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Opening Day Roster Prediction #1…

We’re more than 20 days away from Opening Day 2010. The Cardinals are starting to shake off the Winter funk and tighten up in the field. Warm weather has briefly returned to the great state of Missouri. Sounds like the perfect time to make our first Opening Day roster prediction of the season.

Here goes…

Starting Lineup:

1. Skip Schumaker 2B
2. David Freese 3B
3. Albert Pujols 1B
4. Matt Holliday LF
5. Ryan Ludwick RF
6. Colby Rasmus CF
7. Yadier Molina C
8. Brendan Ryan SS
9. Chris Carpenter P

Remaining Starting Pitchers:

1. Adam Wainwright R
2. Kyle Lohse R
3. Brad Penny R
4. Rich Hill L

Relief Pitchers:

1. Kyle McClellan R
2. Ryan Franklin R-Closer
3. Dennys Reyes L
4. Trever Miller L
5. Mitchell Boggs R
6. Jason Motte R

Bench Players:

1. Felipe Lopez S-INF/OF
2. Jason LaRue R-C
3. Joe Mather R-INF/OF
4. Nick Stavinoha R-OF
5. Julio Lugo R-INF
6. Allen Craig R-INF/OF

Who gets left out in the cold?
Blake Hawksworth. Hawk pitched surprisingly well last season – especially in the eigth inning when the team needed a late-inning setup man – but many feel his value could be in the rotation. A guy like Boggs, however, projects as a hard throwing reliever out of the ‘pen. Plus, there’s this little matter of Brad Penny. See, Penny only signed a one-year contract, and he’ll certainly leave next season. Long story short, the youth movement will be coming on in force for the 2011 rotation. With two spots up for grabs – and the likes of K-Mac, Hawk, and Garcia in the mix – the Cards minor league system is poised to make a grand showing next Spring.

How is that bad for Hawk? He needs innings. He needs to pitch. If the Cardinals truly feel he will be a Major League starter, you may see him ticketed for regular starts in Memphis. Mark Jamie Garcia down for the same for much the same reason – but also because he’s still not far enough removed from surgery to carry a Major League workload in a run for the pennant. Send the kids to Memphis and let them prep for rotation grabs next season (not to mention ready-made backup plans if a starter goes down in St. Louis).

Who gets a backhanded compliment?
Kyle McClellan. K-Mac could end up being the one guy on the Cardinals roster who pitches so well that he costs himself what he wants – a spot in the rotation. When you break down the Cards’ bullpen, it’s clear we’re lean on dependable right-handed relief. Boggs is an experiment of sorts, Motte is still trying to figure things out, and Frankie is Frankie. Honestly, it’s kind of a surprise to be in this situation after struggling to find stable lefties out of the ‘pen the last few seasons. Sure, Hawksworth could fill a similar role as McClellan, but K-Mac brings valuable experience that Hawk just doesn’t have. Tony and Dunc are gonna’ like that…especially if Hill continues to pitch well.

When it comes down to it, a strong lefty starter in the rotation and a semi-veteran righty reliever in the ‘pen is a better combination. I hate to say it – ’cause I like K-Mac so much – but that’s the way I see it.

Youth Infusion…
Look at all the hormones on the bench. Nick “the Stick”, Joey Bombs, and Allen “The Cat” Craig (so nicknamed for the way he likes to stalk and hop the foul line before games). The way we’re going, all of ’em may hit their way onto the big league club. And most of them have some form of flexibility. Both Craig and Mather can play 3B, 1B, and the OF if needed. Stav can play OF, 1B, and even act as an emergency catcher. And you can’t forget Mather’s ability to play a right-handed center field. Add it all together and that’s a versatile package Tony has to like. But that’s not even the half of it. These guys are hittin’! Mather’s become a Spring Time RBI Machine, Stavinoha is becoming the most consistent hitter of the short season, and Craig is starting hot after a delayed debut.

Look…Tony has Lopez to back up the young Freese at 3B, but if he has Mather and Craig to switch in at third, then Flip gets to spell Skip at 2B against lefties, Ryan at SS to rest his wrist, and that doesn’t even count being able to keep the switch-hitting Lopez as a weapon off the bench (’cause you know we’re short on lefties). It just makes too much sense NOT to include all these guys on the bench. Especially with Albert and Holliday aching.

Who is on the bubble?
Julio Lugo. The guy is just extraneous at this point – and I get the impression he won’t be happy with it once the season starts. Look for him to be traded or flat-out released sooner rather than later.

What could still happen?
Well…a lot could still happen, but specifically look for a way for Hawksworth to be in the ‘pen. If this does happen, Lugo may be the casuality. Tony could decide to carry an extra pitcher and just ditch his extra utility guy. Or Lugo could get traded and bring about the same result.

Also, don’t count on Kyle McClellan not to force Tony’s hand. If the guy pitches like he did in his first start, and Hill gives him any kind of window, he may just throw his way onto this team. In that case, Hill won’t make it and Hawk probably will…which could make trading Lugo to acquire another righty reliever all the more likely (perhaps with a bit more flavor added to the deal).

Finally, Brendan Ryan ain’t healthy, yet. Any number of things could go wrong to land him on the DL (I personally think the guy has the metabolism and healing ability of a 7 year old…so I think he’ll make it). If that happens, maybe we see Tyler Greene, or maybe Tony sticks with Lugo and Lopez. Who knows?

Anyway…that’s my first prediction of the year. The next couple weeks should be very interesting.

GO CARDS!!!!

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