Cause For Concern?

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I know, I know. The regular season has yet to begin and I’m already concerned? Opening day is right around the corner, marking the end of a long offseason and the start of what is sure to be another exciting year of Major League Baseball. Can’t I at least have the decency to write about happy things, like flowers and rainbows? Believe me, I’m usually one to look on the bright side, but in this case, I find it increasingly difficult to do so.

While I want to force myself to forget about last year and remain optimistic about a fresh start this year, the Cardinals aren’t doing too much in the way of boosting my confidence. I’m sure fans want to welcome in a new season with open minds as do I, but it’s important to realize that the Redbirds really have their work cut out for them if they have any intentions of reclaiming the NL Central crown and making a run in the postseason. Maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here by taking about the postseason, but the way I see it, anything short of a playoff berth for a team like St. Louis must be considered a failure.

With a lengthy list of unanswered questions coming out of spring training, the Cardinals have a lot to prove. Now that the final spring game is in the books, several things have caught my eye that may be noteworthy as we move forward. It’s nothing that I lose sleep over, but these issues are valid causes for concern for St. Louis fans.

Obviously, most Cardinals fans were immediately concerned upon hearing the news that Adam Wainwright was to have Tommy John Surgery and miss the entire season. However, this concern has jumped to an entirely new level for me as I evaluate the spring performance of now-number-two starter Jaime Garcia. Let’s just say he must have had a long winter because it certainly cooled him off after a blazing hot rookie campaign.

In a 16-3 loss last week to the Mets, Garcia allowed 14 hits, 10 runs (3 ER), and two homers in a mere four innings of work. In all fairness, many of these runs came after Skip Schumaker (Big surprise) made an error with two outs in the fourth. No matter how you slice it, however, the box score isn’t pretty. Everyone has a terrible outing every once in awhile, but there is a trend developing here with Jaime.

In four spring games, Garcia has posted a record of 1-2 with an 8.31 ERA in 13 innings. Ouch! He has walked six while striking out just five, and to make matters worse, he ends spring having allowed 28 hits and 20 runs in his last 12 innings. While he has thrown the ball well at times, he has been making a habit of falling behind in the count and leaving fastballs up in the zone, two sins for a pitcher. Of the five projected St. Louis starters, he has looked the worst by far.

Garcia is sure to have a major influence on this team’s success this year, so he must avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. With that said, he is just a 24-year-old kid, so it may be tougher than many people think to shake something like this off. I guess only time will tell. Consistency within the rotation is so crucial, and it often translates directly into wins. Right now the Cardinals can’t seem to find it. At least Kyle McClellan and Kyle Loshe have looked good, but then again, I’m not completely sold on Ryan Franklin shutting things down in the ninth.

The other thing that grabbed my attention as I looked back on the spring was the fact that the team seemed to get worse as more and more games were played. St Louis got off to a nice 7-4 start in the Grapefruit League, but they lost 9 of their last 13 games and finished 14-16 overall, putting them in the bottom five of the standings. Oh how this reminds me of last year’s collapse. Ideally, the Cardinals should be picking it up as the spring season progresses. By this point, the players should be finding a rhythm and the team should be starting to click, but that hasn’t been the case.

The offense has been shut down when the pitching has been good and the pitching has been lit up when the offense has been producing. Not to mention, the Cards haven’t exactly been facing great teams. Since they squared off with Boston, their final eight games were against the Nationals, Marlins, and Mets.

Many people feel differently about the true importance of spring training, but one thing is for sure. The Cardinals are not looking like a legitimate threat to anyone as they enter a new season. The competition will be tough for sure in 2011, but St. Louis can’t afford to miss the playoffs again.

Sometimes spring performances are the exact opposite of regular season performances, so let’s hope that’s the case with the Cards.

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Tags: Adam Wainwright Jamie Garcia Kyle Lohse Kyle McClellan NL Central Opening Day Postseason Ryan Franklin Skip Schumaker Spring Training Tommy John Surgery

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