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The 2011 Cardinals: Crying Their Way To A Third Place Finish

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The 2010 St. Louis Cardinals gave the Reds hell. A lot of it. In their 129th season, the Cardinals steamrolled Cincinnati, going 12-6 against the team that would ultimately beat them for a playoff spot. The Cardinals spent 83 days in first place, leading the NL Central by as much as 5 games. The team finished with a record of 86-76, good for second place behind the Reds (yay!). The Cardinals underperformed against their Pythagorean which had them at 91-71. The Reds and Cardinals created some headlines after remarks by Brandon Phillips where he called them "whiny little b******" and simply put into words what the rest of us already knew. Yadier Molina proceeded to tell Phillips that he didn't appreciate being called a WLB by acting like one and a brawl ensued.

Jason LaRue got his face kicked in by Johnny Cueto, steroidless Mark McGwire was pummeled by Arthur Rhodes, Scott Rolen "protected" Chris Carpenter, and Jeff Suppan crawled out of the fracas like a little baby. So, the question becomes... How will they fare this year? Well, let's take a look:

 

 Until February 23, the St. Louis Cardinals were the consensus favorite to win the central division. Then, something terrible (or incredibly fortunate, depending on your point of view) happened. It was announced that the Cardinals’ ace, Adam Wainwright, one of baseball’s best starters, would be reporting to St. Louis to undergo testing on his arm. The next day, it was reported that Wainwright would indeed be getting Tommy John surgery and the recovery time would likely be anywhere from 12-16 months. 

So, now that we’ve got those "un"pleasantries out of the way, let’s move on to some actual analysis of this team that hails from San Luis (that’s how I like to say St. Louis when I’m in a good mood or feeling especially suave).

 

How are the Cardinals going to fare in 2011? Well, as I’ve already stated, the Cardinals were generally expected to be the best, safest bet to win the Central Division prior to Wainwright’s incident. So, the question becomes "How badly does this hurt them?" In 2010,  his age 28 season, Adam Wainwright went 20-11. He finished 2nd in the NL Cy Young voting. He struck out 8.3 batters per 9 innings and walked only 2.2 per 9 innings. The man had an ERA of 2.42. In short, he’s impossible to replace.  I’d say, that this loss is going to kick them down from being a serious contender for first place to being a serious contender for 3rd place. Here's why:

 

THE PARTS:

 

THE ROTATION: We'll show each player's numbers from 2010 and each players 2011 projections via ZiPS, and go into a little analysis about each player.

 

1. Chris Carpenter: 

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2010: 16-9, 3.22 ERA, 235.0 IP, 6.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.179 WHIP.

 

2011: 11-6, 3.33 ERA, 162.3 IP, 6.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9.

As we can see, ZiPS doesn't expect Carpenter to stay healthy for the whole season. Can't say I blame them. He certainly has a history of arm problems, and frankly, he's getting older. And crankier. Carpenter might not have been a league leader in many pitching categories last season, but he did lead the league in various categories such as "Minutes Spent Screaming at a Shortstop" and "Time Spent Explaining Various Issues to his Son". Will Carpenter still be a serviceable pitcher? Certainly, he might even be an all-star. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him kind of tail off as the season wears on. Interestingly, Carpenter has stated that he would not oppose a trade if the Cardinals wanted to do that. The chances of this happening are miniscule. If they send Carpenter out, basically take it as the Cardinals throwing in the towel- for the next 5 seasons. They probably wouldn't bother resigning Pujols either in that case and would build around guys like Rasmus.

 

2. Jaime Garcia:

2010: 13-8, 2.70 ERA, 163.1 IP, 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9

2011:  9-6, 3.53 ERA,  117.3 IP, 7.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9

ZiPS has Garcia keeping relatively constant peripherals. It shows a large expected drop in ERA+ however, from 145 in 2010, to 113 in 2011. The Reds certainly hope Garcia's numbers fall back to earth a bit- He killed them, going 4-0 with a 3.70 ERA. Garcia did benefit from a fairly low .293 BABIP. This season should tell us whether that's more an effect of his pitching style, or whether it was good luck. Garcia will only be 24 this season and is a lefty that could be a mainstay in this rotation for a long time. Garcia was the loser pitching for the Cardinals on the night that Mark McGwire got his shit shaken by Arthur Rhodes.

