2010 Season Preview
By Bill Ballew – 2010 Cardinals Spring Training Program
San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum won his second National League Cy Young award in 2009 by posting another stellar season. Yet, had his primary competition for the recognition worn different uniforms, the outcome might have been different.
In fact, based on first-place nods, more voters felt that Adam Wainwright had a better season than the Giants’ right-hander. That’s understandable, given the fact that the Cardinals’ ace led the National League with 19 wins and 233 innings while placing fourth with a 2.63 ERA. Nearly as many ballot casters thought Wainwright’s teammate, righty Chris Carpenter, deserved the award, especially since he topped the senior circuit with a 2.24 ERA and ranked second with 17 triumphs.
In the end, both Wainwright and Carpenter will assure everyone that the Cardinals winning the National league Central meant more than any individual honor. That will be the case once again in 2010, although the dual aces of the St. Louis rotation are determined to take the team much deeper into October than the first round of post-season play.
“Those two guys, they’re as good as anybody we’ve trotted out for two games, that’s for sure,” manager Tony La Russa said prior to the playoffs last October. “And we figured we have a great chance when they pitch.” Wainwright blossomed into the stellar starter the Cardinals had anticipated seeing since acquiring him from Atlanta after the 2003 season. In addition to attaining career-highs in victories and innings pitched, the tall right-hander fashioned once of the game’s best curveballs to go with a solid fastball and change-up. Carpenter, meanwhile, bounced back to win the Comeback Player of the Year award after missing most of the previous two seasons due to injuries and reasserted himself as one of baseball’s premier hurlers with his impeccable control. Early on, it looked as if Carpenter might succumb to ailments once again when he was sidelined for more than a month after working just three innings in his second start, but his resiliency and determination led to his fourth campaign with at least 15 wins as a member of the St. Louis rotation.
Both pitchers will be counted upon heavily once again in 2010, although assistance will be provided despite the loss of Joel Pineiro on the free agent market. Taking Pineiro’s place as the third starter in St. Louis will be newcomer Brad Penny, a workhorse right-hander who had an outstanding second half of last season by going 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA in six starts with San Francisco. Penny struggled with Boston early in the 2009 slate but had back-to-back 16-win seasons with the Dodgers in 2006-07 and was a 14-game winner on Florida’s world championship club in 2003.
“When a guy pitches against you and you don’t like it and he’s tough to beat, you place a check mark next to his name,” La Russa said. “We saw Brad pitch with the Marlins as well as a couple of times after he moved, and we were always interested. Finally it happened. It’s a great time in his career. He still has real good stuff and he has experience.”
La Russa and the Cardinals are looking for fourth starter Kyle Lohse to bounce back from a disappointing showing in 2009. The right hander suffered a series of physical setbacks last summer, the most prominent being a right forearm strain. His ailments led to a 6-10 showing with a 4.74 ERA in 23 outings. Lohse entered spring training completely healthy, which has St. Louis fans envisioning a repeat of his performance from 2008, when he went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 33 starts.
Part of the Cardinals’ optimism for a bounce-back season from Lohse and the continuation of Penny’s return to form is the presence of pitching coach Dave Duncan. The veteran mentor has resuscitated the careers of countless hurlers with his deep understanding of the art of pitching as well as his ability to diagnose problems and correct them, regardless of whether they are mental, physical, or a little of both.
“Dave can adapt to any pitcher,” La Russa said. “I’ve seen that since 1983. He works with young guys, veterans, starters, relievers, left-handers, right-handers. There isn’t a problem that you can have that Dave Duncan can’t correct. He’s hands-down the best in the business.”
Duncan’s knowledge will also be utilized in the Cardinals’ search this spring for a fifth starter, which is a top priority on the team’s “to-do” list. The coach is expected to work long and hard with Rich Hill, who looked to be in 2007 one of the top up-and-coming young left-handers in the National League. Control problems, leading to 58 walks in 77 1/3 major league innings, have hampered his progress. If Duncan can work his magic yet again, the Cardinals could have one of baseball’s best bargains.
