After coming up short in 2010, the Cardinals roster and outlook will look very similar this season. The Cards rotation will be rock solid and among the best in baseball. The offense has potential, but if it doesn’t get production from the role players, it will be another long season in St. Louis. Cincinnati will go into the season as the favorite with Milwaukee also dangerous after a big offseason. The division is improved, but still wide open and unpredictable. And the Cards have as good a chance as anyone to finish on top.
Departures: Brendan Ryan, Felipe Lopez, Brad Penny, Blake Hawksworth, Jason LaRue
The roster is not set in stone yet, but these players will definitely not be wearing The Birds on the Bat in 2011.
Brendan Ryan’s exit has been well-documented this offseason. The slick-fielding shortstop had a summer to forget in 2010. He batted .223 and had his share of embarrassing moments during the Cards collapse. His offensive struggles made him expendable and St. Louis decided to send him to Seattle for a minor leaguer. His mental toughness and maturity have been questioned and the Cards front office decided the locker room needed some fresh, new faces to turn things around. Still, Ryan was a fan favorite and considered one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. It’s hard to say the Cards are better off without him. The team would have been more complete with him at shortstop, Ryan Theriot at second base, and Skip Schumaker sliding into a utility role, but it was not meant to be. Ryan may be rejuvenated with a fresh start and the Cards may be better with a new leader at shortstop.
Felipe Lopez will not be missed like Ryan. Lopez was a disaster of a pickup for St. Louis. The talented utility man started strong for the Cards with some late-game heroics and a .284 batting average in July. But like the team, Lopez collapsed when it counted most. And when times got tough, he mailed it in. Lopez showed up late multiple times throughout the season, disrespecting the organization and his teammates. His selfish attitude ended his season in St. Louis early. Flip was released Sept. 21 after he was late to a game against Florida. He batted .231 for the Cards and failed to live up to expectations. It’s safe to say that his second stint in St. Louis will be his last. Who takes his place? Tyler Greene is expected to become the Cardinals first utility option off the bench. He can play shortstop, second base, and third base. Greene has been inconsistent during his stops in St. Louis so far in his career. He will be needed this season. For other options, it’s too early to tell, but Daniel Descalso is an intriguing utility option after performing well in limited time last season. Matt Carpenter is also a name to watch. The third baseman is a disciplined hitter who has excelled at every level in the minors. He doesn’t have name recognition or hype on his side, but his production says he could help the big league club.
Brad Penny made just nine starts and never had an impact on the season. He showed promise early, but a right shoulder strain ended his season in May. He only signed a one-year deal with the Cards, so while disappointing, it’s easy to move on. The Cards rotation is even stronger this year, so a veteran like Penny will only be added if injuries become a problem.
The Cardinal to Watch in 2010 took a few steps back and eventually walked right out of town. Blake Hawksworth proved to be mediocre at best and easily replaceable in a strong bullpen. After a brilliant rookie season in 2009, in which he compiled a 4-0 record with a 2.03 ERA, Hawksworth went 4-8 with a 4.98 ERA in 2010. He is just an average middle reliever who is very hittable. Getting Theriot was worth sending him to Los Angeles. Another small loss is the one of Jason LaRue. The veteran backup catcher did a nice job handling the pitching staff when he caught, but a backup was all he was. It’s unfortunate that his career ended after he suffered a concussion during the brawl with the Reds, but Gerald Laird will handle his role as a veteran presence and professional.
Additions: Ryan Theriot, Lance Berkman, Gerald Laird
Ryan Theriot will be the Cards starting shortstop, replacing Brendan Ryan. Theriot, the former Cubs shortstop, is not the defender Ryan is, but he is a more consistent hitter. Theriot was a fan favorite in Chicago for his scrappy play and he will bring that same attitude with him to St. Louis. He should be motivated to prove he can still play shortstop after the Cubs dumped him for Starlin Castro and the Dodgers played him at second base. St. Louis sees him as a shortstop and he should be pumped for the opportunity. Theriot will be a leader who can hit .280 and steal 20 bases – all things St. Louis needs desperately.
