2011 Revisited: Time for Concern?

As we revisit the 2011 season, that title seems a little silly.  It’s spring training for the Cardinals.  Of COURSE it’s time for concern!

Time for Concern?

William commented on a post last week that the hardest thing about spring training is remembering that the performances mean nothing.  While in general, that’s probably true, there have been some spring performances that have raised some eyebrows, both in positive and negative ways.

On the down side, after yesterday’s game Jaime Garcia has a 10.00 ERA this spring.  While both he and Tony La Russa say things were better in the game against the Mets, when do we get concerned?  Sure, the command was starting to come around in his last outing, much more so than in previous ones, but if that command gets hit around the yard, is that a good thing?

The optimism comes from the fact that Garcia got a good number of ground balls, just his BABIP was ridiculous for that game, something like 10 hits on 17 ground balls.  Add in a big outfield error and things could go south quickly.  Even so, Garcia threw two scoreless innings before the onslaught, so perhaps there is something to hold on to.

That said, I think most of us would feel a little better if this was a veteran scuffling through spring.  With a vet, you have a better idea of what you are going to get, no matter what the spring looks like.  With Garcia only having one year under his belt, though, the “one-hit-wonder” idea keeps popping up with every weak outing.

Is it fair?  Probably not.  Is it accurate?  Again, probably not.  A couple of bad outings in a row could happen at any time.  With the fine line this team is walking, though, Garcia is a very important piece and if he does struggle, things could go off the tracks in a hurry.

On the upside, David Freese is looking like the real deal.  He had a solid game yesterday, smashing two doubles and even running the bases well.  He’s six for 14 this spring and is showing that he can be durable.  In fact, he should start back to back games for the first time this year when he runs out there against the Braves today.

I will say I was a bit concerned about what Freese was going to bring to the table this year.  Not from a health point of view, thought that’s always worrisome.  More the fact that, while he had a great batting average last year, he only hit four home runs in his limited healthy time, three of which came within a week of each other.  Everyone’s expecting a big bat over at the hot corner, but will he have it?  So far in spring it sure looks like he can fit that bill, which is great news for the Cardinals.

I grieve for my good friends Nick, Josh and Dennis.  Turns out TLR is planning to keep the pitcher hitting ninth this year.  What Tony has against them, deliberately poking and reducing how relevant the title (but never the blog) is, I don’t know.  It’s also interesting because, in theory, this team is really set up for that, with Ryan Theriot able to lead off and Skip Schumaker able to slide into the nine hole.

It’s been pretty proven that La Russa’s idea of moving the pitcher up does increase run scoring.  Seems like it should be a practice, not a tactic to, in theory, jump start a lagging offense.  If that’s the way TLR is going to use it, though, you have to hope it never gets used, because if so that means the offense is clicking the way we expect it to.

One of the peripheral stories of the spring is that Nick Stavinoha is really working on catching.  Now, I don’t think there are too many that want to see Stavinoha back in St. Louis, but it will help his career if he can become a legitimate backup/emergency catcher.  That would fit in well with TLR’s ideas on the most flexible bench, but I don’t think we’d see him much this season.  Sounds like he’s going to get a chance to get some innings at Memphis, which means Bryan Anderson must be thrilled.  If your playing time gets cut by a fringe outfielder trying to make the conversion, it’s about time to throw your hands up and just keep hoping the phone rings with a trade.

Adam Wainwright should be in Jupiter in the next day or so to start rehab.  While it will be bittersweet to see him in a uniform and doing his work, I’m sure the clubhouse will get a lift from having him around.  Wonder how much he’ll be with the team this year–I’m sure he won’t travel, but will we see the Fox Sports Midwest cameras on him hanging out with Chris Carpenter and the gang on a regular basis?

Mitchell Boggs pitched an inning with no problems on Friday.  That’s good to know for the bullpen, though I’m sure they’ll keep an eye on him throughout the spring.  Another couple of non-injury outings will lessen that scrutiny, though.

Kyle McClellan hasn’t won the fifth slot in the rotation.  If you believe that, I’ve got some prime real estate in Florida to sell you.  Look, after the Wainwright surgery every indication was that McClellan was the front runner but would be challenged.  The fact is that he’s been strong every time out while those in competition with him have faltered some.  Unless the club is worried about what the bullpen will look like with out him or La Russa is doing that motivational managing he likes to do, McClellan would really have to tank to not make his first major league start in April.

