope especially during 162 games. In 2006 mark mulder went down and noone said we would do it with jeff weaver or dream weaver. Its funny how reporters always disgrace the cardinals as a “fly over city”! Articles like that make me sick. If the brewers, reds, or cubsw added an albert p. who WE STILL HAVE they would basically be crowned division champs. But no maybe your right were done, as a matter of fact we shouldnt even play at all.

March 7, 2011

JD:

@ Jim, @Don: Sorry boys. I’ve lived all over the country and St. Louis definitely has racist undertones. Just look at the racial makeup of St. Louis City and North County vs. West County and St. Charles. I’m not saying it’s Mississippi Burning racist by any means. But I’ve seen too many Confederate flags flying proud not to say the city is, to some degree, indeed racist. With that said, I probbaly should have left that out. No point in bringing it into a baseball article. My bad.

@Kyle: Relax chief. I’m a Cardinals fan from O’Fallon, and I had just as much fun at the 2006 parade as the next guy. But that team won the division with 83 wins. This is not 2006. 83 ain’t going to cut it. 90 wins may not even get it done considering how loaded the Reds are on both offense and pitching. Also, I’m not a reporter (Duh! Winning!) and both New York and California can eat dirt.

March 8, 2011

Kody:

@ Joshua!! Thanks for taking the time to write this, i enjoyed reading it! And also thanks for taking the time to clarify and explain to Kyle!
And how do I go about keeping up with your stories? That is of course if your going to continue to write about the Cards???

March 8, 2011

Al:

St. Louis is not unique in having “Racial Undertones”… every city in America has it. In fact, I have lived in 2 other countries and they had it too. Too say that St. Louis is racist and likes whites is a completely uneducated generalization & should not be written so recklessly. Actually, be careful, only a racist would say that so matter of fact.

The rest of the article is amature fandom at best. The Cardinals have a lot of solid young players that the rest of the league are very envyous of plus any team with Carpenter, Garcia & Westbrook… Molina, Pujols, Holliday… McClellan has done nothing but impress the last few years and if LaRussa and Duncan think he can do it who are you to say that he can’t.

As far as the OF is concerned Colby is an absolute stud. You have Jon Jay and Allen Craig as very solid OF prospects. I get the concern on Lance but he is a pro and I don’t think he is going to make one more run half-heartedly.

The Cardinals infield is going to be fine with Theriot and Schu up the middle and it will be fun to see if Freese can come back.. if not Craig can play there too. By the way your take on Theriot was completely off. He is more like a .285/.350 guy. Add on top of that 20+ SB and rock solid defense and you have a very solid SS. Zack Cox is going to be a great 3B for you guys down the road, if not sooner.

The Cards are loaded with young pitchers too, IE Miller Motte & Mitchell Boggs are studs. Garcia is young and very solid.

I do like the fact that it wasn’t the typical provincial take but at the same time the concerns you have are a bit overstated… and as stated before, keep racism out of the blogosphere.

March 8, 2011

Marc James:

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March 8, 2011

JD:

@Al: While I don’t back off at all from the assertion that race plays a role in the level of affection an athlete receives from St. Louis fans, you’re probably right in that it is hardly a phenomenon exclusive to the areaa. Either way, I should have left it out. My apologies to anybody offended.

With that said, on to baseball: Holliday and Pujols are great. I love ‘em. I’d take them over any other 3-4 hitters in baseball. But two is not enough. You like Rasmus? Great. Me too. But he still hit .276 last year with 148 strikeouts. You love Molina? Awesome. Me too. Best defensive catcher in baseball. But he’s got limited-to-no power and last year’s offensive regression is very much a concern given his position.

As for the rest of the guys, if the Cards really believed in Jay, as they said they did last year when they traded away Ludwick (grrrr), they wouldn’t have put $8 million into Berkman (who got traded last season for Jimmy Paredes and Mark Melancon, for Christ’s sake). Craig has yet to show he can hit Big League pitching (.308 hitter in the minors, .246 in St. Louis). Freese (who I really like) is coming off double ankle surgery. Theriot’s UZR at second last year was -1.0. Motte and Boggs have yet to show long-term consistency and Cox and Shelby Miller are 2012 prospects at the earliest.

Just because I point out the problems with this team doesn’t mean I’m not a fan. I’m not tearing down the Cardinals calendars off my kids’ walls or ripping up my tickets to Opening Day. It just means that taking a realistic look at this roster compared to that of the Reds and Brewers (Cubs can suck it), I am not left with a huge sense of optimism.

Of course I would happily admit being wrong come October.

March 8, 2011

Rush:

man come to KC or go to even chicago or any other city in the US, theres racism everywhere.

But I just don’t think that has anything to do with the reason Waino is almost more revered than Albert. Its just one of those things. Who could not like him? Dude just wins, doesn’t talk shit, remains respectful and still hungry, doesn’t step on anyone’s toes; he just seems to always get it right.

Freese if he stays healthy can be a massive addition to this team. Dude can just flat out rake, especially it seems when there are men on base too.

Craig has been hitting the ball HARD this spring, consistently. Even if Berkman can’t go regularly he and Jay represent a very nice platoon option. If he can even manage replacement level defense at third he will really help out this club this year

I know it looks bleak now but wait until we get our A team out there on a daily basis and start playing games that count. They are going to prove a lot of people wrong

March 8, 2011

JD:

@Rush: You’re right about Waino. Dude is solid all around. Certainly shouldn’t have diminished the real qualities about him by just dismissing his fans as racist. Bad job me.

On Freese, it’s tempting to take the small sample size from last year and project it forward, but the guy has a grand total of five homers and 43 RBI in a total 80 Big League games. Craig has four homers and 18 RBI in 44 career games. Jay has four homers and 27 RBI in 105 games.

It’s not that I don’t think these guys can play. It’s just that when you’re supposed to be competing for championships, you shouldn’t be counting on guys with so little experience for so much. Again, I’ll be happy to be wrong, but I got worries.

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