It’s hard to know what to think of the St. Louis Cardinals this coming year. Like a first trip to a Thai restaurant, I’m both excited and fearful. Actually, it may be more comparable to taking home an insanely drunk girl after last call. I’m fairly sure it will be sloppy, with a few exciting moments, eventually leaving me with a sort of unclean feeling. In reality, it will probably be most like a cancer patient: good days and bad days with an ending I had dreaded yet totally anticipated. The Cardinals may end up being just fine, but I really have my doubts.
Most people are quick to point out the loss of Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and David Eckstein. I’ve appreciated all three of them in the past, but it shouldn’t take all that much to equal their combined output from last year. Rolen’s power went south faster than Sherman through Atlanta after a string of injuries. Jimmy Baseball could still play the field but he ended up with fewer important hits than Thomas Dolby. Eckstein was still one tough little monkey, but as we all know, monkeys have notoriously bad range and pathetic throwing arms. Those three guys are probably addition by subtraction.
The good news is that the Cards still have Albert Pujols. King Albert gives pretty much any team at least a fighting chance and is quite probably on his way to becoming one of the greatest players ever. He’s a buff Babe Ruth, a slow Stan Musial, or a sober Mickey Mantle. Maybe a little bit of all three. There have been reports from spring training that he’s battling a bum elbow. Apparently, this condition makes him hit the ball harder than before. It’s a pleasure to watch the guy play out his career, even if the team is struggling.
The rest of the infield is sort of a crap shoot. Newly acquired Troy Glaus looks decent in the field and tough at the plate. On the other hand, new shortstop Cesar Izturis really doesn’t. The freaking guy almost had more errors than hits in spring training. Second base is filled by Adam Kennedy, but I wouldn’t worry too much about him. If he plays as incompetently as last year, my dad will have him assassinated by the end of April. At catcher, I love Yadier Molina: great arm, good receiver, good game caller, okay with the bat…and slower than a Merchant/Ivory film. My mom likes him though, so that’s cool.
The outfield could be fair to pretty damned good. Rick Ankiel is completely unproven over the long haul, but shows flashes of brilliance. Chris Duncan has some power, but I swear the freaking guy could strike out at a whore house. Rule 5 pickup Brian Barton has looked good in the spring and he’ll probably stick. He’s fast, great career OBP, a little pop…oh, and has never played above AAA. The outfield could be fine, it could be a disaster, just like the rest of the team.
The pitching looks fantastic, right up until the time you notice everyone who is on the DL, then its looks pretty dire. Adam Wainright looks like he could be the real deal. Braden Looper is pretty much like what he is, a converted reliever who isn’t especially talented. Kyle Lohse actually might be tougher than expected and along with Joel Pinero, could really make the rotation above average. Eventually, ace Chris Carpenter and candy ass Mark Mulder will return from injury. It could be too late to help by then though.
Full disclosure: I love the Cards and I really think they will be better than everyone expects. This should not be confused with them being good. As much as I dislike manager Tony LaRussa, his teams usually compete, so I can never write the Cardinals off completely. Lots of things have to go right. Still, last year everything went wrong and we only finished 7 games out. I think the whole NL Central sort of sucks, and St. Louis’ main goal is to suck the least. You never know, they may be able to pull that one off.