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"We Have A Chance To Be Better"

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 7:03 AM
Filed Under: Approval Ratings | St. Louis Cardinals
There's no doubt that the spring is time for optimism.  Rookies are heralded as the next great player.  Pitchers are said to have a new pitch that will dominate for them.  And, of course, everyone's in the best shape of their life.  When you are talking about the return of baseball, in those heady days where you are warm after a cold winter and the games don't count, how can you not be optimistic?

The Cardinals are no different.  Lance Berkman talked about this team some yesterday with Derrick Goold and stated that "we have a chance to be better."  While he continued on to say that 2012 will be "a little different kind of team," the idea that the World Series Champions could be even better is, for some, tough to swallow.

I know even casual fans have asked me how the Cardinals are going to be this year, with the implication that the loss of Albert Pujols was going to be a tough thing.  I think there are some fans around baseball that are immediately discounting both St. Louis and Milwaukee because they lost their big sluggers.  Yet what Berkman says is right--this team really should be better than last year.

Obviously the results can't improve (though #12 in '12 would be perfectly fine with all of us) and you never know what will happen in the postseason.  This team, though, lost at least 10 games from a flammable bullpen early on last season.  The strong arms out there this year should, at worst, cut that in half.  There's five wins right there.

As Berkman said, this team won 7-5 games last year and they may win more games 4-2 this year.  The offense is still potent, though you expect that Berkman will drop off a little bit.  Hopefully a full year of a developing David Freese and contributions by Carlos Beltran will help fill the offensive shortfall.  Plus, if Tyler Greene does start to play up to what people think he can, that'd be an upgrade over Skip Schumaker's bat as well.

The pitching, of course, gets the biggest boost with the return of Adam Wainwright, who seems to have not missed a beat after his surgery.  Couple that with at least the possibility that Jake Westbrook could be better and the whole rotation takes a step forward.

Defensively, the team should improve as well, if for no other reason than Rafael Furcal will be stationed at shortstop all year instead of starting the year with Ryan Theriot.  Greene should be better than Skip at second as well and Beltran could be an upgrade over Berkman in right as well, though Berkman played surprisingly well out there last season.

There are a lot of reasons why this team could and should be improved over last year.  However, as we saw the last time the Cardinals tried to defend, health is everything.  A key injury and this team could possibly start taking on water.  Then again, we said that last year with the loss of Wainwright and look how that turned out.

Speaking of the Cardinal co-ace, there's a great story on him at the Fox Sports site about how he was a big part of last year, just by being there and being a cheerleader.  Apparently, he took that quite literally, dressing up as one before the Opening Day festivities.  It's probably for the best that no pictures of that have surfaced!  I know that some injured players hang around the team some, but Wainwright really took it to another level last year and, in a year that the Cards only made it to the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, who knows if that wasn't the key ingredient, that his presence didn't help indirectly lead to a couple of those wins?

All I know is that I'm quite glad his rehab appears over and Wainwright will be back on the mound for the Cardinals.  The only thing missing from last year's run was seeing him snap off curveballs and leave the mound after eight innings of one run ball.  I'm very excited to see him back in uniform for the Birds!

The Cardinals haven't finalized the Yadier Molina contract, though by all accounts that should be done by Friday.  It doesn't seem like there's any major hurdle keeping this deal from being done, just likely haggling over some minor language or adjusting schedules so that everyone can be in the same place at the same time.  While there's no doubt that Molina's contract is going to be expensive, Bernie Miklasz notes that there definitely is payroll room for him, something that wouldn't have been the case if Pujols had decided to stay put last offseason.

Obviously, I wanted Albert to stay and I thought, with other contracts rolling off the books, that it'd still been possible to keep at least Wainwright if not him and Molina both.  (Of course, I also thought Molina's contract would be less than what's been reported.)  Still, it's definitely a silver lining to his departure that the Cards are able to spend this kind of money on other core players, leaving the chances of them starting to dwindle into irrelevance pretty slim.

The Cards are in an incredible position, having payroll flexibility at a time when they have highly-rated prospects coming up that should produce remarkable results for league-minimum prices.  As long as the Cardinals continue to draft well (and, by the way, they have a ton of early picks this year), this winning window could stay open for years to come.  As always, it's good to be a Cardinal fan.

Someone that's not been talked about a lot this spring is Erik Komatsu.  Komatsu, taken in the Rule 5 draft from the Nationals, has to stay on the roster all year or be offered back to Washington for half the price the Cards paid for him ($50,000).  The odds are, he's not going to be a Cardinal for very long, but a strong spring could put him in the mix for a bench role.

There are going to be five players on the Cardinal bench.  One of them is going to be the backup catcher, either Tony Cruz or Bryan Anderson.  One of them is going to be Skip Schumaker.  One of them is going to be Daniel Descalso (assuming Greene wins the starting job).  One of them, eventually, is going to be Allen Craig.  That leaves one spot on the bench. With Skip able to do both infield and outfield, it may open up a chance for Komatsu take the last spot, though the Cards also may look to get another infielder there.  He's someone to keep an eye on in camp to see if he can force the issue.

OK, today's Cardinal Approval Ratings.  Our player in the crosshairs today is October hero David Freese.  You have to figure that a guy like that, a hometown hero, is going to be rated pretty highly, especially while the memories are still strong.  You'd be right, but perhaps not as right as you'd expect.

Freese rated at 85.5%, which is still a very high number but not in the 95+ area you might expect from a guy that did so much in the playoffs.  One comment about Freese, who garnered six 100s and had nothing below 70, may have said it best, "Do it all year long and it will be 100."

