Tony LaRussa normally uses more lineups than most managers. However, I think this year might be a bit different since we just signed Lance Berkman. I just hope that LaRussa’s stance on being aggressive early doesn’t get in Berkman’s head too much. The one thing Berkman has been great and consistent at is working the count and drawing walks. His .409 OBP is 4th amongst active players. I’m not big on predictions of any kind, but I’m having a special kind of feeling about the signing of Berkman. Here is the lineup I think makes the most sense, and hopefully the one Tony will think makes the most sense. I’m assuming that the Cardinals are now set as a team, and let’s also assume that David Freese is going to have a healthy 2011.
1. Ryan Theriot-SS
2. Lance Berkman-LF
3. Albert Pujols-1B
4. Matt Holliday-RF
5. Colby Rasmus-CF
6. David Freese-3B
7. Yadier Molina-C
8. Skip Schumaker-2B
My reason for hitting Molina ahead of Skip is because of the speed needed for a pitcher to sacrifice. I really hope the 2nd leadoff man days are over, and I think they will be as long as this lineup stays healthy. Defense is obviously going to be sacrificed this year with the moves of Theriot and Berkman, and that might really hurt a groundball staff like ours. However, you have to like this lineup. It’s not quite 2004, but the potential is there for some serious damage. Along with letting Berkman doing what he does best in drawing walks, I hope Theriot can come through with 25 stolen bases or so if given the green light enough. If Berkman hits second, and Theriot is on first, I hope to see Theriot off and running quite a bit with Berkman at the plate. Along with being great at getting on base, Berkman has been great at hitting with RISP. Maybe Berkman won’t have the problem Pujols has with players stealing bases with him at the plate.
I just saw that the Cardinals are moving Allen Craig back to 3rd base. Craig played the bulk of his MiLB career there; I’ll have to check on his defensive stats. If he’s adequate defensively, it could be a good move if Freese in unable to stay healthy. I still don’t think the Cardinals will keep Brendan Ryan, but if they do, he could be a nice late inning sub on defense at SS or 2B. Maybe if we have a nice lead in games we will see where Berkman comes out, Holliday moves back to LF, Skip goes to RF, and Brendan Ryan plays 2B. Maybe Theriot would even move over to 2B, and Brendan comes in at SS. Again, I think BR is as good as gone, so we’ll see on that. Also, you have to wonder if Jon Jay stays on the bench as the 4th OF’er. He provides a nice late inning substitute as well.
I’m also wondering about the rotation from the standpoint of the order. I think it’s time for Wainwright to take over the #1 starter role, with Carpenter #2. Here’s my guess and hope for the rotation order.
1. Adam Wainwright-RHP
2. Chris Carpenter-RHP
3. Jake Westbrook-RHP
4. Jaime Garcia-LHP
5. Kyle Lohse-RHP
The only reason I would have Garcia going 4th instead of 3rd is because I think it would benefit Kyle Lohse. It would give the opposing team a completely different look the day before Lohse starts. The Cardinals also should watch the number of innings that Garcia throws in 2011. I don’t think Garcia will come close to his 2.70 ERA next year, but I think a 3.50-3.75 ERA is doable. Garcia’s 2010 FIP was 3.41, and his WHIP was 1.32, so a 2.70 seems a bit unrealistic to repeat. Also, you have to worry about a sophomore slump and a dead arm, which appears to hurt a lot of pitchers in their 2nd or 3rd year after Tommy John Surgery. I in no way see Garcia having struggles where he suddenly drops way off in production. The kid is tough and fiery, and being around C.C. and A.W. are only going to help as he continues to develop.
Dave Duncan has all the faith in the world in Kyle Lohse, and repeated that confidence level on the Bernie Miklasz show about a month ago. Like I’ve said before, Duncan appears to be a straight shooter and is arguably the best pitching coach of all-time, so when he says something, I believe it. No one really knows what we’ll get from Lohse because his injury and surgery is something that has been mostly associated with distance runners and motocross riders. He suffered from extreme compartment syndrome, a condition where the sheath covering the muscle in his forearm failed to allow it to expand. As Duncan said, Lohse was 3-0 in 2009 with a 1.29 ERA before the injury. Lohse’s 6.55 ERA in 2010 doesn’t reflect who he has been in his career. Again, I have faith in Duncan, so I have faith in Lohse.
The best thing about the deep pitching staff is what it can do for the bullpen. For one, they shouldn’t be used out of their comfort zone if the starting staff stays healthy, and you have to love that Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Trevor Miller and Ryan Franklin will see the bulk of the time with fresh arms. Franklin may not be the strikeout type closer we all wish for, I know I do, but he’s gotten the job done more times than not. Hopefully keeping him fresh will help down the stretch.
Back to the lineup, adding Berkman is a big deal. Bigger than I think most of us even realize. How many games will we be able to come from behind now because of the depth of the middle of the order? It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals having as much trouble with NL Central bottom feeders as they did in 2010. If Freese stays healthy and can produce at the rate he did to start 2010, we are very strong 2-6 in the order with power, patience, and extra base potential. Hopefully the pressure will be off Skip batting later in the order and he can come closer to his career .291 AVG and .349 OBP. Also, hopefully we won’t see Molina hitting in the 5 hole.
Again, health will be the biggest factor for 2011, but I would say that John Mozeliak has done a fine job so far this offseason. I’m pretty excited, as I hope most of you are. The Cardinals could not have made a move this offseason because of the Albert Pujols contract looming. Instead, they are trying to build a winner. I think the main thing they need is an Eric Hinske or Matt Stairs type of the bench. Maybe Allen Craig can be that guy, but I think that is the one thing left on LaRussa’s wish list, a veteran with pop off the bench.