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Baseball is officially backPosted Wednesday, April 4, 2012, at 1:03 PM
Get out and smell the pollen folks because baseball season is officially back in swing today.
Trucks are hauling equipment back to St. Louis and players are getting in the zone as tonight the Cardinals will take on the Miami Marlins as they christen their new stadium.
The closer we get to the season, the more optimistic I feel about the team and its chances moving into this new era of Cardinal baseball.
At the helm, Mike Matheny has some big shoes to fill. This spring, he has done well, but I'm anxious to see how that goes at the major league level. We won't be able to make a real judgment until later in the season. One thing is for sure - he has some big shoes to fill.
In terms of pitching, I think we look pretty solid at this point. Despite losing Carpenter for a month or two, Adam Wainwright, one year removed from Tommy John surgery, seems to be getting back into the groove. Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn seem to be getting into form, but the big surprises are with Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse. The 2011 numbers four and five starters pitched in spring training like numbers one and two. In turn, Lohse gets tonight's Opening Day nod and I feel pretty good about it.
If he can hang in and get quality starts (6+ innings, 3 runs or less), then I think this team will be just fine.
I still think this is Garcia's year to come out of his shell. He needs to be able to pitch on the road and keep his head on straight when he gets into trouble, but he earned some valuable experience in the postseason that will hopefully trickle over.
The infield looks good, but with a couple of question marks. I have no doubts about Lance Berkman at first base as long as he stays healthy. Tyler Greene at second or short, will be good if he can get the hang of hitting at the major league level. He does a great job in the minors, but has struggled to make the transition. This could be his year.
Daniel Descalso will either fill in at second if Furcal is out, or play as a very competent defensive utility man. Either way, I expect to see quite a bit of him in 2012. Furcal will be an asset IF he's healthy and IF he can find his groove. For the moment I am assuming his slump is due to an offseason appendectomy and an abbreviated training schedule. If you just have to slump, spring training is the place to do it.
At third, we have David Freese. While he is another health question mark, he continues to grow both offensively and defensively. I understand that he's put in a lot of defensive training in the offseason. Hopefully we won't see another ball conk him on the forehead. If Freese gets hot, no pun intended, he has the ability to make a huge difference on this team. With good offense at the five or six spot in the lineup, this team could be difficult to stop.
In the outfield, the team looks great. Matt Holliday will be stepping out from behind Albert Pujols' shadow and I'm curious to see how he does. He seems to be taking a more "out front" role with the team which is great to see. Carlos Beltran will be bouncing between right field and center throughout the season and, if his legs hold up, should be a fantastic addition to a club who just lost its biggest offensive producer.
Jon Jay will be the everyday man at center and has quietly put up solid numbers throughout the spring. He hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but shouldn't be ignored. He still has the potential to be a break-out player.
Allen Craig will return as well and be platooned between RF and 1B. His bat will also be a real asset.
Yadier Molina will still be the team anchor behind home plate and should be as good as ever. After a stellar 2011, he is now a Cardinal for life and is ready to show why he deserved the big bucks that he received.
In terms of line-up, here is how things should look:
1. Rafael Furcal
2. Carlos Beltran
3. Matt Holliday
4. Lance Berkman
5. David Freese
6. Yadier Molina
7. Jon Jay
8. Tyler Greene or Daniel Descalso
Not too shabby. You have power potential from basically 1-8 with serious threats at 2-6. Matt Holliday should see plenty of hitable pitches in 2012.
In terms of speed, which I hope we are going to see more of, there are four guys capable of stealing (1,5,7,8) with three of those (Greene, Furcal and even Jay) being serious threats. If Eric Komatsu gets any amount of time in the line-up he's another guy light on his feet that likes to run.
If Furcal goes down at any point you can expect to see Greene in the top spot.
That should make for an interesting season.
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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.
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