 

3. Jake Westbrook:

2010: 10-11, 4.22 ERA, 202.2 IP, 5.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

2011:    6-5,  4.11 ERA, 103.0 IP, 5.7 K/9, 3.1 BB/9

For some reason, ZiPS only projects Westbrook to start 17 games. Westbrook has been fairly healthy in the past, so I'd expect closer to 25 games out of him. So, let's kick that Win/Loss record up to say... 10-10. Westbrook is a classic Dave Duncan project. He's a sinkerballer, so don't rule out a surprising season from him... At the same time, I wouldn't count on one either. He's a pretty solid three man.

 

4. Kyle Lohse:

2010: 4-8, 6.55 ERA, 92.0 IP, 5.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

2011: 7-8, 4.62 ERA, 122.7 IP, 5.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

Lohse's 2010 was an injury plagued season where he posted a 7.25 ERA in his last 9 starts. He's said that he's healthy and feeling good, but I certainly wouldn't bank on 25 starts from him. Lohse had a great 2008, going 15-6 in 200 innings. Cardinal fans are hoping for a resurgence of the 2008 Kyle Lohse, but I think they'll be disappointed. Lohse hasn't started 25 games since that 2008 season and I'll go out on a limb and say he never will again.

 

5. This is where the debate begins. The Cardinals are most likely going to look at an internal option, but they could look at some guys outside of the organization as well. As of now, Kyle McClellan looks to be the front-runner for the job. McClellan has started in the past but pitched out of the bullpen last season. He was effective with a 2.27 ERA in 75.1 innings last year and will be entering his age 27 season. Moving him into the rotation creates another problem for the Cardinals in the bullpen.

 

 

THE POSITION PLAYERS: Here, we'll basically do the same thing we did for the pitchers, going position by position.

C- Yadier Molina

2010: .262/.329/.671, 6 HR, 62 RBI, 51 SO

2011: .277/.340/.706, 7 HR, 58 RBI, 44 SO

2010 was an interesting year for Molina. First of all, he proved Brandon Phillips correct and showed the world that the Cardinals are in fact, whiny little bitches. Offensively, last year was Molina's worst since 2006, when he was 23. Molina still won a gold glove and had an all-star appearance as a result of his defensive prowess. The little bitch caught 49% of would be base stealers. We can probably expect a similar season from him this year, although I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him perform lower than what ZiPS projects him at, as starting 130 games at catcher might catch up with him a bit.

 

1B- Albert Pujols

2010: .312/.414/1.011, 42 HR, 118 RBI, 103 BB

2011: .314/.419/1.011, 37 HR, 107 RBI, 97 BB

As we all know, the second best first baseman in the National League had a good season last year. But not as good as Joey Votto. Pujols is also not nearly as good looking as Votto. Entering his age 39 season, Pujols is looking to land a monster contract after the season to keep him employed through his age 53 season. If things work out right, he'll probably be charging the Cubs about $47 M per year for the next 100 or so years. If you guys actually give a damn about him and this stupid contract situation that has Cardinal fans in tears, go watch ESPN, I'm sure they'll have a feature on it every couple of hours. In other news, Joey Votto is currently under contract for the next few seasons and still much better looking.

 

2B- Skip Schumaker

2010: .265/.328/.667, 5 HR, 42 RBI

2011: .276/.333/.698, 6 HR, 41 RBI

All righty, we look at those numbers and we realize something. Skip Schumaker must be a defensive whiz, right? We've got some real Paul Janish shit going on here, right? Yeeeeeahhh... No. Total Zone puts him at -5 runs on defense. Frankly, offensively, Skip Schumaker reminds me of another former Cardinals second baseman. Aaron Miles. Our very own Pisswater. Is it possible for Schumaker to improve? Sure. Is he going to improve enough to be an above-average second baseman? Nah. 