Matt Carpenter could go north with the team.  If you’d made that statement this time last week, I’d have scoffed at you, and I’m not an expert scoffer by any means.  (Never comes out just right, for some reason.)  Now, though, the coaching staff is talking him up and it’s possible he could win the last slot on the bench.  The comment was made that he’s not just getting these at-bats for down the road, he’s getting them for right now as well.  If there still is a slot on the bench as Matthew Leach indicates in that article, it’s possible he will get it.

Of course, the bigger question is how much good it does him to sit on the bench and play sporadically, even with them resting Freese, versus playing every day in Memphis.  Zack Cox isn’t going to be there–he’s starting in A ball and isn’t likely to jump that many classifications this year.  Carpenter would get regular work at the AAA level.

Still, though, he seems to have impressed TLR, which if you go by Tony’s reputation of disliking young players, is saying something.  I’d probably still say it’s only a 30% chance he makes it, but that level is increasing daily.

Lance Berkman can throw without pain, which is a great sign for his work in the outfield.  Looks like they’ll keep him in the DH role for a bit longer, because there’s no reason to risk a problem before they have to, but it sounds like he’ll be ready for playing real baseball sooner rather than later.  Just hope that the elbow doesn’t flare up again when he starts playing outfield and that his bat comes around as well.  Something to keep an eye on in the next couple of weeks.

Sad news this weekend as former Cardinal hitting coach Mitchell Page passed away.  Most know that Page had issues with alcohol, which lead to his mid-season dismissal from the hitting coach position, but the Cards brought him back in a minor league capacity a couple of years ago before he moved on again.  There’s no telling exactly what caused his death, but our prayers and sympathies go out to his family and those that were close to him.

Time for the approval ratings, and today’s got a couple of big hitters in the mix.

Albert Pujols has been a beloved Cardinal icon for a long time.  Pujols has been a rock in these ratings, scoring at right around 98% both years.

That said, I expected some drop off this year, with the contract negotiations and how people perceive his side of the story.  I still gave him a 98, not only because of his on-field exploits but for his devotion to his faith.  That said, there were some that ranked him lower, as his score was “only” a 90.4% mark this year.  One commenter noted that he knocked AP down from a 100% because of the feeling this was his last year as a Cardinal, while another noted that “Pujols’ ego is larger than his body.”

Before Albert came along, the biggest hitter in recent Cardinal history was Mark McGwire.  Now in his second year as hitting coach, many of the steroid-related issues have faded and the focus is on how he does as a coach.  Last year he was at 73.2%, reflecting his recent admission.

I’ve always been a McGwire fan, being one of the last holdouts on the steroid denial thing.  This year, I marked him at an 88, because I thought for a rookie coach to have similar results as a long-time hitting coach the year before meant that there was something there.  That opinion wasn’t shared by many, though, as he dropped to a 62.5% mark.  Some thought that whatever impact he had on the game was not promising, while others wondered if it was all a publicity stunt.

B.J. Rains is the media member under the microscope today.  Son of longtime Cardinal reporter Rob Rains, B.J. wrote for a bit at the short-lived Globe Democrat revival before landing a job with Fox Sports Midwest, writing for their web site.  He’s an active member on Twitter, though tends to get beat around a bit by the established reporters.  I gave him a 90, but that’s more because I didn’t have any real negative opinion about him rather than any personal liking.

Apparently a lot of voters felt the same way, because there were only 39 votes for him, the lowest of any person we’ve covered so far.  Those that did give him a score gave him an average of a relatively solid 70.4%.  One comment was that he “tries too hard.”

Kyle Lohse pitches today against the Braves.  You can listen to it at MLB.com and through the MLB At Bat app, since it is on the Braves Radio Network.  Which means that, when the subs start coming in, we can have more references to Daniel Delkalko.  If you’ve not listened to the Braves announcers yet, do so.  You’ll see what I mean.

Oh, and in a personal note, for the first time ever I can actually be called “Coach Shoptaw,” having agreed to be the assistant for my son’s 5-6 year old T-ball team.  It’s Benjamin’s third year to play and I’ve helped out informally before, but yesterday was my first team draft, etc.  The fun thing about the league here is that all the teams are named after real minor league organizations and the players get hats with that logo.  Ours is the Diamond Jaxx, a Seattle farm club in Jackson, TN.  They’ve changed their name and logo in the offseason, so we’ve got the old hats, but that won’t matter at all.  First practice this Thursday, so it’s time to play ball!

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