It doesn’t really feel like Opening Day has happened, yet…but it has…and Cardinals baseball is back! #12 in ’12!!! Okay, okay…in case you missed it after the game last night, the UCB Radio Hour aired at its normal time and place…and as always, we spent time afterwards unpacking and expanding on a few points the co-hosts touched on. So…CLICK HERE if you haven’t listened yet…otherwise, let’s get into it:
Well…that answers that question. With the departure of Pujols in the St. Louis lineup, everyone was wondering how the new Cardinals offense would be pitched. For 11 years, pitchers avoided Pujols at all costs. They walked him, they threw outside the zone, etc. Now, Holliday, Berkman, and Freese occupy the middle of the order. And the Marlins proceeded to calmly walk Lance Berkman twice with runners on. My first thought is that the Marlins clearly – and rightly – prefer to pitch to David Freese with a right-handed pitcher than pitch to a left-handed swinging Berkman. That makes total sense. My second thought is, “How long will this continue before Matheny is forced to move Beltran out of the two hole and slot him in the five hole?” I think David Freese is an excellent hitter – but until he A) Puts together a full season of good numbers and B) Hits 20 – 30 home runs in a season…this is going to happen. Despite his postseason success, MLB pitchers aren’t stupid. They know exactly what we all know. Freese has to show he can be a dangerous hitter in the lineup every day. If he can’t…then the Cardinals have to protect Berkman. And the only name in the lineup capable of doing that – aside from Holliday – is Carlos Beltran.
Would Mark McGwire be hired as a hitting coach outside of St. Louis? Yes. Much was made about the decision to hire a power hitter as a hitting coach. I think smart fans are now beyond the “What does he know about hitting…all he did was take steroids and hit home runs” mentality. His approach is well-grounded, respected, and just makes sense. Nearly everyone in baseball talks with respect about McGwire’s knowledge of and approach to hitting. This is not a St. Louis secret. So then the question becomes, “What about the steroid stuff?” First of all, the steroid stuff…to many…is behind us. That was then, this is now. Many former users are playing/instructing in baseball. McGwire is not alone in that. Second, most MLB cities are not as “purist” as St. Louis. I don’t mean that as an insult – I count myself in that purist group – but it’s just a fact. Most MLB cities are much more forgiving…especially in American League markets. They simply don’t care – at least not now or as much as cities like St. Louis do. Their questions go like this: “Will he help us hit? Will he help us win? Will I see more runs scored by my team? Cool…hire him.” Now…it should be noted that the position of hitting coach is often given to players with an attachment or history with the team and/or managers. So, it’s very possible McGwire could be rejected simply because another candidate fit with the organization better…but most teams would not reject him based on a perceived lack of coaching ability and/or hitting knowledge or because of his steroid history.
With a newfound committment to seeing Tyler Greene play, many assumed a lack of opportunities would not be his problem…but what if Daniel Descalso continues to produce? Greene is a rare talent at the middle infield postion(s). I’ve written extensively about my excitement over his bat. But that may not be the issue, now. Daniel Descalso is getting it done…in October, in Spring Training, and now in the regular season. I have to believe his level of play is going to significantly impact Tyler Greene’s potential opportunities. Now, I understand the start last night on Opening Day. It was about a right-handed pitcher (an ace) versus a lefty who had a high on-base percentage and a better track record at this level. Descalso just had a better chance of competing at this time against an MLB ace. But what about going forward? I wonder just how many chances Greene will get to show he can be the better everyday option? And will the pressure of a regular season competition get to him?
I get really irritated everytime I hear someone characterize Tony La Russa’s personality in a way that suggests it is the same as the guy on Tony TV every night. And now people are comparing him to Matheny as if the two are night and day different. Bernie touched on this in the Post Dispatch today, but let me say it here…Matheny is not as “soft” as many portray him, and Tony La Russa was not as “harsh” as many believed him to be. Mike is a competative guy…a hard-nosed competative guy…who will not hesitate to call a player out or correct an issue. He demands the most out of his guys, and they know it. But he also sports a softer public personality than TLR did, and that influences a lot of fans who want to generalize a personality trait seen on TV. Think about this…I believe it was last night that I heard a Cardinal player during the pre-game show say Matheny was a lot the same as TLR was in camp…and then as an example, the player cited Matheny’s out-of-his-way effort to build relationships with players during workouts, often roaming the fields to talk to different guys each day. Both Matheny and TLR are hard-nosed competators who focus on player relationships. That’s why opponents hate TLR but most vets love to play for him. And then there is the false notion that Tony hated young guys. Consider this…earlier this week, I read an account of rookie hazing day in 2011 for the Cardinals. The reason it was signficant and newsworthy? Because Tony had never previously allowed it. Why? Because he felt it alienated the young guys. Simply put, he wanted to protect the young players and make them feel like they were part of the team. Tony didn’t hate young players (no more than Matheny “prefers” them)…he just had a different, private method and idea about how to use, include, and develop them. Okay, okay…this is getting long. Let me say this: Many fans make the mistake of believing the public, media room persona of Tony La Russa is his true personality. It’s just not. And don’t cite “other teams hate him” stuff to me…they’re supposed to hate him. He beats them…and he uses any method available to him to do it. And I’ll tell you this…he may be more liked by others outside the organization…but Mike Matheny is not all that different. Why do you think Matheny and La Russa like each other so much?
Just a quick word on the combustibility of the Marlins’ club. It is a very real concern. It’s all well and good to “win the offseason” with your free agent signings, and it’s neat as neat can be to unveil a new stadium and a new look logo to your fan base. But when it comes down to it, you have to win games…and to do that, you have to have something that resembles…wait for it…”chemistry.” Now, that doesn’t mean a team with no chemistry can’t win…it just makes it that much harder to do. As an example, I refer you to the ball that rolled between Reyes and Ramirez last night. One of them should have fielded that grounder. It was playable…at least to prevent extra bases. But Ramirez thought Reyes was going to get it…and Reyes was out of position. Remember, Reyes bumped Ramirez from SS to 3B this year…and Ramirez was not happy about it. Now add into that mix personalities like Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen…and even Logan Morrison…and you are simply asking for trouble. Don’t get me wrong…I believe the Marlins are going to push the Braves and Phillies this year…but I think a lot of people picking the Marlins to grab a Wild Card spot aren’t taking into account the time it will take for them to figure out how to co-exist with each other.
Will Jake Westbrook of the regular season be the Jake Westbrook of Spring Training? I’ve covered this before on the blog…but I’m just not buying. Maybe I’m too heavily biased by watching his awkward, limited delivery…but I just don’t think he has enough to get it done night to night. Will he be serviceable? I think so. But he won’t be lights out…or even close to it. Consider this: Westbrook survives on his sinker. When it’s working, he’s awesome. When it’s not…then what? He’s not athletic enough to ratchet up the heat…and the rest of his stuff is so-so at best. I just believe his best days are behind him in Cleveland and he’ll be no better than a serviceable number five guy in our rotation.
That’ll do it for today…don’t forget to CLICK HERE to find out how to win a 2011 World Series Game 6 copy on BluRay/DVD. And as always…