The signings are done. The trades are made. The roster is set. The exhibitions are played.
It’s time for Cardinal baseball.
Hopefully you read the tribute written by our guest contributor yesterday. Another season stands before us, ready to be unwrapped, to be analyzed, to be debated, to be argued about. There will be chills, thrills, and spills. There will be decisions that work and decisions that don’t and which is which won’t always be apparent when they are made. We’ll have late inning heroics and late inning meltdowns. We’ll have masterful starts and games where the bullpen is used in the fourth. We’ll have home runs and strikeouts and, yes, probably even stolen bases. At this moment, the season is a blank canvas stretching from now to the October horizon, ready to be written.
This is my tenth Opening Day since picking up my blogging keyboard. The first one, back in 2008, had a lineup with the pitcher hitting eighth and Adam Wainwright on the mound. That one also got rained out before the game was official. 2009 saw the bullpen implode, giving up four in the ninth to the Pirates. Albert Pujols hit two home runs in a rout of the Reds in 2010, when I followed the game before my great-aunt’s funeral.
Do you remember a pitcher named Bryan Augenstein? I surely don’t, but he took the loss in an extra-inning opener in 2011. Wonder if he got any sort of World Series cut or ring? The Cardinals opened up the Marlins new ballpark in 2012, with Kyle Lohse taking a no-hitter deeper into a game than he had any right to do, especially on Opening Day. 2013 saw Wainwright give up 11 hits in six innings, taking the loss against the Diamondbacks.
2014 was a pitcher’s duel, with Wainwright getting his first Opening Day victory by taking out Johnny Cueto and the Reds 1-0, with the only run a Yadier Molina homer. Since that was in Cincinnati, there were few sweeter ways to begin a year. Of course, some may argue that point, given that in 2015 Wainwright outdueled Jon Lester in Chicago to win 3-0. That wasn’t bad either.
2016 saw Wainwright making another Opening Day start but he was unable to overcome the magic that was Francisco Liriano as the Pirates won 4-1. Then, last year, we all remember Randal Grichuk walking it off in Busch against the Cubs. Opening Day sticks with you, no matter what happens. That first impression of a new team can also be hard to shake–if the bullpen blows the game today, if Marcell Ozuna strikes out four times, if Carlos Martinez struggles, that’s not going to be an omen but it is going to be how people (especially the casual fans) think about that player or this team for a while until they can prove differently.
Two players that won’t be on the Opening Day roster are Breyvic Valera and Josh Lucas, who were both designated for assignment yesterday to make room for Francisco Pena and Jordan Hicks. While Valera isn’t really surprising, given his lack of offensive production, it was interesting to see them go that route after hearing much of the early spring how the club wanted him to make the team since he was a left-handed bat. I expect that Valera will clear waivers and wind up at Memphis anyway.
Lucas may be a different story. As we pointed out in the article about Hicks, Lucas had a very good spring, with over a strikeout an inning and no runs allowed. He was fine last year when he was called up (if nothing special) and given that a team wouldn’t have to put him in the majors, just find room on their 40-man, I really don’t think he’ll be long for the organization. This Tigers blog is already suggesting Detroit claim him, for instance. Again, I like Jordan Hicks and I’m excited to see him, but I’m not sure the overall cost is something the Cardinals should be paying for what might not be a huge return over what they had.
As we do every year, we’ll be taking a look at the pitcher-versus-hitter matchup. Please note that these have no real predictive value, they are just interesting to point out. The sample sizes are usually way too small. That said, Mike Matheny has seemed to go by these at times when making out a lineup, so take that for what it’s worth. Martinez will be on the bump for the Redbirds, hoping to start the season off on the right foot. It feels like there is some pressure on Martinez this season to make that next step, to be the guy we all expect he can be. A solid opener would help that out a lot.
The big bats in the lineup have gotten him for a couple of long balls, but overall the folks making up today’s lineup haven’t had a lot of success against Martinez in the past. In case you are wondering, here’s the lineup for the Mets, using that Tony LaRussa tactic we wish hadn’t completely left town when TLR did:
1. Brandon Nimmo, CF
2. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
3. Jay Bruce, RF
4. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B
5. Todd Frazier, 3B
6. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
7. Kevin Plawecki, C
8. Noah Syndergaard, P
9. Amed Rosario, SS
Noah Syndergaard, or Thor to his friends, gets the call for the Mets. Syndergaard is coming off a season where injuries limited him to 30 innings pitched, but he didn’t look any the worse for wear in the spring and most likely his Mjolnir, that fastball, will be right by his side when it is time for first pitch.
Being that he played in the NL East, Ozuna has seen him the most but nobody’s really done a lot against Syndergaard save, in really limited exposure, Tommy Pham and Yadier Molina. It looks like it’ll be a cool, overcast day in New York and that won’t help the batters any. This has all the makings of another 1-0 game, though the beauty of baseball is we’ll have to wait and see.
The Cardinals haven’t put out their lineup yet. If the projected lineup on MLB.com turns out to be right and Molina is hitting fifth, expect all the folks on Twitter to start working on their complaining game. I feel like Matheny won’t do that, that he wouldn’t want Paul DeJong sixth, but all bets are off when it comes to Molina and that five-hole.
No matter what the order, no matter what the result, baseball is back today. Our daily passion has returned. Let’s go Cardinals!