 

3B- David Freese

2010: .296/.361/.765, 4 HR, 36 RBI, 70 Games

2011: .263/.325/.727, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 99 Games

During limited action in 2010, David Freese put up great numbers for the Cardinals and put up at least average defense at third base. During a full season, we can probably expect to see those numbers fall a bit. Freese crushed the Reds last season. The fragile third baseman certainly can't be penciled in for 140 games though, and if he goes down... especially before the return of Nick Punto, the Cardinals are in something of a fix. Zack Cox is still a ways away from being ready to contribute at a major league level and unless they go outside the organization, they'll probably need to either play Allen Craig (probably will provide slightly below average defense) or go to 24 year old Daniel Descalso, who has played primarily 2B during his minor league career. 

 

SS- Ryan Theriot

2010: .270/.321/.633, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 20 SB

2011: .269/.327/.651, 3 HR, 38 RBI, 19 SB

Whooo! Another guy that's not a big injury risk! The Riot hasn't played fewer than 148 games since 2006! But... the Cardinals probably should hope that's not the case this year. Most of the Cardinal fans I've talked to have been talking up Theriot's offense. Yeah- those numbers there? That's from a full year. We're getting excited about an OPS+ of 70 last year, and a serious drop-off in defense that Brendan Ryan provided. I'll tell you one thing, this is one player I love to see on the Cardinals. 

 

LF- Matt Holliday

2010: .312/.390/.922, 28 HR, 103 RBI

2011: .296/.376/.867, 24 HR, 99 RBI

First thing's first. Matt Holliday is a great offensive player. He's not so great with defense. I mean, he's no Jonny Gomes, but he certainly doesn't play a pretty left field. Hell, the Cardinals are going to put Lance Berkman in RF, so that Holliday doesn't have to play there. That being said, Holliday was an All-Star last year, and he won a Silver Slugger. He also finished 12th in the MVP voting (Joey Votto won the MVP, he's a better player and more handsome). Holliday's a good bet to stay healthy, and will probably put up some pretty respectable numbers for a pretty not respectable team.

 

CF- Colby Rasmus

2010: .276/.361/.859, 23 HR, 66 RBI, 148 SO

2011: .262/.341/.784, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 131 SO

This is one of the more puzzling projections in my book. ZiPS has Rasmus playing 10 more games (that's what happens when your manager stops acting like a whiny little bitch and lets one of the best players on the team play), but they expect some serious regression. Rasmus will strike out a lot, but between his improvement and Holliday's aging, he's probably going to be better than Holliday within a couple of years. Great offense, plus defense, Rasmus, Bruce, Upton, Heyward, and McCutcheon are going to be anchoring the NL All Star outfield for quite a while (because Bryce Harper is never going to pan out).

 

RF- Lance Berkman

2010: .248/.368/.781, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 

2011: .262/.379/.828, 17 HR, 73 RBI

ZiPS expects Berkman to improve but they seem to forget that Lance Berkman hasn't played more than 50 games in the outfield since 2004. And he was a below average defensive outfielder in his 20's, now? Ummm... This might not work out so well.

 

THE RELIEVERS: I'll probably skip out on 2011 predictions for most of these guys and just go right into some analysis.

Closer- Ryan Franklin

2010: 6-2, 3.46 ERA, 27 SV, 2 BS

Ryan Franklin's 2010 season was good, but certainly nothing like his 2009 all-star campaign. Franklin will be 38 this season, and we shouldn't be at all surprised to see someone else inherit the closer's role if his smoke and mirrors pitching style begins to fail. Franklin relies on pinpoint control and distracts hitters with his completely ridiculous facial hair. 

 

The Rest-

 

Next on the list is probably Jason Motte. Motte pitched well in his second full season and will be 29 this season. Motte is the other serious contender for taking over the closer's role. Motte is a rather inconsistent pitcher though, he tends to rush his delivery at times and can be prone to control issues. Motte can bring his heater in around 97 MPH and features a slider as well.

