2011 Revisited: Catching Up on the Cardinals

It’s been a few days between posts, so there’s plenty to catch up on in this look back at 2011!

Catching Up on the Cardinals

Work has been pretty busy the last few days, so I’ve been unable to find the time to jot down any thoughts about how the last few games have gone.  Before I get to that, though, some housekeeping items:

1) The Playing Pepper series has finished.  I hope you enjoyed reading all of them, but if you missed any or want to revisit a particular team, you can find links to them all on this post.

2) You hear me on the UCB Radio Hour and Gateway to Baseball Heaven on a regular basis, but in case you aren’t tired of my droning monotone just yet, there are a couple of other opportunities.  First off, I did an interview for the podcast of Ivy Envy, a Cubs blog, as they tried to get a feel for some of the other teams in the division.  It was a fun discussion and I hope to do it again sometime.  Then, this Sunday at 4 Central, you can catch me on Mets Public Record, talking about the Baseball Bloggers Alliance as well as some about the Cardinals as well.

3) I’ve not forgotten about the Approval Ratings; you’ll find the remainder of them at the end of this post.  However, Jon over at Redbird Dugout is going to take them a step farther this season, doing them for a sample of players over the course of the season.  Check it out and help him with his project!

4) Coming up next week is the latest United Cardinal Bloggers monthly project.  As we do every March, we are going to take a week to do our predictions, how each division is going to shake out, who will win the postseason awards, etc.  Be sure to keep an eye on the official site to see links to everyone’s posts.

5) As you may have heard on this week’s UCB Radio Hour, the Cardinals have invited a number of bloggers (pretty much anyone they could contact, I think!) to an event before the Padres/Cardinals game on April 3, followed by tickets to a party suite for the game.  Thankfully, they didn’t overlook this little portion of cyberspace and I am really looking forward to not only that, but the first ever UCB dinner the night before.  There will be plenty of pictures and descriptions, and the Cardinals are encouraging us to blog from the game, so that’s a possibility as well.  Stay tuned!

OK, enough of the shameless self-promotion.  I’ve not changed my name to Bill yet.  Let’s talk about the team, then get into the rest of the approval ratings.

What have we seen in the last few days?  Really nothing that makes for any large concern in Cardinal Nation.

We’ve seen Kyle Lohse continue his very strong spring, to the point that you have to stop using the “it’s spring training” caveat and focus on what he’s done.  Lohse is healthy for the first time in almost two years and it seems to be showing.  We’ll continue to hold our breath until he’s had 3-4 strong starts in the season, but right now he looks like he’s ready to pick up some of the slack dropped by Wainwright’s surgery.

Speaking of Adam Wainwright, he returned to Jupiter to start his rehab.  Is it just me, or does this Fox Sports Midwest photo make it look like Wainwright’s surgery was a bit more extensive than we thought?

Waino.jpg

Where, exactly, is his LEFT arm?  You know, I was comfortable with the whole Dr. Paletta thing, but now…..

While Tony La Russa hasn’t made it official by any means, I think you can go ahead and write in Kyle McClellan‘s name in pen for that last rotation slot.  McClellan has taken a page out of Jaime Garcia‘s book, throwing such a strong spring that there is no rational way they can put him back in the bullpen.  After his last outing, against another regular lineup, McClellan’s ERA stands at under 1.00.  I still want to see what his stamina will be like and if he can get hitters out the third time through the lineup, but he’s definitely been impressive so far this spring.

Chris Carpenter returned to the mound and threw basically like we expect Chris Carpenter to throw.  He was a little rusty, but not bad, and he didn’t allow the Tigers to get much off of him.  The biggest thing was that he was able to field a nubber, come off the mound and get the throw to first, without aggravating that hamstring at all.  Cross one more thing off of the worry list.

Garcia went back to the mound yesterday against the Nationals.  He’s actually been the weak link in the rotation this spring (though Jake Westbrook has had some rough outings as well) and that’s caused some consternation in Cardinal Nation.  This game helped somewhat in easing tension, though it again wasn’t the dominant performance we got out of Garcia last year.  Two runs in four innings wasn’t a bad day and his command was better, with only two walks.  Hopefully this means he’s on the right track to being more like the Jaime Garcia we know by time the starting gun goes off.

Fun game for the Redbirds, as they beat up on the Nats somewhat.  Daniel Descalso (and the Washington announcers were able to pronounce that correctly) hit a home run and Mark Hamilton followed up with one of his own.  I don’t think Descalso can unseat Matt Carpenter for that last bench slot, but something like that doesn’t help.  Hamilton just continues to show that a trade would be in his best interest.

Carpenter really has impressed the staff.  I don’t remember the last time La Russa or John Mozeliak talked about a young player actually having a legitimate shot like they have with Carp.  I honestly would be more surprised now if he didn’t go north than if he did.  Again, he’s created an opportunity more than taken advantage of the one that Nick Punto‘s injury caused.  Even after Punto was hurt, no one thought about Carpenter, but he’s making them think about him now.

