2000 Season Preview
Cardinals Season Preview (2000) by Mike Eisenbath
The St. Louis Rams won a lot of football fames last winter. The St. Louis Blues have been one of the winningest teams in the National Hockey League all season. So is the pressure on the St. Louis Cardinals?
“I think we are all glad to see the success of the Rams and the Blues,” Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty said. “There’s enough attention in St. Louis to go around to everyone, and we’re fans of those teams. Their success has nothing to do with anything we do.” “We’d be trying to get better no matter how well the Rams were doing.”
The Mark McGwire and Fernando Tatis Show won’t be enough to satisfy paying customers at Busch Stadium for much longer. The Cardinals’ brain trust, which includes manager Tony LaRussa for a fifth season after he signed a contract extension, is well aware of the increasing urgency to win.
Understand that the Cardinals haven’t won a World Series since 1982. If they go without winning the world championship this season, it will be the longest such drought in club history since the Cardinals won their first Series, in 1926.
Let’s assume that McGwire again will be one of the most exciting power hitters and offensive forces in the game. Maybe he won’t hit 70 or 65 home runs again. Maybe he will.
But the Cardinals don’t want the McGwire years to be remembered as a losing era.
Jocketty spent the off-season trying to get better players – especially pitchers. That should help the Cardinals follow the Rams and Blues into the realm of contenders. But he and manager LaRussa and everyone else who plans on hanging around Busch Stadium all season know that the Cardinals’ chances in the National League Central – and beyond – hinge just as prominently on returning Cardinals having better seasons.
But since championships generally are won with pitching and defense, that’s where the Cardinals needed immediate improvement.
Consider that most of the pitching upgrades still are in theory only. Darryl Kile and Pat Hentgen, both newcomers to the starting rotation, have to bounce back from a couple of sub-par seasons and rediscover once-impressive form on the mound. Pitching coach Dave Duncan is excited about the opportunity to work with both of them. After two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Andy Benes returns to the organization he won a career-best 18 games for in 1996. Kent Bottenfield isn’t likely to 18 games again but, even though he won’t be counted upon to be the top starter, he will still have to look much better than he had most of his previous career.
Lefhanded prodigy Rick Ankiel will go into the season hyped as one of the top candidates for NL rookie of the year. He’ll be a rookie, though, so a regular spot in the rotation comes with no guarantee. There are numerous other possibilities for the No. 5 spot.
And there’s the bullpen, which was so overworked last season that a potential strength turned into an Achilles heel. Newly acquired Dave Veres is coming off an excellent season with the Rockies as their closer, which is more than the Cardinals could say when they picked up Jeff Brantley as closer for the 1998 season and Ricky Bottalico for 1999. But Veres’ “history” as a closer extends only to last spring and he didn’t do it with a winning club. The rest of the bullpen has its share of questions as well.
So don’t automatically assume that the Cardinals will be better because they will automatically pitch better. And even if they do, don’t assume that they will receive a free pass into the playoffs.
Just as important as acquiring players to fill needs, will be improvement from those who were on the club last season. Catcher Eli Marrero could improve; he batted about .250 as a rookie in 1998 but last season may have been feeling the effects of thyroid cancer (he hit .192). Shortstop Edgar Renteria could improve, both in his overall productions and his consistency. Tatis, as wonderful as he was last season, still is young enough that he could improve even more and become one of the game’s best third basemen.
The Cardinals probably won’t contend if their top three outfielders again produce only 132 RBIs in about 1,000 combined at-bats. Ray Lankford, despite batting .300 had one of his least-productive seasons in several years. J.D. Drew overall was disappointing as a rookie. And Eric Davis spent half the season on the disabled list and had to undergo shoulder surgery.
“We stack up competitively,” LaRussa said, “But we need for our outfield to increase its production. If Ray is 100 percent healthy, then you know he’s a premium player. If J.D. really improves dramatically and if Eric is healthy and playing like he can, all of a sudden there’s production.”
“But we’ve got to get it. You can’t talk about it.”
Cardinals New Players (2000) by Joe Ostermeier
The St. Louis Cardinals team that is training this spring in Jupiter bears only a passing resemblance to the club that spent last February and March at Roger Dean Stadium.