Challenging Hill for the final starting slot is a group that includes Jamie Garcia, Blake Hawksworth, Mitchell Boggs and Kyle McClellan. Garcia is considered to be one of the organization’s top prospects, but the southpaw missed most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008. Even though he pitched well for Memphis in the final weeks of 2009, the Cardinals are likely to ease Garcia back into action. The owner of a dominating power sinker, Hawksworth overcame injuries from earlier in his career to pitch all of last season out of the bullpen and will return to relief if he does not start. Boggs made nine starts in 16 appearances with the Redbirds in 2009, and McClellan ranked fourth on the team with 66 outings in relief.
Those who fail to make the rotation will rejoin a relief corps that helped the Cardinals post a 73-5 record last year when leading after seven innings. Left-handers Dennys Reyes and Trever Miller both reached the 70-game plateau in 2009 and did an excellent job in situational matchups. Jason Motte is one of the games hardest throwers and has considerable promise with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Closer Ryan Franklin saved 38 games in 43 opportunities last year by consistently coaxing ground-ball outs from opposing hitters.
“You’re only as good as your pitching, but I believe we have the potential to be very strong in that area,” La Russa said, “Those guys were a big part of our success last year and I expect that will be the case again this season.”
By Bill Ballew – 2010 Cardinals Spring Training Program
The 2009 campaign was without question, a tale of two seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals. The dividing point involved baseball’s version of Christmas in July with a Holliday name Matt, who arrived prior to the trading deadline and provided some protection for Albert Pujols that helped produce some division-winning cheer.
The results speak for themselves.
The Redbirds posted a 52-46 record and led the National League Central by 1 ½ games with Holliday. After the July 24th deal, the Cards went 39-25, won the division by 7 ½ games over the Cubs, and finished with an overall mark of 91-71.
Those numbers went a long way in the Cardinals’ decision this past winter to try to make such outcomes more permanent, beginning with the 2010 season. The St. Louis front office signed the free agent to a seven-year, $120 million contract with a one-year option that should keep Holliday in Cardinals’ red at least through 2016.
“When you look at this historical contract and the context of the St. Louis Cardinals, you understand the winning tradition here,” said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. “We’re setting the path for another decade of success. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to trade for Matt and more importantly to secure him for the next seven years.”
Holliday spent his first five major league seasons in the National League with the Colorado Rockies prior to being traded to the Oakland Athletics on Nov. 10, 2008. He struggled at times while playing in the American League during the first half of last year before her was dealt to St. Louis. Back in the familiar environs for the senior circuit, Holliday proved to be the perfect fit in the Cardinals’ cleanup role while he pounded pitchers at a .353 clip and added 13 home runs and 55 RBIs.
“He was exactly what we needed, a guy that was productive in the middle of the lineup who had the respect of the other side in order to put the bat more (often) in Albert’s hands,” said manager Tony La Russa.
Holliday also proved to be what Pujols needed, as he was able to make a serious run at the Triple Crown. He finished the season ranked in the top three by hitting .327 with 47 home runs and 135 RBIs. The first baseman also led the National League with 124 runs, 374 total bases, 93 extra-base hits and 44 intentional walks, which enabled Pujols to easily outpace the competition in balloting for the National League Most Valuable Player award. That trend is expected to become even more dramatic when the power hitting tandem bats back-to-back beginning on Opening Day.
“It really isn’t that tough to figure,” La Russa said. “With Albert, the more he bats in the game, the better chance you have to win. How do you do that? Guys get on base ahead of him, and he has some protection behind him.”
La Russa should not have much to contemplate when penciling in his starters at first base and left field this year. Several other positions also appeared to be spoken for as the Cardinals opened spring training. The Cardinals looked to be well stocked behind the plate with the return of Yadier Molina. The catcher is coming off his second straight Gold Glove-winning campaign after throwing out 22 of 54 base stealers in 2009. He also caught a career-high 140 games while maintaining the lineup’s momentum by hitting .293 with six home runs and 54 RBIs. Jason La Rue is also back to provide experience in a reserve role.
