As noted before, we continue to look back at the 2011 World Championship season. Here, after the depressing Wainwright news, a little encouragement was needed.
Overly Optimistic Cardinals Post
There was a lot of doom and gloom among fans and national media types yesterday with the news that Adam Wainwright is out for the season, as confirmed this morning by John Mozeliak. The players may not be feeling it, but there were a lot of people that immediately wrote off the chances of the Cardinals, going so far as to wonder if this will cause Albert Pujols to rescind his 10/5 rights and ask for a trade when the team is out of it in July.
Now, I’m not a blind homer. I know that it’s going to be a tough road for the Cardinals this season. That said, the air of inevitable negativity really started to grate on me. This team is still pretty darn good. So, in that vein, I’m going extra optimistic today to hopefully balance out the mood to a more reasonable level. Hopefully it’ll be a post that’ll make the Cardinal Diamond Diaries girls (winner of the Most Optimistic Blog in the last Cardinal Blogger Awards) proud.
Let’s see how many positive points we can make.
1) The Cardinals are still the favorites in the division. Look at the projected odds. With Waino, of course, they were over 50% to win the division. Now, it’s down to 37.9%, but that’s still better than any other team in the division. It might be a tighter race, but it’s not one that has the Cardinals completely outclassed.
2) They’ll beat Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a team that likely will be on the rise soon, but that doesn’t mean it is this year and the odds are they are going to finish under .500 this year.
3) They’ll beat Houston. Houston had a nice run under Brad Mills to finish last year, but they still have a lot of questions and not a whole lot of answers.
4) They can beat Chicago too. Chicago’s rotation hangs heavily on which Carlos Zambrano shows up. Matt Garza‘s going to make them better, but Carlos Silva fell off sharply in the second half and Ryan Dempster has looked more beatable as well. Their offense is not nearly as strong as the Cardinal offense as well. They have an edge at catcher and third, but other than that, the Cards would probably take each head-to-head matchup.
5) Cincinnati should come back to earth a bit this year. We all love Scott Rolen, but he played at a higher level than can be expected of a guy of his age and injury history. Joey Votto was MVP and while he’s still young and that could be his baseline going forward, it seems reasonable to think he’d slip a little bit. Their pitching is better than in years past, especially with Aroldis Chapman coming out of the pen, but it can be erratic as well, plus it remains to be seen if guys like Mike Leake and Travis Wood can repeat their strong rookie seasons.
6) Milwaukee may be the toughest of the teams in the division, but I think the Cards stack up with them as well. We have to wait and see what Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum do in a different league, but the Brewers are obviously better on the mound than they were last year. That said, Chris Carpenter can hang with Greinke (depending on which Carp and which Greinke show up) and the back of the Cardinal rotation has a good chance of being better than the back of the Brewers’.
7) The best player in baseball plays first base for the Cardinals. Albert may not be there long (though I think he will be) but he’s there for the 2011 season and that’s a huge reason you can’t count out this team.
8) At second base, we have a guy that has his .300 three of his four years in the bigs. Skip Schumaker might not give a lot of power, might not give a lot of defensive range, but if he’s on his game, he’ll be able to set the table for the big hitters that are in the lineup (even if he does it from the eighth or ninth spot). Schumaker did hit .279 after the break last year (.303 in August) with an OBP of .342, which showed that it is still possible for him to be that kind of hitter.
9) If nothing else, we can cheer that Ryan Theriot realizes that he’s on the right side of the best rivalry in baseball now. While we love Brendan Ryan and will obviously miss his glove this season, the simple fact is that Theriot outhit him by 50 points last year, and that wasn’t any sort of career year for him. While 2008-levels (.307/.389/.359) might be out of reach, it seems reasonable that he’ll be an upgrade to the lineup.
10) Let’s assume that, with Nick Punto going down, we’ve had the only third base injury that we are going to have this year. If so, a full year of David Freese is going to do wonders for the run-scoring abilities of the Cardinals. I’m pretty sure Freese could outperform what the Cards got out of Pedro Feliz on one leg if he had too. One of the black holes from the 2010 team should be filled in with Freese’s return, plus the experience he got playing the first couple of months of last season.