The Cardinals bullpen will feature two lefties, allowing Tony LaRussa to piss everyone off by playing knifey-spoony as usual. Trever Miller will be in his 3rd season as a Cardinal. Last year, Miller had an ERA of 4.00 facing way more right-handed hitters than he should have. Lefties hit only .203 against Miller, while righties tagged him to the tune of a .273 average. If the Cardinals just use Miller against lefties, he should be fine. The other left-hander is a newcomer to the team. Brian Tallet pitched with Toronto last year and appeared in 34 games, delivering an ERA of 6.40. The 8-year MLB veteran pitches great against lefties (.176/.223/.571) but gets absolutely pummeled when he comes in to face right handers (.320/.415/1.031). He's basically the same story as Miller. 

The remaining slots will probably be a bit of a revolving door throughout the season. Mitchell Boggs may be a candidate to take that 5th starting spot, but the 27-year old pitched reasonably well last season and will probably be in the bullpen most of the year if he doesn't start. 26-year old Fernando Salas spent most of the year in Memphis, but performed well when called upon last year, throwing for a 3.52 ERA in 27 appearances. Veteran MIguel Batista will be 40 this year and pitched fairly well with the Nationals last season. He has a career ERA of 4.51 as a starter and reliever. Ian Snell signed over the offseason but retired when he was assigned to Memphis earlier this Spring because he's smart and doesn't want to be associated with the Cardinals. Good man.

BENCH

The bench is already going to be hurting a little bit. The Cardinals signed Nick Punto in the offseason to a one-year deal, but will be without his services for about 3 months as he'll recover from a sports hernia. Punto was slated to be the first man off the bench at shortstop, second and third base. Ex-Lawyer Jon Jay will most likely be the primary backup in the outfield and should see plenty of time with Berkman needing rest. Jay will be 26 this season and hit .300, OPS'ing .780. His defense is slightly below average in the corner outfield spots and about average, maybe a little above average in center. The other backup outfielder will probably be Allen Craig. Craig will also be 26 this season. He appeared in 44 games in his rookie season last year, hitting .246 and putting up a .711 OPS. Craig's offense isn't quite on Jay's level, but apart from playing a passable corner outfield, we'll also see Craig on the corners in the infield. He'll probably give Pujols an occasional day off and fill in for the oft-injured Freese as long as Freese isn't hurt. Craig is more of a backup, not a starter- in the same sense where we'd expect to see Cairo fill in at third, but if Rolen goes down, we'll expect to see Francisco or (fingers crossed) Frazier. Let's look at the rest of the infielders. Obviously, the Cardinals have to have a backup shortstop. Your two options at that spot are Tyler Greene and Ramon Vazquez. Greene should already be familiar to most Reds fans. He'll be 27 this year and has 92 games over 2 season under his belt. He only hit .221 last season and only put up an OPS of .655, but he's usually a fairly solid defensive player and can play short, second and third. Vazquez will be 34 and hasn't seen big league action since he played 101 games for Pittsburgh in 2009. Vazquez is fairly comparable to Greene, with a career average of .254 and a .678 OPS across 9 seasons. Like Greene, Vazquez can play short, second and third. If I had to guess, I'd expect Greene to win the spot, although both could make the team. Two other major candidates exist as well. If Theriot or Schumaker go down, I'd expect to see Daniel Descalso called up to take over the starting duties, but barring an injury, they'll probably try to get him starting time in AAA. Descalso played mostly 2B last season in Memphis, putting up a .282/.350/.771 line and providing decent defense. Descalso also got a cup of coffee in the majors at the end of last season, playing 73 innings at second base, and putting up a .648 OPS in 37 plate appearances. The other option would be 23-year old Donovan Solano, but like Descalso, he'll likely start the season in AAA, where he can get every day playing time at shortstop. Solano has been a fairly light-hitting player thus far, OPS'ing only .622 across 6 seasons in the minors.