St. Louis is set at second base where Skip Schumaker made an impressive move to the keystone sack after manning the outfield earlier in his career. In addition to being steady with the leather, Schumaker batter .303 and drove in 35 runs. He will get the batting order rolling again this year by handling the leadoff role for La Russa.
Schumaker’s double-play partner, Brendan Ryan took over the starting duties at shortstop in 2009 and hit .292 in 390 at-bats while doing an excellent job of moving up runners on the base paths. His calling card is his defense, with Ryan committing only nine errors last season. He moves well to both his right and left and has a powerful arm that allows him to throw out runners from deep in the hole. Though not particularly flashy, Ryan has excellent athleticism and serves as the leader of the infield.
The biggest question needing an answer during spring training centers on the selection of an everyday third baseman. David Freese, a native of St. Louis, arrived in Jupiter considered to be the frontrunner for starting honors after showing considerable promise during a trial run last season. Freese, who was acquired from the Padres three years ago in exchange for Jim Edmonds, had a home run and seven RBIs while hitting .323 in 31 at-bats. He has shown above-average power in the minor leagues by crushing 26 round trippers at Triple-A Memphis in 2008.
Another team strength is the quality depth found on the infield. Tyler Green has seen most of his activity at shortstop during his professional career, but can also play second base and even center field. The Cardinals have the services of Julio Lugo in a reserve role up the middle.
Joining Holliday in the outfield will be second year center fielder Colby Rasmus and right field Ryan Ludwick. Rasmus took over the starting duties in the middle garden last season and lived up to his reputation as one of the premier young defensive outfielders in the game. His offense was not as polished, with Rasmus hitting just .160 against left-handed hurlers, but he holds considerable promise as a run producer while continuing to mature and make adjustments. Rasmus still managed to hit .251 and clubbed 16 home runs with 52 RBIs, stats that should improve as his knowledge of opposing pitchers continues to increase.
Ludwick emerged as one of the league’s premier hitters in 2008 when he batted .299 with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs. A hamstring injury suffered early last season hampered Ludwick throughout much of the slate, and contributed to his .264 batting average. Despite the ailing leg muscle, he still hit 22 home runs and drove in 97 runs, and has a combined 59 round trippers and 210 RBIs over the past two seasons. If Ludwick returns as expected to his form from two years ago, he will help give the Cardinals one of the best middle of the lineups baseball has to offer.
Should Rasmus need a day off, Ludwick could shift to center when the Cardinals face southpaws. In that scenario, Joe Mather could also get the nod, provided he is able to bounce back from a wrist injury that limited him to minor league activity last season. Allen Craig, a rookie who also could receive an extended look this spring at third base, is another option after hitting .322 with 26 home runs at Memphis in 2009. Prospects Daryl Jones and Jon Jay could find themselves in the outfield mix with impressive performances in Jupiter.
Even with Pujols’ dominating performance and strong offensive campaigns from Molina, Schumaker and Ryan, the Cardinals ranked seventh in the National League last year in runs scored. That productivity should increase with Holliday’s presence in the lineup throughout the campaign. The St. Louis batters also believe the numbers will rise with the assistance provided by new hitting coach mark McGwire, who worked with Holliday, Schumaker and Ryan prior to the start of spring training.
“Mark and I are good friends,” Holliday said. “I lived in Orange County last year and we got the opportunity to hit together quite a bit. I’m excited to see how he does as the hitting coach. I think he’ll do great. He’s a very good communicator. He’s fun to be around, and people are interested to hear what he has to say. He evolved as a hitter over his career, which I think will help make him a very good hitting coach.”
La Russa has said that Cardinals tried for two years to find a big bat to stick behind Pujols, and even attempted to pry Holliday from Colorado after the 2008 slate. With that key component to the overall strategy now in place, a return to the playoffs and a long run in October are the ultimate goals for the defending Central Division champs as the head into the regular season.
- 2010 Official Spring Training Program
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