In just a few moments, Jaime Garcia takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in what is probably his last big chance with the organization that drafted him back in 2005. Garcia—somehow only 28 years old—has battled injury after injury since his last full season, the World Championship year of 2011. And with 2015 being his walk year, he needs a good showing this year just as much as the Cardinals do. But what exactly does that mean? What do the Cards really need from him right now?
In a word: efficiency.
The Cardinals have good pitchers in their rotation, but they’re far from efficient. It was fairly exciting to see Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha get through seven innings this week, because in recent outings the rotation has pitched more like Carlos Martinez yesterday: get to 100 pitches, but not make it through seven (or even six) innings. Among qualifiers, the Cardinals only have two pitchers—Lackey and Wacha—who are in the top 50 in MLB in pitches per inning pitched. If that continues, the effect on the bullpen could become disastrous real quick. As a team, the Cardinals’ staff has great numbers. But the starters have to find a way to get deeper into games. In a year without Adam Wainwright, the team desperately needs an innings-eater.
Sure it would be great if the 2010-2011 version of Garcia showed up this season, when he was arguably the second or third best pitcher in the rotation depending on whether Wainwright or Chris Carpenter happened to be hurt. But those days are likely gone; expecting Jaime to come out throwing complete games this season seems foolish at best. Obviously what the team really doesn’t need is for Garcia to get shelled over and over again or get re-injured, although the Marco Gonzales honks would probably see that as a win. But if Garcia can just be OK-to-good, take the ball every fifth day, and go deep into the games he does pitch, the team should consider that a windfall. And since Garcia isn’t likely to be able to fire 100+ pitches per outing every day, he’s going to have to get the Mets and every other team he faces to make soft contact. In short, Jaime Garcia needs to revive the Dave Duncan/Tony La Russa days of pitching to contact.
Getting five good innings out of Garcia today might be acceptable, but it’s not going to be sustainable. The team needs more from him. And if that means lining up the best possible defense behind him regardless of the offense that lineup might provide, so be it. This is likely the beginning to Jaime Garcia’s final chapter as a Cardinal. Let’s all hope it’s readable.
It begins today.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to still be in hockey mode, tonight is Opening Night for Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, an Austin radio station made that fact really hit home for me this morning.
I slept in a bit today, trying to shake off the effects of both the rainy, dreary morning weather and the not-as-good-as-I-thought-it-was bottle of wine from last night. I was in desperate need of coffee, breakfast, and Chillville—a local radio show that plays mellow indie and electronic music until 11 a.m. on Sundays. As the show wrapped up, I was clearing my dishes and pouring my second cup so I just left the radio on. And that’s when the most perfectly-timed song started to flow out of my little countertop radio: the first post-Chillville song to come on was “Some Nights” by fun. I perked up instantly, because whenever I hear that song now, I think about the online video made after the 2011 World Series. And that’s when it hit me…
TODAY IS OPENING DAY.
It’s one game out of 162. And there is plenty of hockey to watch still–Go Blues. But if that video doesn’t get you psyched up for Cardinals baseball, nothing will. The Redbirds renew their rivalry with the new-look Chicago Cubs in just a couple hours.
After St. Louis won Game 5 of the NLDS, the Cardinal Nation Twittersphere was obviously jubilant and busy. I happened upon a tweet by fellow Cardinal blogger Dennis Lawson that talked about the hug Adam Wainwright got from Yadier Molina at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s clincher and compared it to the hug Jason Motte got from Molina at the securing of the last out of the 2011 World Series. After a quick exchange, Dennis remarked “Seriously, I want to celebrate the end of a work day with a Yadi hug.”
It’s a funny mental picture, depending on your job. And it got me thinking: that would actually make a great “This is SportsCenter” commercial.
You’ve seen these spots advertising ESPN’s flagship news and highlights show; athletes or mascots or pop culture luminaries interact with SportsCenter anchors in the offices or on the set of the network’s headquarters and awkward hilarity ensues. Albert Pujols as “The Machine,” somewhat vanilla football commentator John Clayton as a metal head, and this misunderstanding in the lunch line are a few of my favorites. Proposing ideas for these commercials is certainly nothing new, but I’m going to give it a whirl. I’m emulating the “This is SportsCenter” model so of course the settings and cast will follow suit.
