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.
The 2011 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means 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 to simply examine/invent why the team currently sucks and is going to suck in 2011. Of course, had I anticipated the 2010 success of many NL Central teams, coupled with various excellent off-season moves, I may not have tied myself to such a cantankerous exercise. Let’s just say, establishing that the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals are going to suck in 2011 is not an easy enterprise. But this is the life I have chosen, so live it I must.
We’ve already previewed (with difficulty) the suckiness of the Cincinnati Reds and the suckiness of the Milwaukee Brewers, and (with ease) the suckiness of the Houston Astros. The suckiness of the Pittsburgh Pirates wrote itself. And now, we conclude the 2011 series with what may prove easier than I once thought: the suckiness of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Baseline for Suckitude
The Cardinals finished second in the Central last year, behind the surprising Reds. Their 86-76 record was good enough for sixth in the NL, which is hardly sucky, save for the fact that it feels like the Cardinals always make the playoffs. Last year, they didn’t. Huzzah.
Sucky Offseason Moves
Sad Arrivals: C Gerald Laird (free agent), RF Lance Berkman (free agent), LHP Brian Tallet (free agent), SS Ryan Theriot (trade with Dodgers), RHP Miguel Batista (free agent), RHP Ian Snell (free agent), INF Ramon Vazquez (minor league free agent), INF Nick Punto (free agent).
Happy Departures: INF Brendan Ryan (traded to Mariners), LHP Dennys Reyes (free agent, signed with Phillies), RHP Blake Hawksworth (traded to Dodgers), RHP Brad Penny (free agent, signed with Tigers), RHP Jeff Suppan (free agent, signed minor league contract with Giants), RHP Mike MacDougal (free agent, signed minor league deal with Dodgers), 3B Pedro Feliz (free agent, signed minor league deal with Royals), OF Randy Winn (free agent, signed minor league deal with Orioles), LHP Dennys Reyes (free agent, signed minor league deal with Red Sox), INF Aaron Miles (free agent, signed minor league deal with Dodgers).
Even if you don’t consider the loss of Adam Wainwright or the Albert Pujols circus, the Cardinals have had a crappy offseason. Brady Penny didn’t end up offering much in the way of production, but he was certainly a valuable rotation piece. Brendan Ryan is an excellent defensive infielder, even if he is a knucklehead. And dear God, the Cardinals lost Aaron Miles! Again!
I will admit that adding Berkman was a risk worth taking (though counting on him for 162 in the outfield is asking for an adventure of Goonies-esque proportions), but taking on Ryan Theriot – indeed to give up a decent reliever in Blake Hawksworth for the privilege of taking on Theriot – is something the Cardinals never would have done under the Walt Jocketty regime. Then again, even Jocketty – now the GM of the Reds (damnit) – had a penchant for picking up guys you thought were trash, and polishing them up real nice.
Their Very Own Blogoverse Thinks They Suck
Predictably, the vast majority of Cardinal blog negativity this Winter has focused on the loss of ace Adam Wainwright for the year. Indeed, so widespread was the doom and gloom that Viva El Birdos put together a stages of grief post based solely on the injury. Among the lowlights:
1. Denial. “This can’t be happening, not to Adam Wainwright. Adam Wainwright is country-strong. He’s thrown 463 innings over the last two years, and those two years are almost identical! He’s thrown 200 innings three years out of the last four and he’s out of the injury nexus!”
2. Anger. “I am a hurricane of Adam Wainwright-related retribution. I’m here to chew bubblegum and yell at Jonny Gomes, and he’s chewing all the bubblegum. I just made it rain in Jupiter by thinking about Adam Wainwright’s right elbow. If Brandon Phillips so much as wishes him good luck I will hold Miguel Cairo for ransom until Walt Jocketty trades him back to the Indians. All of a sudden whenever I concentrate on Kyle Lohse there’s this ball of pure hate energy I can create in the palm of my hand, and I’m afraid of my own power now, but I’ll use it on you, I really will.”
