As Spring Training begins to wind down in MLB, these last few weeks in Jupiter, FL have given the Cardinal faithful a reason to have hope in the upcoming season.
Many pundits (self included) have deduced this will be a down year for Cardinals, and the NL Central will probably shake out with the Redbirds looking up to see three teams ahead of them in the standings.
As the team arrived in the Sunshine State, some significant shortcomings confronted the organization.
Do these still hold true?
Pitching woes, the departure of key veterans and bench players, and protection in the lineup for Prince Albert were all three equally weighty concerns. As the teams began to play one another, those concerns became dilemmas.
Pitching was as bad as expected, and the extent of Albert’s injuries was revealed. But a funny thing has happened since March 13th.
The Cardinals have been impressive in the box scores and seem to have answered some of those questions. In doing so, they have ripped off a 12-1-1 record.
But let’s not focus on the 12 wins. Rather, lets consider what they are doing right in that time span.
The rotation will be anchored by Adam Wainwright, who just inked a phat contract and has thus far delivered on that pay raise. His final warm-up shows just why he is the staff ace: 6-4-2, with a couple of walks and four Ks.
Today, probable No. 2 or No. 3 man Kyle Lohse was economical in his last start going 5-3-0 with a walk scattered between four Ks.
Looper, who was a lifelong reliever converted starter, has been both good and bad this spring. If he can eat innings this season once again, that will suffice. However, he can tap into what made him special in day games last year (10 starts, 7-1 with a 0.96 WHIP) throughout the season, he will have truly arrived.
The bullpen has plenty of arms to round out the bottom of the rotation until Mulder and Carpenter return.
Centerfielder Ankiel has, for the time being at least, last year’s "HGH-as-doctor-prescribed" story behind him and had a great spring. He seems primed to bat behind Pujols and should see plenty of run producing opportunities. Scouts are also impressed with his improved plate discipline.
Chris Duncan seems to be struggling at the plate, and with his defensive shortcomings, that cannot help.
If he falters, look for more at bats from Barton, whom LaRussa is strongly considering his No. 2 hitter behind right fielder Skip Shumaker. He has also been impressive.
The bullpen is in good shape if it can turn a game over to setup man Russ Springer and closer Isringhausen. Springer shined last year with career numbers in appearances, WHIP and innings pitched. Izzy should once again make 65 appearances and earn 36 saves.
So even though the 2008 season still looks a little bleak for the Cardinals, at least for now, there is hope.
That was more than we expected prior to the March 13th.
“That was just Spring Training. You can’t take anything seriously based upon Spring Training,” you may say.
True enough, but keep in mind, the last time the Cardinals were projected to have a significant drop in the standings, all they did was win the World Series.