SportsCenter anchor John Anderson gets out of his car to head into work at the start of the day. He is met by Yadier Molina in full uniform and gear (but carrying his mask), who walks Anderson into the building like he would walk from the bullpen to the dugout with that day’s starting pitcher. While they’re walking Molina says “OK John, you have a tough day today: full NFL schedule, MLB playoffs, hockey highlights. Here (hands Anderson a sheet of paper) is your list of catch phrases; stick to the game plan and we should get through OK.” Anderson agrees with everything Molina says.
Cut to the lunchroom, and anchor Scott Van Pelt is looking in the fridge. He says “Hmm, I wonder what John brought me for lunch today…” Suddenly the door is slammed shut, almost smashing his hand. Van Pelt straightens and turns; Molina is standing there (full uniform and gear, but again no mask) slowly shaking his head and says, firmly, “NO STEALING.” Van Pelt mumbles an apology and sulks out of the room while Molina looks at him disapprovingly.
Cut to the SportsCenter studio, showing Anderson in the middle of anchoring but from over his shoulder so the ESPN cameras and teleprompters are visible too. Among the cameras is Molina in his crouch (full gear with mask). As Anderson is setting up a highlight, Molina puts down a two fingers sign; Anderson pauses for an instant to glance at the catch phrase sheet Molina gave him earlier and smoothly delivers catch phrase #2.
Anderson, obviously tired and a little disheveled after a long day, punches out at a time clock and, turning, raises his hands in relief and joy. The camera then pans back to show Molina doing the same thing and running toward Anderson; they hug and jump and yell as if they just won the World Series while “This is SportsCenter” appears on the screen.
I’m not sure if all of that could be squeezed into 30 seconds; maybe the lunchroom scene would have to be a short follow-up commercial. But I think it works. Because let’s face it…we’d all be a little happier at our jobs if we knew even the toughest day might end with a hug from Yadi.
Once again, it’s time for the United Cardinal Bloggers to get together for another roundtable discussion. Today is my day to pose the question to the troops…so here it is:
At this point,is not something scary that goes bump in a night. The rehab timetable and general prognosis for recovery are well known, and there is a lot of experience with it on the Cardinals roster right now.
I would let him do his normal recovery and start working him in as a starter in 15 months. Don’t even mess with the idea of turning him into a closer.
If you want to mess with anybody in the closer role for 2012, it might be his mentor, Chris ‘Old School’ Carpenter.” – Bob Netherton, On the Outside Corner
Breaking News from Spring Training: St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak today announced that Adam Wainwright has been sent back to St. Louis for evaluation after feeling a pop in his elbow while throwing a pitch yesterday.
Mozeliak characterized the situation as “not encouraging.”
And the Cards now have a really big problem on their hands.
Injuries happen, we all know that. Kevin Millwood is still a free agent, Ian Snell is still in the Cards’ camp, Kyle McClellan has been groomed to be a possible starter for the last couple seasons, and Lance Lynn has looked close to ready in AAA for a while now. So the team has options to explore to make them competitive for 2011…though everyone knows none of those pitchers can fill Wainwright’s shoes on the mound.
But this is potentially a franchise-changer going forward. First, if Wainwright needs Tommy John surgery, he is done for this year and some of 2012. But the options on his contract that became guaranteed when he finished in the Top 5 in the Cy Young race in 2010 and 2011 are now not guaranteed because a clause in those options says they only kick in if he does not finish 2011 on the disabled list. It now looks all but inevitable that Wainwright WILL be on the DL for the whole year. So do the Cards pick up those options? Do they decline them and try to extend him while his stock is diminished, like they did with Chris Carpenter? Or will Wainwright also be a free agent in the 2011/2012 offseason?
