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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: What was up with that Cards team…?

Sure, it’s just one game…and yes, fans are prone to overreacting at the beginning of the season. But it’s
day two of the Cardinals’ young campaign, so one game is all we have to work with here on the blog.
That said, what the hell was wrong with our team last night against the D-backs?

They looked jumpy, jittery, and just plain off. Craig couldn’t pick throws out of the dirt, Kozma couldn’t
get one to him in the air, both Descalso and Holliday made base-running errors in a close game, and
Carlos Beltran appeared ready to patrol the outfield in a Rascal (yes, those scooters you see senior
citizens using in Wal-Mart). Even Jon Jay stretched out for an ill-advised dive attempt that led to an extra
run.

Is it possible the Cardinals still believe it’s Spring Training? To be fair, this year’s camp went on and on
and on thanks to a mild interruption by the World Baseball Classic (WBC)…so I guess it should come as
no surprise if the roster woke up on Monday morning ready to hit the backfields at Roger Dean.

Along that line, it should also be noted that the extreme time change from Florida to Arizona for the first
game of the season meant Cardinal position players were ready to take a nap or hit the beach about,
oh…1:00 pm – 8 hours before the scheduled start time. (Which is why it was surprising to see many of
the position players with that “headin’ to the beach” look in the 7th or 8th inning of last night’s game.)

To make a long story short, the Redbirds just didn’t look ready to start the season. The question
is…why?

Yes, the time change could play into it, and even the couple of days layoff between the end of Spring
Training games and the start of the regular season. But ultimately, the explanation – if not blame – has
to start with Matheny.

It could be argued that last year’s camp was still, in large part, Tony LaRussa’s model with a few tweaks
from Matheny thrown in. The habitual preparation pattern, the expectations, and much of the makeup
may have carried over from his 16 seasons in St. Louis. This year, however, Mike Matheny really put his
stamp on Camp Jupiter. Early returns are not impressive.

It’s possible the WBC – and its impact on the length of camp – disrupted the roster’s typical schedule
designed to help them reach peak readiness at just the right time…Opening Day. It’s also possible that
simply any change to the standard Spring Training routine from year to year is difficult for athletes to
absorb and adjust to in just one or two seasons.

But isn’t it also possible that Matheny is running a camp that is too relaxed, steady, and less intense than
the camp LaRussa was famous for? Maybe the answer, as we remember the loss of intense voices in the
clubhouse like Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols over the last two years, is as simple as a camp lacking
the intensity and drive to prepare for a season that begins April 1st…not April 15th.

Whatever the reason, Matheny’s team did not look ready to play meaningful games by yesterday.

Let’s hope they get a good night’s sleep and show up ready to play tonight.

And now for the rest of it…

If not for that pesky line drive off the shoulder… Adam Wainwright would have – should have – turned
in a much different performance in his first game of the season. He looked strong and powerful to start
the game and clearly had hitters uncomfortable in the box until that glancing blow with 2 outs in the
inning. And then everything went to Hell in a hand basket. I really think Waino was a bit too amped up
to start the game, as evidenced by his 94 mph fastball that usually sits at 91-92 mph, and would have
faded earlier than anticipated anyway. But that line drive off his shoulder disrupted his adrenaline rush,
rhythm, and feel for the mound. He threw a couple pitches, got the third out, and then sat down…and
his body likely crashed. After starting the game with an emotional surge of energy, the line drive off
his arm disrupted whatever comfort level he found on the mound that allowed him to harness his
adrenaline and be effective. The result was likely a tired body that felt foreign to him when he returned
to the mound the next inning. And suddenly, everything was up in the zone. He should be better in his
next start…assuming his shoulder bruise doesn’t get in the way.

Fernando Salas could very well find himself without a job by May 1 st… if Jason Motte can return
effectively. Salas has always relied on a bit of deception and mystifying movement that made it difficult
for hitters to center his pitches. If that movement and deception is no longer there, his 90 mph pitches
in the zone are little better than batting practice fastballs. With so many talented arms ready and willing
to fill a role at this level, Salas’ time may be at an end. (in truth, if Motte had been healthy, I honestly
expected Salas to start the year in AAA)

A lot of the Cardinal hitters’ difficulty can be laid at the feet of Ian Kennedy. That dude was nasty.
Even had the Redbirds been able to answer the bell in peak condition at game time, I don’t know if it
would’ve mattered. If the D-backs, as I expect, fail to make the playoffs this year, it won’t be because of
Ian Kennedy.

Wrap-Up!

That’ll do it for today. It’s just one game, and baseball is back (thank God), so settle in and enjoy another
ridiculously late start time for game 2 at 8:40 pm Central Time tonight.

GO CARDS!!!

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