2008 MLB Preview: St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Tony La Russa
Arrivals: SP Matt Clement, 3B Troy Glaus, SS Cesar Izturis, C Jason Larue
Departures: C Gary Bennett, 3B Russell Branyan, 2B Miguel Cairo, SS David Eckstein, OF Jim Edmonds, RP Troy Percival, OF John Rodriguez, 3B Scott Rolen, OF So Taguchi, SP Kip Wells, OF Preston Wilson*
Offseason grade: F
With Chris Carpenter's status up in the air, the Cardinals rotation is extremely weak. This was a group that was pretty bad in 2007, and yet, all the Cardinals did to improve the rotation was sign Matt Clement, who hasn't been good since the first half of 2005.
And that, in a nutshell, is why the Cardinals got an F for the offseason. If St. Louis really was serious about winning in 2008, they needed to improve their rotation more than signing Matt Clement.
Adam Wainwright is a good, young arm and Joel Piniero had success in limited time as a starter, but after those two, the rotation goes downhill real fast.
Let's start with Braden Looper, a guy the Cardinals are counting on to be their No. 2 or 3 starter. Looper went 12-12 with a 4.94 ERA in 2007, hardly numbers you want for a mid-rotation starter. As a matter of fact, those aren't numbers you want for any starter in a competitive rotation.
After Looper, there's Clement. The first thing that jumped out at me when looking at Clement's profile was not that he didn't pitch last year–and thusly contributed in his own way to the Red Sox winning the World Series–but that he shaved off his trademark chin hair.
After the 2005 All-Star break, Clement's career has imploded like the Kingdome. Clement's ERA skyrocketed to 4.57 by the end of 2005 and when Clement went on the disabled list in 2006, his ERA was at 6.61.
There's a slim, slim chance that Clement could regain his ability to pitch that was so evident when he was with the Cubs from 2002-2004, but really, if the Cardinals are relying on Clement to be a consistent member of their rotation, they're in for pretty bad season in 2008.
Finally, Anthony Reyes comes in after a miserable 2007 in which he went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. Maybe Reyes should have spent less time ironing his hat and more time working on his pitching skills that were so promising in 2006.
The Cardinals' rotation could be good if Piniero, Reyes, and Clement all improve–which they could. However, I don't see that happening this year.
What I do see happening is the Cardinals rotation getting torn to shreds by the above-average lineups that populate the NL Central in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Houston.
Starting rotation grade: D+
The Cardinals have a number of good arms in their bullpen, but what they lack is a consistent lefty. Why do I bring this up first? Because Tony La Russa loves to micromanage games by playing the percentages all the time.
Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin both give the Cardinals a quality righty arm out of the bullpen and Jason Ishringhausen proved that he still can be a good closer last year.
But now, let's set up a typical 8th inning for the Cardinals. Let's say their facing the Brewers, who have Tony Gwynn Jr. (L), Ryan Braun (R), and Price Fielder (L) coming up. La Russa will start the inning with Tyler Johnson, who gives up a double to Gwynn.
Next comes in Springer, who looks amazing and strikes out Braun on three pitches.
Then, Randy Flores comes in and looks equally as amazing and fans Prince Fielder on three pitches.
With JJ Hardy coming up, La Russa elects to go to Todd Wellemeyer, a righty, because he already used Franklin to eat a few innings when Matt Clement got torched. Instead of leaving an in-the-groove Flores (or Springer) on the mound, he elects to go to Wellemeyer, who, in perfect Todd Wellemeyer fashion, gives up an RBI single to Hardy.
Keep that scenario in mind, because it wouldn't surprise me if it happened at some point this year.
What I'm getting at is that the Cardinals have a decent, but not very deep bullpen, and La Russa's mismanagement of it could be its ultimate downfall.
Bullpen grade: C+
For the last five or so years, the staples of the Cardinals lineup have been Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. They were what you thought of when you thought Cardinals baseball. Now, only one remains.
Rolen, who was driven out of St. Louis unjustly by La Russa, was injury-prone but still provided a few good at-bats and excellent defense at third base. The Cardinals traded him for Troy Glaus, who provides very good power to hit behind Pujols but plays defense about as well as a drunk/coked up Ozzy Ozborne sings take me out to the ballgame.
Edmonds was on his way out and needed to be traded to give way to Colby Rasmus down the road. For now, you'll see Miracle Man Rick Ankiel patrolling centerfield. Ankiel, along with Chris Duncan and Skip Schumaker, will be interesting to watch to see how they improve and perform this year.
As for the rest of the lineup, it's unimpressive at best. Yadier Molina proves great defense behind the plate and will hit for a decent average, but provides very little in terms of power and RBIs.
Adam Kennedy and Cesar Izturis make up what might be the weakest-hitting double play combination in baseball. Why the Cardinals gave Izturis, whose career on-base percentage is below .300, a starting job is a question that baseball minds and Chinese monks have been pondering all winter.
Outside of Pujols, Glaus, and maybe Ankiel, Schumaker, and Duncan, this lineup isn't anything to write home about, just like the rest of the Cardinals. I'm giving them a C just because they have Pujols–if not, this lineup easily would earn a D- or F.
Lineup grade: C
Aaron Miles and Scott Spezio are both pretty good backup infielders who give the Cardinals good options off the bench. Hopefully, for the Cardinals' sake, Miles ends up starting at second over Kennedy.
Ryan Ludwick gives the Cardinals another quality bat off the bench, where he should stay. The Cardinals have too much young talent in the outfield for Ludwick to start over them.
Bench grade: B-
It's funny how things change so quickly. The Cardinals went from World Champions in 2006 (a side note: In my opinion, they were the worst team to ever win a World Series, and I think the stats back me up on that one) to third-place and under .500 in 2007.
If you thought that's as far as this team could fall, boy, you were wrong. Look for the Cardinals to be battling the Pirates for the basement of the NL Central this year.
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