So, what have the Cardinals changed since last season? Here's a look:

Raul Valdes is a 33 year old left handed reliever signed to a minor league deal. Valdes pitched with the Mets last year, and was effective at times, though he may have been pitching through an injury. He's probably more of a depth signing and probably won't be in St. Louis without injuries occurring. We've already talked some about Brian Tallet. Tallet was signed to a one year deal worth $750,000 to replace former Red Dennys Reyes. The Cardinals traded reliever/spot starter Blake Hawksworth to the Dodgers for middle infielder Ryan Theriot. The most important deal the Cardinals made this season was in signing veteran Lance Berkman to a one-year contract worth $8 million. They'll be depending on Berkman to match Ryan Ludwick's production. The Cardinals also traded Brendan Ryan to the Mariners for 21-year old pitching prospect Maikel Cleto. Cleto, a Dominican, throws in the upper-90's, but has issues with both his control and secondary pitches. He posted a 6.16 ERA in High A ball. The team also signed Gerald Laird to a one-year deal to be the backup catcher now that a certain moronic ex-Red has retired due to receiving about 40 more concussions than the average person. Laird played for the Tigers last season, and has a fairly good arm, but struggles offensively. Miguel Batista to a minor league deal. The poet and author may see some time in the bullpen if he takes a break from writing. They also signed veteran infielder Ramon Vazquez, who could backup at times this season. The other big move the Cardinals made won't pay off for another several months as they signed infielder Nick Punto to be their utility man. He's hurt now, and will have no impact for a few months. The only other signing that could have any impact on the majors this year is Freddie Bynum, but chances are he won't sniff the big leagues this season. Leaving the Cardinals are Jason LaRue (stupidity-forced retirement), Brad Penny (signed with the Tigers), Randy Winn (signed with the Orioles), Aaron Miles (signed with the Dodgers), Pedro Feliz (signed with the Royals), Mike MacDougal (signed with the Dodgers), Jeff Suppan (signed with the Giants) and Joe Mather (claimed off waivers by the Braves).

So, what does all of this mean? The Cardinals basically exchanged Brendan Ryan for Ryan Theriot. Personally, I think this is not going to help the team on the field. Brendan Ryan apparently wasn't a great presence in the clubhouse, but he could at least play solid defense on a team sorely lacking in that category. Theriot? Not so much. Berkman is the other big addition and we've already talked about him. His key will be staying healthy. The rest of the signings will probably have minimal effect on the big league roster.

WHO ELSE COULD CONTRIBUTE? (A Look at the 40 Man Roster)

We've already looked at plenty of guys who may or may not start off the year with the club. Even if any of Miguel BatistaRamon Vazquez, Freddy Bynum, Raul Valdes, Fernando Salas, Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso, and Donovan Solano don't make it out of Spring Training on the big league roster, there's a very good chance we could see any of them this season. P.J. Walters, Adam Ottavino, Lance Lynn, Brandon Dickson all could start games this season. Another interesting player is the Cardinals #4 prospect Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez pitched well in AAA last season and is a hard throwing reliever. He can throw in the mid to high 90's, but needs to work on his command a bit. If he continues to progress and Franklin falters, we could see him in the mix to set-up or close for the Cardinals at some point this season, especially if McClellan ends up starting. Oh, and he'll only be 22 this season. Out of all the Cardinals prospects, he stands to have the greatest impact in 2011. The team's #35 prospect, Francisco Samuel could also see time at the majors this season. If he's going to have any impact though, he'll need to seriously improve on his consistency and his command. Adam Reifer could also end up in the majors at some point this season. The hard throwing righty reliever pitched mostly in AA last year and recorded 17 saves. He's got a good fastball and a strong slider. David Kopp is another name to watch. The former 2nd round pick has struggled to stay healthy in the past and needs a strong showing in AAA to contribute this season. Blake King is another player on the 40 man. He was a 44th round pick, and hasn't pitched above AA. If the Cardinals need to open up a spot on the 40 man roster, he could be gone, though he's pitched well in AA.