Speaking of free agents, how will this affect the Albert Pujols contract situation? The Cards may find themselves in comlpete franchise overhaul because of this. It would likely make the team fall completely out of contention in the revamped NL Central for 2011. With that in mind, the Cards could conceivably ask Pujols to re-visit his stance on promising to veto any trade. This is also Chris Carpenter’s final guaranteed year; could he be on the trading block?
Imagine the St. Louis Cardinals losing Pujols, Carpenter, Wainwright, and Jim Edmonds all in the same season. A month ago that seemed like a crazy, never-in-a-million-years thought. But today I’m not so optimistic.
It’s United Cardinal Bloggers project time again. This month, we put on our prognosticator hats and try to come up with what we believe will be the top five headlines Cardinal fans will see in 2011. I decided to play this one straight, because I think the Cards could be at a bit of a crossroads this season…Albert Pujols hasn’t been signed yet, David Freese is coming back from inury, Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman are new kids on the block, and Chris Carpenter is in the last guaranteed year of his contract. So without further ado…
1. St. Louis Cardinals Sign Albert Pujols to Record Contract – No, not a recording contract; we’re talking Guinness-type stuff here. I’m not sure if the total value of Pujols’ next deal will be the highest ever, but he will make more per season than any player ever has…and he will make it wearing the Birds on the Bat.
2. Punto Named Opening Day Starter; Freese to Report to Extended Spring Training – All this offseason, I have advocated the Cards signing a “true” third baseman to back up Freese in case he isn’t ready for Opening Day. Now that they have signed Nick Punto, I believe this is the ultimate sign that the Cards know they needed this insurance because Freese could need more time before he is 100%. I put Freese’s Cardinal debut sometime in the month of May.
3. Yankees Confirm Interest in Chris Carpenter – Carp still has an option for 2012 left on his current contract, but it is a pricey one: $15 million. If the Cards re-sign Pujols, I have no idea how they can afford that. Now if the team is in contention and Carp is pitching well, I can foresee the Cardinals declining that option and extending Carpenter for a couple more years at less per year. But if the Cards tank in the first half of 2011 for whatever reason, expect the Carpenter trade rumors to start flying. Regardless, the New York Yankees figure to be in the market for a big acquisition because they didn’t make one in the offseason and the Boston Red Sox made some serious upgrades this winter. Carpenter will almost certainly be one of their targets because of his contract situation. The Cards’ response will depend on if they are winning or not.
4. Albert Pujols Collects Hit #2000 – This one is a slam dunk, barring a catastrophic injury–Pujols currently sits on 1900. But it brings up a good point: Pujols will get his 2000th hit sometime in his 11th season in the big leagues. If his season hits totals continue to average somewhere in the mid 180s, he should get to 3000 in about six years, and he probably would still have at least three or four good seasons ahead of him. That puts Stan Musial’s 3630 within reach. And if that number really is that likely to be passed again, I want it to be done by another Cardinal.
5. Cardinals Clinch Playoff Berth – Notice I didn’t say “Division Crown.” The truth is, the NL Central will be a much better division overall this season. Everything hinges on player health, of course. But no team in the division has the 1-2 punch of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina is still the best catcher in the league in terms of defense and calling a game, and there’s only one Albert Pujols. That gives the Cardinals an edge, even if it is only a slight edge. But the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs cannot be counted out. Could the Wild Card team come from the Central? With all the pitching upgrades, why not? I see the Cards making the playoffs this year but I’m not ready to go all in with a division championship prediction. It could be a knock-down, drag-out year in the NL Central this year.
What do you think…how many of these headlines do you expect to see in 2011? Do you expect to see some I haven’t listed here? Comment away!
Every year, the United Cardinal Bloggers cast ballots on all the best the St. Louis Cardinals and its merry band of citizen journalists has to offer. My picks are bolded & underlined, and some explanation for each vote appears in italics below it. I didn’t offer any commentary for my votes on the blogs because I believe you, the reader, should visit them. I think you’ll see, in each case, the blog I voted for speaks for itself.
Cardinal Bloggers Awards
1. Player of the Year
Like there’s ever any doubt.
2. Pitcher of the Year
He’s the Cardinals’ ace. He’ll be here for a while, and they need to build the rotation around him.
