While the Cubs and Astros are the consensus picks, there are smart analysts out there picking the Cardinals. There are reasons to believe this, but in the immortal words of The Dude, “The Dude cannot abide.” This lineup is not only bright Cardinal red, but a whole bunch of yellow. The second base situation is so bad that comparing it to an Ed Wood movie is an insult to Ed Wood, fuzzy sweater or not. Simply put, this team has the talent to win, but probably can’t keep that talent between the lines long enough to really challenge the Astros and Cubs.
As Walter Sobchak would say, “You’re about to enter a world of pain.”
Every position player has a light on the Cardinals, something I didn’t think had happened before. I checked and there’s never been more than six lights for the position players, even for AL teams where the DH is included in my lineups. The Cardinals can abide almost any injury as long as it’s not Albert Pujols. Pujols is gaining distance from his sprained elbow, but it remains a concern. His injury risk is reduced at first, but he remains yellow… and yet he’s the least risky player on the field.
Both Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen are yellow lights based on their position and past injuries. Rolen’s shoulder injury is factored in, but I’m not sure whether it’s accounted for correctly. While it drove him out of the playoffs in 2002, it’s very hard to put a timeframe on injuries that heal over the off-season. While it doesn’t affect anything, it makes it harder to gauge how serious the injury was and compare it to other similar injuries. I’ll err on the side of caution. Rolen has been able to play 150+ games over the past three seasons despite back and neck problems. This is some indication that grass may help, but the problems haven’t gone away either. It’s my guess that grass helps, but not significantly unless a few things happen while on turf.
Renteria is the lowest yellow possible, making it almost entirely on position. Renteria did deal with some on and off back problems late last season, but they seemed more related to fatigue than anything else. Renteria is so valuable to the Cards that it is tough to remove him from the lineup. The lack of a credible backup doesn’t help either.
Jim Edmonds is a well-known health risk with his dirty uniform style. A series of muscle strains and a balky shoulder kept him under 140 games last season. He starts 2004 with his throwing shoulder still recovering from February surgery, but increasing leg injuries are the biggest concern. At 33, Edmonds’ recovery time has to be questioned and adjustments to his playing style would help both Edmonds and his team.
Reggie Sanders and Ray Lankford come to St. Louis with extensive medical histories. They hope to flank Edmonds for at least 120 games each, keeping the plate appearances of Kerry Robinson down. Lankford missed 2003 with a serious back injury. There’s a connection between his back problems and his hamstring problems, so a flare-up of one should signal anyone desperate enough to use Lankford in the lineup to bail out. Sanders, a modern-day nomad, isn’t known for durability, but he’s never been badly injured. He’ll play 130 games or so, missing time with various minor ailments.
At catcher, Mike Matheny appears to be back at full strength in spring training. His touted throwing was only average last season after he rushed back from shoulder surgery. Matheny has credited a hot spring to workouts with Pujols, but the normal strain of catching will slow down any contributions.
At second base, the early leader in a gaggle of bad options was so bad that Tony Womack became the starter despite being only five months post-Tommy John surgery. Womack has not yet thrown in games. This is uncharted territory, so there’s no way to gauge the risk Womack is in. Even healthy, it’s still Tony Womack we’re talking about.
On the mound, the Cardinals have more problems. Beyond Matt Morris, a Tommy John survivor himself, the Cards have a bunch of question marks. Woody Williams has been effective since coming to St. Louis, but he’s also been used hard. His velocity has been down significantly and there’s some concern for his shoulder. While it’s been designated as tendinitis, there are whispers that it may be a rotator cuff problem.
Chris Carpenter missed all of 2003 (when you use this phrase more than once in a team report, there’s a problem) recovering from shoulder surgery, so his durability and stamina are the major questions. Carpenter has not looked good in spring, struggling with arm slots and his mechanics. Success after open labrum surgery is few and far between, so Carpenter earns his red light on stamina and surgery.
Jason Marquis comes over from the Braves organization with a reputation and a sore elbow. Details from the minors are tough to come by, but he had a couple starts pushed back last year due to elbow soreness. He’s had a spring outing pushed back for the same reason, so it’s important to keep an eye on how this develops.
Jason Isringhausen was phenomenal after returning slowly from labrum surgery in 2002. Most surprising was a complete recovery of mid-90’s velocity. Used properly, there’s little reason to expect that Izzy will not be effective, but he’s still one of the more risky closers out there. He’s still paying the price for abuse early in his career, even at age 31.
The Cardinals don’t do well in the medhead stats, and all that color shows why. Despite a high payroll and a great market for baseball, one of the things that the Cardinals don’t do well is assess risk. They’ve had some bad luck with players like J.D. Drew, but unless all that experience pays off this year and Barry Weinberg keeps everyone on the field, the Cardinals will be watching the playoffs and building towards their next playoff run–in their new stadium.