So, who else will we be seeing?

Catchers-  Bryan Anderson, Tony Cruz. Anderson and Cruz are both middling prospects for the Cardinals. The 24-year old Anderson is the Cardinals #12 prospect. He has a solid bat, but his defense leaves something to be desired. Cruz is ranked around #16. He's also 24 and has posted solid offensive numbers in the mid-minors, showing some pop. His defense is still progressing.

Infield- Mark Hamilton is the Cardinals #20 prospect. In a cup of coffee at the majors last year, he hit only .143 and struck out 5 times in 15 plate appearances. The former 2nd round draft pick has hit fairly well in the minors and has some power potential, but can't really play anywhere but first base. Barring injury to Pujols, we'll really only see him as a LH bat off the bench late in the year. Pete Kozma was the Cardinals' first round pick in 2007. The shortstop hasn't played above AA yet, and probably will be in AAA most of the year. He won't make much of a splash this season and has hit fairly lightly in AA, but has some solid defense. Zack Cox is probably the most intriguing fielder in the Cardinals minor league system. The Cardinals #2 prospect was a 1st round draft pick in 2010. In rookie ball, the 3B hit .400 and showed some good pop. Cox should hit fairly well- although probably won't be able to hit for both a high average and a high slugging, and is fairly underwhelming at 3B. He won't sniff the major leagues this year, but he should be an intriguing player to watch.

Outfield- Adron Chambers is a fairly intriguing player. The 38th round pick was the Cardinals version of Dave Sappelt last season. He jumped to being the Cardinals #15 prospect after the lefty hit .290 in AAA in 37 games. He can play all three outfield positions and has about a 1:2 BB: K ratio. We could see him get a cup of coffee in the majors this season if his strong showing continues.

OTHER JUNK

Which Cardinals are traitors? Only Ryan Franklin and Kyle Lohse have been Reds. And they both sucked horribly when they were Reds. Now? Not so much. Well... Franklin, at least. 

And now, what you've been waiting for. We're going to hand out some awards.

The Jim Edmonds Award: Given to the player who best exhibits classic Cardinal douchebaggery. The recipient: Chris Carpenter. Is there any other possibility? Carpenter basically epitomizes everything there is to hate about St. Louis baseball. To be honest, I was forced to give him this award because he didn't win the Cy Young and didn't know what to tell his son.

The David Eckstein "Annoying Little Shit" Award: Given to that scrappy player that really doesn't have any talent, but pisses us off anyway. This year's recipient: Skip Schumaker. First of all, his name is Skip. What kind of grown man is named Skip? The Cardinals have monopolized the league-wide award as well with past recipients including (obviously) David Eckstein, Bo Hart, Brendan Ryan, Aaron Miles, and Adam Kennedy. In short... If you're a Cardinals middle infielder, this is probably the only award you'll ever win.

The Scott Spezio Award: Give to the Cardinal with the most ridiculous facial hair. This year's recipient: Ryan Franklin. The ex-Red wins easily as his main competition, Brendan Ryan leaves for the AL. Challenger Jason Motte was reported as complaining that "Frankie just goes out and finds an ox before each season. Then he violates it. It's not even his own hair! This [expletive] is ox[expletive]. He also eats human excrement."

The Whiny Little Bitch Award: Given to the Cardinal who best exhibits the timeless words of Brandon Phillips. This year's recipient: Yadier Molina. In a shock defeat of incumbent Chris Carpenter, Molina vaulted past the competition by kicking at Phillip's bat and effectively starting a brawl. 

The Cheese Award: Given to the player that is named after cheese: Colby Rasmus. This isn't an actual award. His name is a cheese. What the balls?

The Jay Bruce Special Talent and All-Around Good Guy Award goes to no one because this is the St. Louis Cardinals we're talking about. They suck. Screw them. With a shovel. The sharp metal end. And then set them on fire.

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