The Cardinals have imported a wealth of starting pitching talent – Darryl Kile, Andy Benes and Pat Hetgen – and added leadoff hitter second baseman Fernando Vina, catcher Mike Matheny and relievers Dave Veres and Paul Spoljaric.
“We can boast the fact that we have a least four guys who can pitch 200-plus innings, with Pat Hentgen, Darryl Kile, Kent Bottenfield and now Andy Benes, “ Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty said when he announced Benes’ free-agent signing in early January. “We’ve got some real strength and depth in our pitching staff.”
The pitching moves give the Cardinals a solid rotation as they prepare this spring to battle Houston and Cincinnati for supremacy in the NL Central. The addition of Vina gives the Cardinals a true leadoff hitter for the first time since Vince Coleman played for the club in the late 1980s. Matheny provides the team with veteran catching leadership to match the veterans on the mound.
A breakdown of the new Redbirds:
- Kile and Veres were acquired in a November trade for Jose Jimenez, Manny Aybar, and Rick Croushore, giving the Redbirds quality bookends on their pitching staff.
Kyle, 31, a 19-game winner with Houston in 1997, was 21-30 as a started for Colorado the last two years. Veres, 33, had 31 saves in 1999, setting a Colorado club record in that category.
“My philosophy is I want to go nine (innings),” Kile said. “Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. If I didn’t go nine innings, I don’t think I did my job. Me mentality is I want to finish what I start.”
Veres converted 20 of 21 saves away from Coors Field. “I had four or five games in Coors that were pretty horrendous,” Veres said.
A bad pitch there doesn’t go to the wall it goes 20 feet over it. But pitching in Coors Field taught me to be mentally tough.”
Benes, 32, won 18 games for the NL Central champion Cardinals in 1996. He has a career record of 131-119, and has averaged 31 starts and 207 inning pitched in his 10 full seasons in the majors.
“I can’t say how excited I am,” said Benes, who spent the last two season with Arizona. “I’m thrilled to death to be coming back. I’m excited. The last couple of years, I had on a different color uniform, but my heart’s been in St. Louis”
Vina, who turns 31 in April, came to the Cardinals in a trade for Juan Acevedo in December. He cements the top of the batting order and solidifies second base.
“In Milwaukee, I never had this kind of potent offensive team behind me, so it’s going to be fun.” Said Vina, who is looking forward to playing in front of the St. Louis fans. “It’s the best baseball town in the country because of the support they get.”
“Mark McGwire and the feeling he brings to the game is just incredible.”
Hentgen, 31, and Spoljaric, 29, came to the Cardinals in a November trade for catcher Alberto Castillo and pitchers Lance Painter and Matt DeWitt.
“Part of me is sad, but part of me is excited,” said Hentgen, who had been with the Blue Jays organization since 1986. “There’s a great stadium (in St. Louis), they’ve got great fans, and you’ve got the most prolific home run hitter in the game in Mark McGwire.”
“All I know is you’re going to get an effort from me every fifth day.”
Spoljaric, meanwhile, will assume the left-handed role in the bullpen handled last season by Painter, and gives the Cardinals some insurance there if fellow lefty Soctt Radinsky hasn’t fully recovered from last year’s arm surgery.
Matheny, 29, is a veteran catcher acquired in December as a free agent, having caught Hentgen in Toronto after beginning his career with Milwaukee in 1994.
“Mike cam highly recommended to us by several of the people we have talked with,” Jocketty said, “including Pat Hentgen, who was a teammate of Mike’s last season in Toronto.”
Matheny will help take the pressure off catcher Eli Marrero, who battled health problems and a season-long slump in 1999. The catcher hit just .192 in 114 games, and - after the trade of Castillo – the Cardinals badly needed veteran help behind the plate.
Whoever is catching, he’ll be working with a stable of workhorses in the Redbirds’ starting rotation.
Benes, Hentgen and Kile all have averaged more than 200 innings pitched a season during their careers, a key factor in each acquisition. Jocketty said the team had to bolster a staff decimated by injuries to Matt Morris, Alan Benes, and Donovan Osborne in recent years.
“We’ve had a lot of problems that last couple years with our pitching – our rotation had a lot of injuries,” Jocketty said. “We were successful in ’96 with our pitching, and we felt that was what we had to do again to try to get the club back into contention of the playoffs.”
- 2000 Official Spring Training Program
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