The baseball season starts today, but as I look out my hotel window in New York I see some rain, lots of clouds and people bundled in coats and jackets.
Still, this is an exciting day. For me, especially, because I have such deep passion for the game and for the St. Louis Cardinals.
I’m at once anticipating and dreading the season, feelings to which I suspect all fans can relate. I have high hopes for the Cardinals but legitimate concerns.
1) Starting pitching. Adam Wainwright is out after Tommy John surgery. Former reliever Kyle McClellan is in the rotation. I like McClellan, but he’s no Wainwright. Which means Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse need to be good. Really good. Starting pitchers need to get into the sixth and, even better, seventh and eighth innings of games. I hope this group is able to do that consistently. I have my doubts.
2) The bullpen. The Cardinals have a shaky closer, Ryan Franklin. He usually gets the job done, but when he doesn’t things can get really ugly really fast. I keep waiting for fire-ballers Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs to solidify themselves as outstanding components of the pen, and I’m still waiting. This group makes me nervous.
3) Lance Berkman. He’s 35. He used to be one of the best hitters in the game but last season was not good for Berkman, who was injured and ultimately dealt from Houston to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline. Not only are the Cardinals hoping for an offensive resurrection from Berkman, they’re moving him to right field, a position he hasn’t played in a while. Keeping my fingers crossed. Definitely upside here if Berkman can revert to form, but it’s an $8 million risk.
4) David Freese. Can the third baseman stay healthy for a full season. This guy has a live bat and crushes to all fields. I love his game. But he’s got to be in the game and his chronically-injured ankles aren’t a guarantee to hold up.
5) Ryan Theriot. He’s the Cardinals’ new shortstop. Brendan Ryan, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game – and one of the worst hitters – was traded to Seattle. I have always thought Theriot was a pretty good player, but he didn’t hit much this spring and he’s not as good defensively as Ryan. We’ll see.
I think the Cardinals could win the National League Central and I think they could finish fourth. Cincinnati, Milwaukee and the Cubs are factors. Houston has good pitching but nothing else. Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh.
I like it that the Cardinals are sending Chris Carpenter to the mound today against the San Diego Padres. I like it that Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday are going to hit 3-4 in the lineup. I think center fielder Colby Rasmus, still only 24, is going to have a breakout year. Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the game. I think Skip Schumaker bounces back from a disappointing offensive season in 2010 to hit his customary .300.
If things go true to form, I’ll watch probably 120 Cardinals games this season. Maybe more. It’s an emotional ringer I go through every summer, but I can never turn back. I’ve been this way with this team for close to 50 years.
There are things I don’t want to think about much as the season begins, Albert Pujols’ contract situation being at the top of the list. There’s nothing I can do about that, so I’m just going to enjoy Pujols and hope this won’t be his last season in a Cardinals uniform. If it is, I’ll deal with that when the time comes.
I’m sure most of you have your favorite team, too, and I wish you luck. It’s always great when you’re team is 0-0. Now, if the Cardinals fall to 0-1 today against San Diego, I’m going to be pretty frustrated. If they’re 1-0, it’ll have been a good day. But the thing about baseball is that the next game is always just around the corner.
2. New York
3. Tampa Bay
5. Kansas City
3. Los Angeles Angels
Oakland over New York
Boston over Texas (wild card)
Boston over Oakland
5. New York
1. St. Louis (I hate everyone else)
2. San Francisco
3. Los Angeles
4. San Diego
Philadelphia over San Francisco (wild card)
Colorado over St. Louis
Colorado over Philadelphia
Boston over Colorado