11) Behind the plate is a Gold Glove catcher, which will help slow down running games and should help coax better outings out of some of the perhaps untested starters slated for that now-open fifth slot. Yadier Molina has been known to hit a little bit as well, and even with his weak first half last year, he hit .262 with six home runs. Which means he hit .315 in the second half last year. Molina’s not going to be needed for pop, but to get the hits to drive runners in. I think he’s a very dangerous seventh hitter and could be overlooked due to his start last year. I’ve heard numerous places discount him offensively.
12) It doesn’t mean everything, of course, but when you look at the top 20 players in any fantasy magazine, Matt Holliday is going to be right there. You have to figure that the pressure he felt at the beginning of last year will be lifted after getting a full season in front of the home crowd under his belt and hopefully that means a better average with runners in scoring position to begin the year. Having him and Albert clicking at the same time will go a long way toward scoring the runs this team needs to win.
13) One of the more interesting and exciting talents in the game is in center field. We don’t know what we are going to get with Colby Rasmus, but even on the low side he’s a potent offensive force and a solid defensive player. If he unlocks some of what he can do and can get along with Tony La Russa, it could be a banner year for him. Most likely he’ll be hitting second, which means he’ll either score a lot with the guys driving him in or get some good pitches and we’ll have plenty of opportunities to stock up on Colby Jack.
14) Lance Berkman looks like he’s in great shape and, while we don’t know what we’ll get out of him until we see him in the outfield for a while, his bat should fit well into the lineup. He’s motivated to prove last year was a fluke, he’s worked out all offseason to get into shape, and he should help the lineup from hitting those major droughts that they had last year.
15) Chris Carpenter is still on the team. Carp may not be the dominant guy that he was in ’05 and ’06, but he’s still better than what a lot of teams have. The drop off from #1 to #2 on the Cardinals isn’t as much as some other teams. I mean, if the Yankees lost CC Sabathia yesterday, how much would their playoff odds have dropped?
16) Jeff Gordon made a strong point on Twitter yesterday. Which would you prefer for a season, Waino/Carp/Jaime Garcia/Jeff Suppan/Blake Hawksworth or Carp/Garcia/Jake Westbrook/Kyle Lohse/#5 guy? Even if the top of the rotation takes a hit, the bottom of the rotation should be much better than it was last year, which will likely counteract the loss of Wainwright, at least in the regular season.
17) Last year’s team won 86 games. That was a team that couldn’t beat sub-.500 teams to save their lives and had injuries in places that they had no depth. You have to figure that the offense is going to be more consistent this year, the pitching staff as well and that they’ll gain 4-5 wins against the weak teams this year. So even with the loss of Wainwright, this team is still an 85-win team, which may not get them into October, but will keep them in the race.
18) Interleague play: we have two series with Kansas City, who are going to have a lot of young guys in the lineup then, plus series with Toronto, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay. We miss out on the Yanks and Red Sox, which may make all the difference in a close NL Central race. (I may hate interleague play for reasons like this, but if it works for the team, it works for them.)
19) The bullpen looks pretty solid. Kyle McClellan, if he’s not the fifth starter, will take the seventh, Jason Motte will do the eighth and Ryan Franklin the ninth. We’ll have to see if Brian Tallet can become a solid LOOGY, but the stats indicate it’s a possibility. Mitchell Boggs will shore up some of the middle innings. At least on paper, it looks like a very competent squad.
20) It’s February 24. If you can’t be optimistic right now, with the teams just starting to take the field and the whole season stretched out in front of you, why bother? Hope springs eternal. There’ll be enough time to complain about this player not working out or lament if the Cards actually do fall out of the race. Right now, though, step back, enjoy the return of baseball, and look on the bright side of things. As The Flagrant Fan says, take a deep breath.
Had a radio doubleheader last night that I hope you were able to catch. First off, Dathan and I talked to Matthew Leach about the Wainwright situation as well as some other stories out of camp. Lots of great stuff there, including how the Brad Penny reporting fiasco from last year seems to be affecting how John Mozeliak approaches injuries this year.
Then, I joined Josh and Freddie last night on the regular show to talk about all of the above and then some, trying to stay as upbeat as possible. As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why that is not only possible, but should be the default setting for Cardinal fans!