3. Game of the Year
–April 5 at Cincinnati-Opening Day, 2 HR from Pujols, slam from Molina
–May 30 at Chicago-Pujols three home runs
–July 18 vs. Los Angeles-Five runs in eight and ninth to win
–July 19 vs. Philadelphia-Four home runs
–August 10 at Cincinnati-Brawl, home run from Molina
I think this game represents the best of the 2010 Cardinals; unfortunately it was also a turning point in the wrong direction.
4. Surprise Player of the Year
I think “cautiously optimistic” is the most anyone would say about Garcia before the 2010 season. In 2011, the question will be whether he can still be an effective #3 starter. That’s quite a jump in perception.
5. Disappointing Player of the Year
What was most disappointing about Ryan was that stretch where even his defense wasn’t good. Ryan’s increased offense in 2009 was probably an aberration, unfortunately. Now we know.
6. Rookie of the Year
There’s really nothing to say here…easy call.
7. Acquisition of the Year
In April, the Penny signing looked like it was going to make the Cards the favorite to go all the way. The rotation looked completely unstoppable. But that didn’t last very long. Westbrook brought stability, and now he’s a Cardinal for at least two more years. That may not have happened without being traded to STL in 2010.
8. Biggest Off-Field Story
-Jaime Garcia’s shutdown without him knowing
-Mark McGwire’s return to baseball
-Colby Rasmus’s trade request
This was just weird. Rasmus looked bad, Tony LaRussa looked bad, and the team suddenly appeared even more chaotic than everyone speculated. It will be interesting to see how things play out next season.
9. Most Anticipated Cardinal
I’m going to go ahead and say it: Shelby Miller will make his St. Louis Cardinals debut in 2012, and will be a full member of the rotation in 2013 alongside Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia. We may see the other two guys before then, but Miller is a lock. Write it down.
10. Best Individual Cardinal Blog
11. Best Team Cardinal Blog
-Write-in: Joe Sports Fan
12. Best Media Blog
13. Best UCB Project
-Cardinal All-Decade Team
-Progressive Game Blog
The roundtable discussions really are my favorite. I love getting a preview of everyone’s thoughts on a topic, especially how those thoughts relate to my own. It’s the closest thing to live debate we have at UCB.
14. Most Optimistic Cardinal Blog
-Write-in: C70 At The Bat
15. Funniest Cardinal Blog
-Write-in: Cards Diaspora
16. Rookie Cardinal Blog of the Year
Tonight’s lineups, courtesy of Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The Cards are playing the Phillies at the right time, though both teams have been plagued by injuries this year. After dropping three of four to the Chicago Cubs, the Phillies are likely craving wins. But the Cards have momentum coming off a four game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend. Plus, the pitching matchups favor the Cardinals: after Blake Hawksworth’s start tonight, the Phillies will have to face the Cards’ big three of Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright. Roy Halladay started the final game in Chicago on Sunday, so the Cardinals will not have to face him at all.
I say the Cards take three of four in this series.
For more on the Cards’ sweep of the Dodgers, take a look at my column over at InsideSTL.
So far, so good. The Cardinals have announced that the starting rotation is set: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer, and Joel Piniero have been anointed, barring any unforeseen events. And some not-so-surprising hints about the everyday lineup have started to trickle out as well. It looks like Tony LaRussa is planning on batting the pitcher 8th again this season, and the most obvious choices for batting 9th are Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker, or Colby Rasmus (depending on the make up of the rest of the lineup on any given day). In Ryan, the Cards have a guy that is quite capable defensively but hasn’t quite put it together at the plate. He can play anywhere in the infield. Schumaker was the leadoff hitter almost all of 2008, and is currently working on a switch from the outfield to second base. Rasmus, of course, is the golden boy prospect who has been described as a five tool guy and the Cards’ centerfielder of the future…possibly the very near future. If LaRussa can find a way to not only keep these guys on the roster but also find them adequate playing time, this team may have the most balanced combination of power and speed they’ve had in the past decade…and it’s been a pretty successful decade for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now I suppose the biggest question mark is who will close…