Marching Onward to Opening Day

We’ve turned the calendar and now there are only four weeks until the Cardinals begin their season in New York.  While there are still plenty of things to figure out during the spring, there are some items of interest going on now that we should talk about.

For instance, Adam Wainwright made his debut yesterday and the results were….well, it depends on how you want to look at it.  Our resident pitching expert, Joe Schwarz (who has an article coming out in a fairly prestigious place today, so I hear), wasn’t all that impressed.  Even Wainwright acknowledged that it wasn’t exactly what he wanted.  There’s no doubt throwing close to 50 pitches to get two innings’ worth of outs is not anywhere close to ideal and, honestly, something we’ve seen way too often out of Wainwright in the past.

Still, there were positives.  For one, the stadium radar gun had Waino in the low 90s.  While that’s not anything that’s going to scare major league hitters, it’s worlds better from the 75 his fastball was reading late in the season last year.  You can, if you want, blame the erratic nature of his outing (three walks) on it being his first start.  After all, we saw the same sort of inconsistency out of Carlos Martinez in his first time on the mound.  Wainwright had at least one classic curveball, though as Joe points out, the rest of them hung a bit.  Wainwright worked out of trouble, didn’t give up any runs, and looks healthy.  Hopefully that means we’ll see a refining of his stuff during his next outings.  Again, nobody thinks Wainwright will be a top of the rotation starter, but if he can be a passible fifth starter it would save everyone a lot of headaches.

Also making his debut yesterday was Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons.  It wasn’t a strong start for the #PatronPitcher, giving up two runs and the lead in his inning of work.  Again, first time out and you can’t really get concerned over a walk and a homer, but one of the reasons Lyons was so successful last year was because he limited the home runs.  He allowed only three (a career low) in 54 innings.  My concern with Lyons has always been that he’s around the plate enough that he can get touched for the long ball.  If that ticks up this year, if he gives up five or six in the same amount of work, he’ll still be good but not quite the player we saw last year.  Let’s hope that yesterday was a fluke, not an omen.

The Cards sent Jordan Hicks down to the honors minor league camp.  The STEP (Spring Training Early Program) camp is where they have folks that they are especially interested in report before the other minor leaguers show up.  Hicks had been good in his appearances so far but it’s not surprising, given that he hasn’t pitched above Class A yet, that he could use some more work and instruction.  I’d think there’s more one-on-one talk in that camp plus just more opportunities to get on the mound, so that should work well for him.

Matt Carpenter did not play in yesterday’s game.  This is not exactly news, given that Carpenter has yet to play in any games.  A couple of days ago, Carpenter was quoted as saying he was “not concerned” about his back.  (I’d give you the link but apparently the Post-Dispatch and my Google Chrome browser are not playing well together right now and I’m tired of continuing to restart things.)  Allen and I talked about this last week on Meet Me at Musial and came to the conclusion that if Carp played yesterday or today, while the team is in Jupiter, things were probably all right.  If he didn’t, there’d be some concern.

The Cardinals are home today, as noted, and they are actually in Jupiter all but one day next week, so maybe this still isn’t a big deal.  However, while I don’t think the sky is falling and Carpenter will probably play today (even though there’s been no indication that he will) after I start thinking about this, you start wondering if there is more to this and if things are worse than they seem.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a Cardinal (or the team as a whole) has downplayed an injury.  Carpenter says he could be playing now, which perhaps is true, but the longer this lingers on the less likely there’s a full Carpenter in the lineup come Opening Day.

And what happens if, for some strange reason, Carpenter is out for a short or even extended period of time?  This lineup is stronger than last year’s, but it’s somewhat predicated on, again, the top three guys being on base for Marcell Ozuna to drive them in (like he did yesterday with his first Cardinal home run–well, nobody was on, but you get my meaning).  What would the lineup look like without Carpenter in the three spot?  Does Tommy Pham move down?  If so, who moves to second in the lineup?  Could Kolten Wong move up there and sandwich between Dexter Fowler and Pham?  That might work.  I think I’d like that better than Jose Martinez or Paul DeJong moving into the three hole, though that might work as well.

Again, it likely is a moot point.  I’m sure we’ll see Carpenter out there shortly.  However, it feels like it is something to keep an eye on.  Part of Carpenter’s problems last year were injuries.  We’ve seen with him (and Wainwright and others) that they’ll go out there and play at 75-80% (or less) because they think they are the only option, that the team is better off with a portion of them than a whole of someone else.  For some people, that might be true.  DeJong, for example, would be worth running out there compromised since there’s no obvious backup.  For Carpenter, though, you can slide Martinez in at first and you also can bring north Luke Voit.  There’s no reason at all to have a Carpenter out there that doesn’t want to swing the bat or can’t get the power out of his swing when he does.  If Carpenter’s not at least 90%, he needs to be on the disabled list.

I railed about this mound visit thing in the last podcast as well.  Joe Trezza writes on not only how fast these six visits go but what the Cardinals are doing to combat it.  I still think that games are going to be lost this year because someone, probably the pitcher and catcher, aren’t on the same page but they don’t feel like they can go talk it over.  It’s a crazy idea for trying to improve the pace of play and I hope it goes away after they try it out for a while.

Carlos Martinez gets another crack at starting today, going against the Red Sox at noon.  Let’s hope the control is there this time!

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers9667.589 -
Cubs9568.5831.0
Cardinals8874.5437.5
Pirates8279.50913.0
Reds6795.41428.5

Last updated: 10/01/2018

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