Cards made some cuts recently, sending down Bryan Anderson and Ramon Vazquez.  Vazquez may be the one that was most hurt by Carpenter’s ascendancy, as he might have gotten more of a look with the Punto injury then.  It was interesting to hear the rationale for sending out Anderson and keeping Tony Cruz in camp.  While I think that was part of the decision, of course, it’s also just another sign that Anderson isn’t likely to make any headway in this organization in my mind.

Looks like all that rest and DHing has paid off, as Lance Berkman is slowly getting into baseball shape with his arm.  I do think we’ll see a lot of Berkman sitting in day games after night games and things like that, but hopefully he’ll be able to play, like he says, on a regular basis.  If he can, and his bat comes around, things will be much happier.

OK, let’s quickly hit the end of the approval ratings.  To finish the players, we have Colby Rasmus, Skip Schumaker and Adam Wainwright.

Colby is an interesting case.  His talent is obvious for all to see, but he’s already starting to get that “J.D. Drew Part II” vibe to him with some of the injuries and his emotional approach to the game.  Rasmus was at a middling 76.8% last year after a rookie season that disappointed some.  2010 was a stronger year for him, which helped as he got an 89 from me and an 81.8% mark overall.

Skip is never going to be one of the more popular Cardinals, as a lot of people view his time at second to be a forced example of Tony La Russa wanting to be the smartest man in the room.  Nothing personal against Skip, but that plus the fact that he has flaws in his game may bring down the numbers somewhat.  Last year, he managed an 81.1% after a pretty good year at the keystone.  I rated him a 73 this year and the rest of the group averaged him out at 64.1%.

Then we come to Wainwright.  If there was anyone that would top the list, you’d think it’d be him.  He got a 95.6% last year and did nothing to tarnish his reputation in the following year.  He got a 100 from me and a number of others, though some felt that they couldn’t vote for him due to the injury.  Still, he got 59 rankings and averaged out at 94.7%, a difference from last year that is only a blip on the radar.

Finishing up the management types are John Mozeliak, John Vuch and Pop Warner.

Mozeliak was fairly highly regarded last year, coming in with a 86.1% mark.  However, whatever you might think of the last year, it certainly was eventful for Mo, between his trade of Ryan Ludwick and his part in the Albert Pujols negotiations.  All of that took a toll on him, as he came in just at 71.4% this year.  I went ahead and gave him a 90, because on the whole I think he’s doing a fairly good job, plus I’m not sure how much weight on the Pujols stuff goes with him and how much goes with Bill DeWitt.

The next two guys weren’t as known around Cardinal Nation.  Someone suggested I put in Jose Oquendo and I really should have done that in place of one of these, as I was trying to fill out the 9-9-9 pattern.  Still, these are guys that have a chance to really make an impact on the Cardinal organization.

John Vuch has been with the team for a long, long time.  There’s a nice writeup on him in this year’s Maple Street Press annual, which you should definitely pick up if you haven’t.  Anyway, Vuch has moved into overseeing the minor league system, taking some of the responsibilities that Jeff Luhnow had prior to the internal reorganization this summer.  I marked Vuch down for a 93, because I’ve never heard a bad word about him and he’s been pretty good to the online community, coming on the UCB Radio Hour last year.  He only got 40 responses and, probably due to unfamiliarity, wound up with a 68.9% mark.

Ironically, in the same annual, there is also a writeup of Pop Warner.  Now, I didn’t even vote on him because I knew little about him, but he’s managing in Springfield and I’ve heard his name come up as a strong internal possibility for the managerial slot whenever Tony La Russa decides to move on.  Warner got fewer responses than Vuch (33) but got a higher average (76.7%).

Finally, the last media contingent is the radio guys and a writer: John Rooney, Mike Shannon and Joe Strauss.

Rooney is starting his fifth year with the Cardinals and, while he still gets his share of criticism, for some he’s starting to settle into that “Voice of the Cardinals” role (though some would argue our next subject is more deserving of that title).  Rooney came in with a 76.2 level last year, a dip from the year before.  I personally think Rooney has a “baseball voice” and can live with him getting a bit overexcited on plays, so I gave him a 90.  He swings back up in the eyes of fans this year, getting a 84.3% tally.

As time goes by, Mike Shannon just gets more ingrained in the fabric of Cardinal baseball.  It becomes harder and harder to imagine a radio broadcast without him.  Shannon dropped to about 80% last year, but he swung back up this year with an 84.9% level.  I’ve softened on him as well, giving him a 90 even though he can go entire innings without giving the score, which is frustrating when you turn it on in the middle of the action.

Some wondered why people like Bernie Miklasz weren’t on the list and Joe Strauss was.  Strauss is probably the most controversial of the Cardinal writers, seeming to have a number of fans in his weekly chats but having a lot of detractors around the league as well.  I’ve talked before about how I don’t care for his condescension and arrogance, but he does tend to write things worth talking about.  I gave him a 72, but again that proves I’m an easy mark.  The fan average was 57.5, putting him right at the bottom of our lists.

The sidebar will be updated soon with all of these rankings.  Looking forward to today’s split squad game–two games in one day!

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