Lance Berkman, another former division rival, will be the Cardinals starting right fielder. The veteran switch-hitter is coming off the worst season of his career, but a change in scenery could be just what he needs. Houston is a bad team and the losing had to have an effect on Berkman. In New York, he never got settled. With the Cardinals, he will go through spring training and an entire summer in one of baseball’s best towns. The fans love for the game could rekindle Berkman’s passion. Don’t be shocked if he hits .275 with 25 home runs like he did in 2009. That kind of pop was missing in the Cards lineup last year. Only Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday could drive in runs. Berkman gives them a third power hitter. At the very least, he can serve as a mentor for Jon Jay who showed potential last season, but needs to develop plate discipline.
Laird is an experienced catcher who has a good reputation for handling pitchers. Laird is a solid defensive catcher, but doesn’t bring much offensively. He is a typical backup major league catcher.
It’s a new year, but the same story in 2011. The lineup is the biggest question mark once again. The inconsistency at the plate derailed the Cardinals season. Pujols and Holliday were the only threats with the bat. Both were All-Stars and lived up to their contracts and reputations. But no one else did. The infield gave no production. Ryan and Schumaker were automatic outs most of the year. David Freese was hurt and Yadier Molina struggled too. St. Louis has to hope Theriot can make a difference as a table setter and get on base often for Pujols, Holliday, and now Berkman to drive him in. Schumaker needs to return to his 2008-2009 form when he hit just over .300 in 153 games. If Schumaker and Theriot produce and Colby Rasmus takes another step in his development, St. Louis will have a dangerous offense.
But the same could be said last year. Games aren’t won on paper. Hoping is only hoping. There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding the success of this team. Only time will tell if those “ifs” become reality.
The Cardinals rotation is among the best in baseball. Adam Wainwright is arguably the best young pitcher in the game, coming off another Cy Young-worthy campaign. He matched Roy Halladay all season. Wainwright has everything: the size, the fastball, the big curve, a slider, and change. He is a workhorse on the mound and the ultimate competitor. When he’s out there, the Cardinals should expect to win. Chris Carpenter was the ace before Wainwright, and while that title has been passed on, he’s still a very good pitcher. Carpenter won 16 games with a 3.22 ERA last year. He’ll be 36 next season, but he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. He is still intense and effective and should account for 15 wins. Jaime Garcia was the pleasant surprise of 2010. Garcia was brilliant from start to finish and it will be fun to see him develop in his second season. There are some injury concerns surrounding the young lefty who has already had Tommy John surgery in his career, but he looks like the real deal. Jake Westbrook should be better with a full season under Dave Duncan. Westbrook has always had talent, but hasn’t put it all together. The sinkerballer fits Duncan’s philosophy of keeping the ball down perfectly. He is a great No. 4 pitcher. The fifth spot is the lone question mark. Kyle Lohse is the favorite, but injuries kept him out in 2010. If Lohse can stay healthy, win 10 games, and eat innings, the Cardinals would be ecstatic.
The Cardinals have the talent to take back the division crown. Pitching is the main ingredient to success in baseball and St. Louis has plenty of that. Scoring runs will make or break their season. The division favorite will become clearer after spring training, but St. Louis has to prove they can hit before they can be placed at the top.
The division is better, which will make for a more difficult and more exciting season. Milwaukee got Zack Greinke. Chicago landed Matt Garza. Four teams have hope early on. Some have a little more than others. Right now, I like Cincinnati to repeat with St. Louis finishing second Milwaukee a close third, and Chicago hanging around early before disappearing to finish a distant fourth.
(Note: “This is a short update to let all you Redbird Rants and Cards fans know that we released this St. Louis Cardinals 2011 Season Preview on the SeatGeek blog today. If you are planning on going out to see any of the games this season, you can find your St. Louis Cardinals tickets on SeatGeek, the leading ticket search engine that enables fans to discover the best deals for sports, concert, and theater events.”)