On the media side of things, today's Ricky Horton's day in the barrel.  Ricky got an expanded role with Fox Sports Midwest last year, working roughly 100 games as either the color man with Dan McLaughlin or the play-by-play guy with Al Hrabosky.  (Don't worry, those two are coming up in the next couple of days.)  So does more Ricky equal more enjoyment?

Doesn't seem to be.  Horton comes in at 67.5%, which is just a tick under where he was on last year's survey.  He received no 100 marks and at least one 0.  While there weren't many comments about him, this one might be pretty telling--"Horton is slightly more palatable" than Dan and Al.  Well, I guess that's something.

Our last rating of the day is hitting coach Mark McGwire.  While there's no doubt that his playing days--and subsequent revelations about his playing days--factor into people's opinions of him, he's also gone from outside of baseball to the coach of the top offense statistically in the National League last year.

Apparently those results have made an impact in Cardinal Nation.  McGwire got rated at 82.3% this year, a whopping 20 points higher than last season.  McGwire's low was 30 and he received three 100s, with many people rating him at 90 or above.  "McGwire has made a difference--check the hitting stats" was a comment that seems to be representative of a lot of people nowadays.  There's a lot less talk about him being there because of Tony La Russa now, which is great for him.

Finally today, check out this blog link that was sent to me.  RJ is a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who determined that, after his service, he was going to see every Major League stadium.  I always love stories like that, people that get the chance to make these wonderful trips to see baseball all across the country.  RJ is going to blog the whole thing, so keep it bookmarked and check it often!  He's also asking for any tips people can give on Busch Stadium or St. Louis in general, so if you have any of those, feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll make sure he gets them.

Baseball is coming, folks!  MLB At Bat app became available yesterday.  Phillies played a college team yesterday and there are more pro/college matchups tomorrow.  Today's Playing Pepper will be the Colorado Rockies.  It's the most wonderful time of the year!


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Heroes
Carlos Beltran (6)
Yadier Molina (5)
Matt Holliday (4)
Jon Jay (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Pete Kozma (3)
Shelby Miller (3)
Adam Wainwright (3)
Allen Craig (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Tyler Lyons (2)
Edward Mujica (2)
Jake Westbrook (2)
David Freese (1)
Joe Kelly (1)
Seth Maness (1)
Trevor Rosenthal (1)
Michael Wacha (1)
Ty Wigginton (1)

2012 Top Hero: Matt Holliday (17)
2011 Top Hero: Lance Berkman (24)
2010 Top Heroes: Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (24)
2009 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (28)
2008 Top Hero: Albert Pujols (25)

Goats
Jon Jay (6)
David Freese (5)
Mitchell Boggs (4)
Joe Kelly (4)
Pete Kozma (4)
Matt Carpenter (3)
Allen Craig (3)
Daniel Descalso (3)
Jaime Garcia (3)
Yadier Molina (3)
Matt Adams (2)
Carlos Beltran (2)
Matt Carpenter (2)
Matt Holliday (2)
Lance Lynn (2)
Seth Maness (1)
Shane Robinson (1)
Fernando Salas (1)
Adam Wainwright (1)
Jake Westbrook (1)

2012 Top Goat: Rafael Furcal (11)
2011 Top Goat: Ryan Theriot (12)
2010 Top Goat: Brendan Ryan (14)
2009 Top Goats: Rick Ankiel and Todd Wellemeyer (13)
2008 Top Goat: Troy Glaus (13)

Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
Yadier Molina 96.2% (up 8.8%)
Chris Carpenter 89.8% (down 0.3%)
Derrick Goold 89.1% (up 6.3%)
Matt Holliday 88.4% (up 0.9%)
Allen Craig 88.3%
Adam Wainwright 88.2% (down 3.7%)
Jose Oquendo 87.1% (up 2.4%)
Jason Motte 86.9%
John Mozeliak 86.5% (up 1.1%)
United Cardinal Bloggers 85.2% (up 6.3%)
Bill DeWitt 85.1% (up 5.3%)
Mike Shannon 85.1% (down 0.2%)
John Rooney 84.5% (up 3.0%)
Mike Matheny 84.4% (up 3.3%)
David Freese 82.9% (down 2.6%)
Jon Jay 81.8% (up 10.7%)
Lance Berkman 80.6% (down 8.0%)
Jenifer Langosch 79.5%
Lance Lynn 79.5%
Dan McLaughlin 76.0% (up 8.0%)
Jim Hayes 73.0% (up 1.1%)
Ricky Horton 65.5% (down 2.0%)
Jaime Garcia 64.1%
Albert Pujols 59.2% (up 4.3%)
Ballpark Village 58.3%
Joe Strauss 54.3% (down 13.4%)

2012
Tony La Russa 88.2% (up 17.4%)
Mark McGwire 82.6% (up 20.1%)
Skip Schumaker 73.3% (up 9.2%)
B.J. Rains 69.5% (down 0.9%)
Kyle Lohse 68.9% (up 13.8%)
Al Hrabosky 66.4% (up 3.2%)
Colby Rasmus 46.5% (down 35.3%)

2011
Dave Duncan 87.9% (up 0.9%)
Matthew Leach 85.5%
Pop Warner 76.7%
Ryan Franklin 72.8% (up 3.1%)
John Vuch 68.9%
Jeff Luhnow 66.4%
Dan Lozano 58.7%

2009
Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%


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