3. Bargaining. “I will teach you the arcane and terrifying secrets of hate-balls if you can do something about Adam Wainwright’s right elbow. I don’t care if Albert Pujols signs, just do something about this.”
3.5 Re-Negotiating. “Actually, I need Albert Pujols to sign, too, and do something about his elbow, if you could.”
4. Depression. “Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the 2007 Cardinals.”
It goes on from there. I’m thinking the “acceptance” part is there just to carry the gimmick forward.
The Suckiest Part of Their Suck
I want to say that it’s the rotation now that Wainwright is gone. But the Cards still have one of the best starters in baseball (Carpenter), one of the best young arms in the Central (Garcia), a productive number two/three (Westbrook), and a pitching coach who bleeds voodoo sauce (Dave Duncan).
Besides, when the Lord serves you up an opportunity like this, you take it. The suckiest part of the Cardinals’ suck? It needs only visual reiteration:
And in the End
I’ll admit that I’ve suffered through a fair bit of handwringing over the past few months, knowing that I was going to have to write this post. The Cardinals, whether a down year or not, are the big boys. We hate them for good reason, and describing how they suck is not only a labor of love, it’s something at which I hope to succeed. And the Cardinals usually make it pretty hard, what with their consistent success and intimidating roster.
But then they threw me a couple bones. Albert Pujols cast a pall over the entire season, and Adam Wainwright’s elbow hopped on that pall, riding it like so many mechanical bulls of doom. Preview saved.
Though… is it really? There are plenty of reasons to believe the Pujols circus will actually be a quiet affair: (1) Pujols is the consummate professional, and it’s hard to see him allowing his impending free agency to become a distraction; (2) Pujols is still very, very likely to return to St. Louis after the season; and (3) Pujols is simply that good.
As for Wainwright, it hurts. No doubt. But the Cardinal rotation may prove resilient. Every year I say it, and every year it proves prescient: some guy you’ve never heard of will step up and become a meaningful contributor. I’d love to call it luck, but after years after the same thing, it’s simply organizational competence (though I understand why we, as Cubs fans, might not recognize it). The guy this year? It might well be reliever cum starter Kyle McClellan. And increasingly successful reliever over the past three years, McClellan has been given the unenviable task of replacing Adam Wainwright in the rotation. So far – with Spring Training caveats applied liberally – he’s been plenty up to the task: in five Spring starts, he sports a groan-inducing 0.78 ERA. Freaking Dave Duncan.
And then there’s the lineup. As loathe to face facts as I might be, the lineup will be productive. Obviously there’s Pujols and Matt Holliday. Throw in a very underrated Colby Rasmus, a probably productive David Freese, and a might-still-have-a-lot-in-the-tank Lance Berkman, and you’ve got a lineup that I’d confidently put up against the Brewers’ as the best in the Central.
But enough love taps. The fact remains, the defense on this team has been profoundly downgraded over years past; pitching, too. If ever there was a team that was poised to test the old pitching and defense adage, it’s this one. Ryan Theriot had given us glimpses of the defensive liability he was set to become at second base, to say nothing of the defensive liability he already was at shortstop. Brendan Ryan, this guy is not. Adding Lance Berkman – who has not played regularly in the outfield since the Bush administration – in a corner spot, opposite yet another questionable defensive player in Matt Holliday, is not recipe for cutting down on the doubles.
On the pitching side, Chris Carpenter is one year older – he’ll turn a stately 36 in April. Jake Westbrook is inconsistent. Jaime Garcia has just one successful season under his belt (and his name is spelled weird). McClellan is unproven as a starter. And Kyle Lohse is Kyle Lohse. There’s plenty of room for suck.
Ultimately, can you rightly say that this Cardinal team is, on paper, the equal of the 2010 iteration? No. It’s undoubtedly worse. And that team won only 86 games. Fall just five off that pace, and you’ve got a .500 team, which, in Cardinal world, is suck.
And they do. Yes, oh yes, they do.
The Cardinals suck.