Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s that time of year again – the time for us to settle back into our protective bubble where the Chicago Cubs are destined for greatness, and every other team in the National League Central is bound for spectacular failure. If you’d care to check out last year’s fare: St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros. Already featured for 2010: Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 2010 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means two things: (1) we’re all so deprived of real baseball action that we’re willing to treat meaningless Spring Training games like they’re the playoffs, and (2) the prognosticators are out in full force. Yes, every sports publication in the world puts out a season preview. Some are interesting, some aren’t. For the most part, folks just don’t have the time necessary to do the kind of in-depth preview that is going to be of any use to a reader that actually follows the team being previewed.
So most previews end up being pretty surface level, and boring. Well, we’re not going to do that here at Bleacher Nation. It’s much more interesting (notice how I subtly pat myself on the back?) to simply examine why the team currently sucks and is going to suck in 2010.
So enjoy – we’ve been previewing the suckiness (suckosity?) of the other teams in the National League Central over the past five weeks. Last – and least – the hated rival of the Chicago Cubs: the ugly, stinky, poopy, but unfortunately kind of good, St. Louis Cardinals. And how appropriate that the preview lands on April Fools Day – because the joke is probably on us.
Baseline for Suckitude
The baseline is high (or low, depending on your perspective) for the Cardinals, after winning the NL Central in 2009 with a 91-71 record. They finished a full 7.5 games ahead of the Cubs, in what was a bit of a laugher of a September. Fortunately, many of them still had the outward appearance of guys who suck, so there’s that.
Last year, we had this to say:
Given the team’s unsuccessful overtures this offseason toward Brian Fuentes and toward acquiring Matt Holiday, it is likely the Cardinals will have extra money in the coiffers to make an addition. One move will not, of course, take them from suck to not suck, but it might be just enough when combined with the Cardinals’ uncanny superability to play over their heads to be a thorn in the Cubs’ side.
And so it was – the additions of Matt Holiday, Mark DeRosa, and John Smoltz all helped the Cardinals pull away late in the season. Watching DeRosa help the Cardinals was, naturally, an extra kick in the crotch.
As far as Cardinal fan comments last year – well, it was a universe unto its own that is worth perusing if you have some spare time: 147 comments of humor, insight, and drool.
Sucky Offseason Moves
Sad Arrivals: RHP Brad Penny (free agent), LHP Rich Hill (minor league free agent), INF Ruben Gotay (minor league free agent), INF Felipe Lopez (free agent).
Happy Departures: RHP Brad Thompson (released, signed minor league deal with Royals), INF Joe Thurston (free agent, signed minor league deal with Braves), 3B Troy Glaus (free agent, signed with Braves), INF Mark DeRosa (free agent, signed with Giants), INF Khalil Greene (free agent, signed with Rangers), OF Rick Ankiel (free agent, signed with Royals), RHP Joel Pineiro (free agent, signed with Angels), RHP Todd Wellemeyer (free agent, signed minor league deal with Giants), RHP John Smoltz (free agent, unsigned).
On first glance, it looks like the Cardinals added almost nothing, and lost a ton. But digging deeper, that might just be wishful thinking. Of the players that left, only Joel Pineiro was a full-year contributor who will be missed. Rick Ankiel was terrible last year when he wasn’t trying to eat wall, Mark DeRosa was only around for a couple months and wasn’t terribly productive in that time, and Todd Wellemeyer never quite became the Dave Duncan ball of magic that, well, Joel Pineiro became.
Speaking of whom, Pineiro’s loss is mitigated by Brad Penny’s arrival – a guy who is a virtual lock to have a frustratingly dominant 2010. You can also consider Matt Holliday an improvement since the Cards get him for a full year this go around.
The big addition, of course, was new hitting coach, Mark McGwire, who will doubtlessly serve as an appropriate and excellent mentor to the Cardinals’ young hitters.
Their Very Own Blogoverse Thinks They Suck
It may shock you to learn that finding tidbits of misery from hardcore Cardinal fans is no easy task. If there is a fan base, outside of St. Louis, more diametrically opposed to that of the Chicago Cubs in terms of confidence in their team, I don’t know ’em. Thus, you have to dig deep to see any signs of concern or trouble. For example, from a recent state-of-the-Spring type post at Viva El Birdos:
On the pitching side, it’s a little harder, honestly. Very few of the Cardinal pitchers have really stood out to this point. All the starters have been very up and down. Franklin has been non-ironically awful; most of his bullpen mates have failed to distinguish themselves with great performances.
Ok, so some Cardinals pitchers have struggled this Spring. You don’t have to be a chicken little of Cub fan proportions to note something like that. Still, there is a sense that if Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter aren’t absolutely dominant, there could be trouble. And it is true that the bullpen could be a glaring weak spot for the Cards. So, well, there’s that.
The Suckiest Part of Their Suck
Indeed it is the bullpen. The main body of the Cardinal pen last year was a Frankenstein monster of misfits, melted down and slapped together in a manner that would prove disastrous for, well, any other team. But they put pixie dust in the water down there, and the pen was fantastic. Closer Ryan Franklin was out of his mind, with an ERA under two. Setting him up were a group of guys you’ll still scratch your head to pick out of a lineup, but who were simply fantastic: Kyle McClellan, Trevor Miller, Dennys Reyes, Blake Hawksworth, and the list goes on. I know what you’re thinking – um, so where exactly is the suck?
Isn’t it obvious? The law of averages. Ryan Franklin – very good for his career, but never dominant – is not going to repeat his 2009 performance (he was falling off at the end of the year as it was). Trevor Miller is old and was kind of average-ish until last year. Kyle McClellan and Blake Hawksworth were guys who finally stepped up in the bigs, but they’re, like, in their mid to late 20s. Thus, it was a fluke, not a case of top prospects coming up.
Convinced? Me either. But it’s what I got.
And in the End
They … (pause) … suck.
Writing this post brought a curious mix of pleasure and trepidation. I was up against the countervailing forces of a natural, strong antipathy for the Cardinals (which made it so very pleasant and easy to explain how they suck), and the brutal truth that this is the best team in the NL Central on paper (which makes me cringe just saying it).
The Cardinals are not a particularly deep team, but as they’ve proved for years, concentrated talent often wins out over depth. They’ve got two of the best pitchers in baseball and two of the best hitters in baseball. Like it or lump it, that means something, and it leads to wins.
The rotation could have some issues. Chris Carpenter was tremendous last year – but more importantly, he was relatively healthy, which is always the rub with him. Behind him, Adam Wainwright continues to dominate, which is frustrating as hell. Losing Joel Pineiro will hurt, but then again, who would have thought he would have been so great for the Cardinals last year? So I’m sure Brad Penny will have no problem getting his career back on track, and taking up Pineiro’s mantle. Behind the front three, it’s Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia, who just won the spot. Not at all inspiring, but Cardinals pitchers always pitch over their head. In that regard, Dave Duncan is everything that Mark McGwire – I’m guessing – is not. Short of injuries, the rotation will probably be fine.
Offensively, they’ll hit. There’s just no way around it. Sure, Holliday will not be the best hitter in baseball like he was in his short time in St. Louis last year, but Pujols probably will be the best hitter in baseball. Rasmus will probably improve, and could very well bounce back. The left side of the infield is relatively unproven, so there’s some hope for negativity there. Maybe Ryan Ludwick will continue his disappearing act and the Molina de jure will do nothing at the plate.
So in the end, while the Cardinals do suck – and suck hard, they do – they don’t really suck for all the right reasons. The on-the-field reasons. They suck because I will it to be so. They suck because I’m jealous. They suck because they’re, well, the Cardinals.