Getting Ready for the Opener

It’s hard to believe that, one week from today, the Cardinals will be done with the major league portion of spring training, with only games in Memphis and in Springfield to complete their preseason docket.  While spring training can, at times, feel like it’s dragging, it’s still one of those things where you blink, you turn away for a second, and it’s over.  The 2017 season is just about upon us.

Which means that decisions have to be made.  Mike Matheny announced one of his yesterday, installing Carlos Martinez as the Opening Day (well, Opening Night) starter and Adam Wainwright as the second pitcher of the year.  I expect Matheny had made this decision a while back, but with Martinez with the Dominican squad for the World Baseball Classic, he didn’t want to make it public until his ace had returned.  Wainwright’s rough outing against the Mets on St. Patrick’s Day, when he gave up 10 runs, probably didn’t have a huge impact, but it may have helped confirm that Martinez was the right call.

And it is the right call, there’s no doubt about that.  Even Wainwright admitted as much, though it’s clear that he’d like to start the first game of the season.  He says that he “doesn’t want anything I didn’t earn” and that he hopes Matheny has a tough decision next year when both he and Martinez win 20 this year.  I hate to break it to Wainwright, who I truly am a fan of, but this probably means his days of being the opening starter are over.  As a tie goes to a runner, so there is inertia toward whomever did it last in these things, assuming all things are equal.  It can happen, I guess–Chris Carpenter started 2005-07, then again in 2010-11, but there were some injury issues in there for both him and Wainwright–but there’s a strong chance that 2016 was the last time Wainwright kicks off a Cardinal season.  Time sucks, folks.

The news didn’t get to Martinez’s head at all, given the fact that he threw five scoreless innings against the Nationals afterwards.  With the last week of spring training upon us, it’s probably about time to start taking results seriously, for good or ill.  Martinez has been outstanding all spring, whether in camp or in the World Baseball Classic, and if anyone was concerned about him they were wasting their time when they could be concerned about a lot of the real issues in camp.  Still, it’s good to see him continuing the dominance we saw last season and really need to have going forward if this team is going to do anything this season.

Matheny (and, I imagine, John Mozeliak) made another call yesterday, sending down Sam Tuivailala as they continue to get the roster into game shape.  Tui’s got a lot of fans and that fastball is a big reason why, but as intriguing as the 12 strikeouts in 6.2 innings were this spring, they also came with four walks and six hits.  Command has always been Tuivailala’s downfall and hopefully he can get something to click in Memphis this year.  With him having an option (granted, the last one, but that’s an issue for next year), it made sense for him to try to get things going at AAA and be ready for the inevitable need at the big league level.

Matt Carpenter seems to be truly over his back issues, driving in four runs on two hits (one a triple) and a sacrifice fly yesterday against Washington.  My non-educated medical opinion (not to be confused with my non-educated baseball opinions) is that this is something that could flare up at any time, but until it does, there’s nothing to do but let Carpenter go out there and be Matt Carpenter.  If this lineup does what we think it could do, having Carpenter hitting third will provide a lot of the scoring for this squad, at least early in games, and he’s going to be a huge key to the team’s success.  I’m not sure he’s to the “he goes, we go” level the Cubs had with Dexter Fowler last year, especially since Fowler is going to be big in setting the tone over here this season, but I wouldn’t want to imagine this club without Carpenter for an extended period of time.

In an attempt to increase his versatility and to increase his chances of making the roster, Matt Adams played outfield yesterday in a game.  He didn’t have anything hit to him, so it’s still hard to judge just how this experiment is going to turn out (though most would say it’s not going to be a success), but he didn’t hurt himself and apparently he looks fine shagging balls in batting practice, for what that’s worth.  Although he might need to work on his awareness, given that Seung-hwan Oh almost needed a new translator afterwards.  Eugene Koo is not going to be stand up to Adams, even in his lightened condition.

(I do think it’s ironic a bit that John Mozeliak said that last year’s club might have been too flexible for the manager, yet here we are seeing Matheny trying to add that flexibility back in.  I get it, especially since you don’t want to lose Adams, but it almost has the feel of “I’m going to have these tools whether you give them to me or not”.)

Probably the overarching controversial storyline of this coming season is going to be how Kolten Wong is handled and how he is performing.  Spring has not been terribly kind to Wong, who is hitting .179 with one extra-base hit.  Again, it’s spring, people work on things and games are treated as experiments and extended practice rather than results at all costs (which hopefully is the issue behind Stephen Piscotty‘s .158), but this is troubling enough that Wong ran the gauntlet of minor league games yesterday, trying to get the timing working on his swing.  It’s also possible Wong was setting a little groundwork with his manager through the media with this quote to Derrick Goold:

“Basically, just going back there and getting my timing down. My timing hasn’t been there all spring. For me, as a player, I know I’m a rhythm player. In order to get me going I have to get that consecutive amount of ABs to make it happen.”

That well may be true and I have no reason to doubt that it is, but there does come a point that you have to balance giving him enough rope versus wondering if it is ever going to happen.  I’m rooting hard for Wong and I hope that Matheny will leave him out there for a good span of time (even some against lefties) to see if he can get going.  However, there’s going to come a time when the Matheny excuse runs out (if he leaves him along) and Wong’s going to have to produce.  Hopefully he’ll do that early on and we can let this topic of conversation wither on the vine.

Yadier Molina will be back in camp today or tomorrow, having come just short of leading his Puerto Rico squad to the World Baseball Classic title.  (Congrats to the USA for their first win in tournament history!)  As I said on Twitter recently, I do wonder if all the heart and fire that Yadi poured into this contest is going to leave him a bit drained for the beginning of the season.  I mean, every time I saw a PR highlight, there was Yadi doing something outstanding and being completely fired up.  How could you not slide after reaching such a mountaintop experience of emotion?  I’m not saying that Molina’s going to have a bad year or anything, but I wonder if going deep and drawing on such reserves won’t leave less than 100% to start the season.  That’s still better than a lot of folks, of course.

#CardsMadness resumes today and my matchup with @Jstriebel22 will go off sometime this afternoon, I expect.  Justin’s a great follow and I expect this will be a tough contest, so I’d appreciate it if you keep an eye on The Redbird Daily’s account today and vote for me when it comes around.  Thanks in advance!

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