Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Monday, March 03, 2008

St. Louis Cardinals 2008 Preview: Slip Sliding Away

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

In 2006 the St. Louis Cardinals were a bit of a mediocre team, finishing with an 83-78 record but played in a weak division, got hot at the right time, and won themselves a World Series championship. In 2007 the Cardinals were a bit of a mediocre team and got down years from their best players and thus finished 78-84 behind two much better ballclubs. Over the winter team management traded one injury plagued third baseman for another, one mediocre shortstop for another, and signed aboard another veteran reclamation project for the pitching staff.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Newest Busch Stadium played pretty much as a neutral park in 2007 and the Cardinals offense reflected that. They scored about the same number of runs at home as on the road, but with injuries to Scott Rolen, Jim Edmunds, and lesser players, the total wasn't enough, leaving them eleventh in the NL in scoring.

RF Skip Schumacher
CF Rick Ankiel
1B Albert Pujols
3B Troy Glaus
LF Chris Duncan
C Yadier Molina
2B Adam Kennedy
SS Cesar Izturis

Pujols, of course, is the best hitter in the NL, by far, and only has to argue with this guy for bragging rights in all of the major leagues. Glaus is still a dangerous hitter for the 120 or so games he might be able to play in any given year. Duncan is a godawful left fielder but has enough power and patience to be a productive left fielder. Ankiel has turned into a dangerous power bat; batting him second exposes his problems with plate discipline. Schumacher hasn't proven he can be an every day player, and is a placeholder for Colby Rasmus. The idea of spring training invitee Juan Gonzalez as being of any possible value is laughable. The Cardinals are continuing the NL trend of finding an inappropriate spot in the batting order for a member of The Catching Molinas. With the third member of the troupe backing up Jorge Posada, at least the Yankees won't contribute to this fad.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The Cardinals lost their number one starter from 2006 to injury and the number two guy to free agency. As those were the only two starters with ERAs under 5.00, you might have expected that the Cards would allow a lot more runs in 2007, and you'd have been right. The Cardinals allowed 829 runs as opposed to 762 in their championship season. It would have been worse but for Adam Wainwright stepping up as a staff leader and unexpectedly good performances from desperation starters Joel Piniero and Todd Wellemeyer.

SP Adam Wainwright
SP Braden Looper
SP Joel Piniero
SP Matt Clement
SP Anthony Reyes

CL Jason Isringhausen
RP Ryan Franklin
RP Tyler Johnson

Chris Carpenter won't be available until late in the season if at all. Wainwright should continue to develop into a fine starter. Reyes was once considered Wainwright's equal as a prospect but hasn't developed any consistency and will be fighting to keep a starting job unless he begins to. Clement hasn't pitched since June 4, 2006 and won't be ready for the rotation until at least May. Isringhausen remains an effective closer but won't get any healthier at age 35; the Cardinals should test his trade value if they fall out of the race. Which they will.

Witnesses for the defense

The 2007 Cardinals didn't play defense like a championship team. Only the Marlins made more errors, and the Cardinals were well back in the pack in defensive efficiency. When your first baseman and an injured third baseman are your best defensive players, you have problems. Having a shortstop who simply can't throw all the way to first without a running start didn't help. Izturis can't hit a lick but he should at least be a defensive improvement over Eckstein at short, no matter how scrappy Eckstein is.

Farm aid

Three excellent prospects should show at Busch Stadium at some point this year, although none should be expected before midseason at the earliest. Centerfielder Colby Rasmus looks like everything you want in a top prospect...he's fast, has a strong arm, has a good eye at the plate, and can hit for power. He'll be in the Cards outfield by July. Catcher Bryan Anderson will probably wait until September for a call up, and his path to the majors is blocked by a silly contract handed out to the incumbent catcher. Hard throwing righthander Chris Perez will likely start at triple A and reach the majors by July or August when Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer wear out their welcomes. The rest of the organization is weak pretty much all the way down the system.

Watch out for that tree!

Troy Glaus is only 31, but has had three years in the past five in which he was able to play fewer than 115 games. Isringhausen has a long history of ailments; as mentioned before, the Cards should be trying to get whatever they can back for him before he goes down for good. Adam Kennedy, 32, completely collapsed in 2007, slugging .290 before going down with a knee injury. His career arc is about to come into solid contact with the ground.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

I hate to count out any team that has Albert Pujols playing for it, but this Cardinals team doesn't look too good. I can't see them either scoring enough runs or preventing enough to be a real contender. Hoping to build the middle of your rotation with Looper, Piniero, and Clement is asking for a meltdown. At least three spots in the batting order will contribute almost nothing. We mock Tony LaRussa often, but his record as a manager is a pretty good one. This team won't go down as one he'll want to remember fondly.

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