Offseason Swap Series: St. Louis Cardinals
By Mike Brandyberry
This season the Indians have five interleague opponents and we will try to get five good answers from each as we complete the final leg of our blog swap before heading into full-fledged Spring Training coverage. This week, we start with the World Series Champion, St. Louis Cardinals. You could argue that no team in baseball has made more news since the middle of September as the Cards. We caught up with blogger Daniel Shoptaw of the blog, C70 At The Bat, to talk about the Cardinals wild September and October and their offseason headlines.
DTTWLN #1-The Cardinals run to the 2011 World Series crown has to be one of the most improbable runs in baseball history, considering the September comeback, defeating the favored Phillies and the Game 6 comeback, twice. I have no idea how old you are, or when you became a Cardinals’ fan, but where in your sports life does this Cardinals run rank?
I’m 36 and I’ve been following the Cards pretty closely since 1987. I’m not sure if 2006 or 2011 was more improbable, but I’d probably lean toward ’11 just because of September. Not only did they have to play well, but they needed so much extra help–and they got it. It’s an impressive run that will stay with me all of my life, because it teaches the lessons that you never know about baseball, that if you play hard good things can happen. Plus it’s going to be great seeing that Freese home run (even though the triple was more dramatic) on highlight packages every October.
DTTWLN #2-Coming off of the World Series victory, did Cardinal fans believe Albert Pujols would really leave? There are some differences for sure, but the similarities to LeBron James are definitely there. Cleveland fans never really believed the ESPN hype that he would leave. Ohio and Cleveland was all he knew, the Cavs were winning and close to a champion caliber team and then suddenly one day, the whole secret plan with Miami emerged. What were fans thoughts heading into free agency, when they heard he was leaving and how do you think he will be received whenever he returns?
Honestly, I never did think he was going to leave. I thought he’d shop around for a big offer, get that personal satisfaction of “this is what I’m worth” and then take a competitive but smaller offer from the Cardinals. I think a lot of fans were in the same boat, that they didn’t see him taking off. There were some that were prepared for it and some that wanted him to leave if it was going to break the bank, but on the whole it was well-assumed that #5 would be at first for 2012 and going forward.
When he left, emotions ran the gamut from depression to betrayal to anger to acceptance to relief. That kind of money was hard to compete with in the St. Louis market and there seems to have been some relationship issues over the past few years that were hard to reconcile as well. I hated to see him go, hated to have the rare opportunity of seeing our own version of Stan Musial. I don’t exaggerate when I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Pujols with his own Medal of Honor push when he was later on in life if he’d stayed in one place. Now he’s not an icon, he’s just a great player.
It’s probably a very good thing that he went to the American League and to a team that isn’t scheduled to be in Busch Stadium anytime soon. I think time will heal a lot of wounds, though I’m not as certain about his number being retired and a statue up of him as I used to be. Eventually he’d be well-received. Right now, I’m just surprised that the statue that was put up next to his restaurant this fall is still in one piece.
DTTWLN #3-How big of a loss will Tony LaRussa, and now Dave Duncan, be to the franchise and the 2012 team? What has been in place for a decade and a half is all new. Meanwhile, how surprised were you when Mike Matheny was hired and does anyone have any idea what to expect from him?
Losing that kind of experience is going to be a big deal. It helps that this is a veteran club who knows how to go about their business and that the organization has been imbued with the wisdom of TLR for a long, long time. There’s no one in the system that doesn’t have an idea of how things are supposed to be run.
That said, now Jose Oquendo is the only coach that was on this staff after the 2009 season. That’s a mere two years ago. And it’s not like experienced guys have been imported–this is a young, inexperienced coaching staff. On the plus side, that may mean for a little more flexibility and open-mindedness. On the down side, that’s a steep learning curve.
I was a little surprised that Mike Matheny got the job, though once his name was released as a candidate, I thought it was a good possibility. John Mozeliak is really impressed with Matheny, plus it gives him a chance to put his stamp on this organization. For better or worse, there’s no doubt where the power in St. Louis lies now.
DTTWLN #4-What are the plans with free agent acquisition, Carlos Beltran? Where in the outfield will he play and how confident are you and fans that he can stay helathy and contribute all season?
The initial plan for Beltran is for him to start in right field while Allen Craig continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. Craig is scheduled to return in early May, which is likely when the merry-go-round will begin. Matheny is likely to let Craig fill in for Lance Berkman at first and Matt Holliday in left and play right when Beltran moves over to center to give time off to Jon Jay. The good part of this plan is that it keeps Beltran rested and less likely to get hurt over the course of the year, plus it covers young players like Craig and Jay in case they struggle. I think Beltran is going to be a very good addition to this team.
DTTWLN #5-The addition of Beltran, loss of Pujols and return of Adam Wainwright will have a great impact on the 25-man roster. That combined with a new coaching staff, where do you realistically believe the Cardinals will finish in 2012?
You start with the fact that the Cardinals won 90 games last year. Factor in how many the team could have won with Wainwright and the bullpen as it is currently constituted and I think you could add 7-8 wins to that total. I think the net loss of Pujols when factoring in the addition of Beltran isn’t going to be nearly that, and I’m guessing the new coaching staff may be a neutral factor, losing games TLR would have won and winning some games he might have loss. I’d say 90-95 wins is still a reasonable expectation, and with the rest of the NL Central getting weaker (save maybe Cincinnati) I’m thinking they could win the division and make a play for back-to-back titles.
In an era where economics dictate your chances and place in the standings, the 2012 Cardinals probably have as wide a range as any team in their expectations. With the loss of a star for this generation and a Hall of Fame manager, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals season unfolds by the time they match up with the Tribe in mid-June.
Photo: Jeff Curry/Getty Images