Opening Day Starting Lineup:
1. David Eckstein – SS
2. Chris Duncan – LF
3. Scott Rolen – 3B
4. Albert Pujols – 1B
5. Rick Ankiel – RF
6. Brendan Ryan – 2B
7. Jim Edmonds – CF
8. Yadier Molina – C
9. Adam Wainwright – P
Bench: Aaron Miles (S), Ryan Ludwick (R), Gary Bennett (R), So Taguchi (R), and Scott Spiezio (S).
Starting Rotation: 2. Mark Mulder, 3. Kip Wells, 4. Anthony Reyes, and 5. Braden Looper
Relievers: Ryan Franklin (R), Russ Springer (R), Randy Flores (L), Tyler Johnson (L), Troy Percival (R), and Josh Kinney.
Closer: Jason Isringhausen
Okay, okay…calm down! I know you’ve got your dander up…and I’m pretty sure I can guess a few reasons why…so let’s address those right out of the gate:
Missing Players: Adam Kennedy and Juan Encarnacion. I’m hoping we can unload both of them with the emergence of Ryan and Ankiel. Kennedy hasn’t produced and there is no indication he could ever produce well enough to justify losing a young talent like Brendan Ryan. My thoughts on Juan are well-documented here, so we’ll move on.
Pujols in Clean-up Spot: Okay, look…our power hitters are banged-up and aging, meaning Rolen and Edmonds can’t protect Pujols anymore. It’s one of the reasons he is having an off year this year – no protection. Duncan and Ankiel can’t do it – they are still too undeveloped and too liable to strike out. They are still in need of protection. So, let’s just give in and stop trying to protect Pujols and start using him to protect other hitters, like Rolen and Duncan. Rolen is still enough of a threat that he can protect a less-threatening player like Duncan, and maybe pitchers will challenge Duncan and Rolen more knowing they have a chance to escape the first inning without facing Pujols.
Second Half of the Order: I know I just got done saying Ankiel can’t REALLY protect Pujols, but what he can do is mop-up after him if Pujols doesn’t get it done or when Pujols walks because pitchers aren’t as scared of Ankiel. If they become scared, all the better because he then does offer Pujols a bit of protection. I toyed with the idea of Ankiel in the 3-spot, but I like Duncan in the 2-hole and two lefties in a row is bad business.
Then, Brendan Ryan has the ability to both pick-up any runners on ahead of him as well as set the table for our next hitter – Jim Edmonds. I know, it’s hard seeing Edmonds so far down in the lineup, but let’s face it – he’s not what he once was and this spot makes more sense for him than the 4 or 5 hole. It also, I think, gives him some unique RBI opportunities with Ankiel and Ryan in front. He is, in essence, the second half clean-up man.
Retaining Eckstein: His contract is up this year, but who you gonna’ get? He’s a great lead-off hitter, a multiple WS Champion, and an All-Star shortstop. His veteran SS tenure would be a great teaching tool for the younger Brendan Ryan. Remember, any slugging shortstop is going to cost quite a bit of money (more than the Cards are used to spending), and not every player on your team needs to or should be a slugger. I say sign Eck for a few more years and possibly move him to second and Ryan to SS later on.
Okay, so there it is…maybe I’m a little too taken with young guys like Ankiel and Ryan too early in their careers…but I don’t think so…all indications so far suggest they are part of our future.