Feb. 28, 2009
No matter where they are, what they’re doing or how they’re doing, they are all feeling it.
It’s the signs of warm weather ahead. It’s the sight of trade rumors and updates on prospects. It’s the exhibition games and highlights on TV. It’s that uplifting feeling of renewal, hope, and opportunity.
They are baseball fans, and they feel the season coming. Until then, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Spring Training 2009.
While there are many more intriguing (or enraging, you pick) stories floating though the MLB —such as Manny Ramirez’s trying to learn the meaning of the term “recession” or Alex Rodriguez stirring his memory to recall just exactly what performance-enhancing drugs he took (hey, we’re all forgetful, right?).
On this side of the baseball web, we’ll be dialing it up on the St. Louis Cardinals, a team with a lot of promise—and probably even more question marks.
Going into camp, the list of topics seems to go on: Who will win the three spots in the outfield? Who will win the spot at third base for injured Troy Glaus? What about second—can outfielder Skip Schumaker really make the transition?
Who will close, and who will throw from the left side? And, without a doubt the most important question of all, will former ace Chris Carpenter remain healthy and affective?
We’ll start first with the last. “Carp,” who bears the weight of not only the Cardinals' pitching staff but perhaps the ultimate success of their season, threw in his first spring training game today.
The results: basically, all fans who bleed red can take a sigh of relief (at least for now). The 2005 Cy Young winner needed only 19 pitches to get through two scoreless innings against the Washington Nationals. And no, that’s not a typo.
It’s understandable for fans and players alike to be skeptical; we’re talking about a guy who hasn’t won a game (or been healthy, for that matter) since the Game Three of the ’06 World Series. We still have a long way to go until Apr. 6, but the more outings Carp has like that, the more smiles and believers he’ll make back in St. Louis.
At third base, veteran Troy Glaus will sit out after shoulder surgery until May at the least. Battling for time at the hot corner until then is rookie Joe Mather and prospects Brett Wallace and David Freese.
Because of his big-league experience with the club last year, Mather is the early favorite to win as Glaus’ sub. Wallace and Freese, however, are predicted to compete for starting at third base as soon as Gluas’ contract it up—which could be as early as next season.
Second base is expected to be more of a competition. After the unexpected release of disenchanted starter Adam Kennedy, the three competitors at second are former outfielder Skip Schumaker, utility man Brendan Ryan and prospect Joe Thurston.
Because of his success at batting leadoff last season and the overload of outfielders, Schumaker’s attempted transition from center field to second will be one of the most intriguing stories in March.
And IF (a very big if, notice the caps) Schumaker can pull of the move, it will make the Cards all the better as a whole. It will help create room in the crowded outfield and allow ‘Schu’ to still play on a regular basis.
Under the instruction of coaches Jose Oquendo and Joe Pettini, this fan likes to believe the Big Move will work. It’s a classic high-risk, high-reward idea by manager Tony La Russa. We’ll just have to see how it turns out. As far as winning the second base job, its Schumaker’s for the taking—if he can possess the talent to take it.
The bullpen was easily the Cards' Achilles' heel last season. Without a healthy/effective Jason Isringhausen, the Redbirds were left for most season without a bona-fide closer.
That led to a downward spiral of a gassed-out bullpen, a LOT of blown saves (most in the majors) and, ultimately, a lot of should’ve-been-wins that turned into losses. Despite LaRussa’s urging that the club’s top priority in the offseason should be obtaining a top-line closer, the manager’s requests were met with no results.
Instead, the young flame-throwers Chris Perez and Jason Motte will be expected to share time in the closer role. Expect vet Ryan Franklin to get some attempts to finish off games again as well. On the other side of the ‘pen, newcomers Trevor Miller and Royce Ring will spearhead the pool of mediocre lefty’s trying to win bullpen spots.
More to come on that later.
It should go without saying by now that the Cards indeed have quite a bit to work on this spring. Similar to last year, much of the Cards success will hinge on 1) their health and 2) how well their new young players perform.
It’ll for sure be a very-much covered Cardinals camp, one that with as much promise as there is concern. How will it shape out? Stay tuned. For now, all we can do is celebrate baseball’s renewal and have a little hope.