Is it time for the Cards to look ahead to 2012?

The Cardinals are now 3-12 in their last 15 games.  There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the fact is that the Cards wouldn’t be in the position they’re in if players like Ryan Franklin and Miguel Batista wouldn’t have been given a free pass for so long.  The team finally awoke enough to remove Batista from the team, but for some reason they are still carrying Franklin.  As amazing as it is, the Cardinals are only 3 games back of the Brewers.  The bad news is that they are only one game ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Pirates are improved, but come on now.  If players like Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez would have made the team out of spring training, the Cardinals are still probably starring down at the Brewers in the standings, even with all the injuries to key players.  The main problem with 2011 is that the Cardinals have lost too many games they should have won.  Things even out in a baseball season.  Rough patches for the starting pitching and anemic offensive performances are expected, but not blown games for contending teams.

I could go on and on about why the Cardinals sent Mitchell Boggs down to Memphis and what a mistake that was, but I’ve done that, so I’ll move on.  I’m not even going to mention Mitchell Thomas Boggs and his 1.03 WHIP.  It was nice to see John Mozeliak finally make the move to bring up Lance Lynn and give Batista the boot, and I imagine the conversation with Tony LaRussa about the move was one in which wasn’t pleasant.  I guess the compromise was keeping Franklin.  Maybe the 2011 Cards are done in, maybe not.  It’s hard to see them keeping pace with the Brewers, who I thought and still think will run away with the division, but the good news is what the team may look like in 2012.  I’m not saying that 2011 is over.  Stranger things have happened.  However, anyone watching the games would have a hard time making a case for the 2011 Cardinals from this point on.   Then again, a 10-5 run over the next 15 games could change things in a hurry.  That’s why we all love baseball.  The ups and downs are endless.

I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom here.  I haven’t posted in a while because I wanted to give the team a shot to prove itself over the last home stand.  It didn’t happen, but some good things did happen, so let’s start with that. 

As mentioned above, the Miguel Batista era is over.  There’s only one reason he was kept on for so long, and that’s because Tony LaRussa is the manager.  That’s the only reason Ryan Franklin is still on the team.  For those who don’t know, I’m not a LaRussa basher or lover, I’m right in the middle on him.  The problem I have with LaRussa is his love and tendency to coddle veterans.  2011 is a perfect example of that.  Why it takes so long to remove dead weight is beyond me.  So what good things am I talking about?  Well, one is that in 2012 the Cardinals should start the season with a solid bullpen.  Important pieces for 2012 are getting their bumps out of the way this year, which are few and far between, and most are leaving no doubt that they are here to stay.  There’s no way Ryan Franklin is coming back, is there?  The backend of the 2012 Cardinals should feature a combination of Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas from the start.  I imagine the payroll for 2012 will be spent more wisely on a few more complementary arms as well.

The next great thing about 2012 is the one that put doubts in 2011 to start with, Adam Wainwright.  Wainwright probably won’t be ready or himself until around the All-Star break next year, but the fact is the Cardinals will be adding one of the top 5 pitchers in MLB back to the staff.  Wainwright will make everyone else better by them sliding back a spot in the rotation, as well as taking the load off the bullpen on a regular basis.  Losing Wainwright is the equivalent of the Giants losing Tim Lincecum or the Phillies losing Roy Halladay, no matter what some sportswriters would have you believe.

Next, Albert Pujols.  I haven’t given my thoughts on Pujols for a while, even with the injury.  When I started this site, my stance was clear.  That was that signing Pujols to a long term extension would be a foolish thing to do, for several reasons.  I still believe that, and I hope the Cardinals do as well.  Pitching wins this game, not aging, overpriced sluggers.  A few teams can get away with having both; the Cardinals are not one of them. 

Now Pujols is out with an injury that could cost him both long term numbers on and off the field.  If Pujols doesn’t come back from the wrist injury with the thunder he has provided throughout his career, he will be lucky to even come close to the long term contract the Cardinals offered him before the 2011 season.  There’s no reason for the Cardinals to take a chance on Pujols, there never was.  I hope the money is spent on pitching, pitching and more pitching for 2012.  Although it’s a small sample size, Allen Craig played well in the time given this year.  He passes the eye test easily.  His injury was unfortunate, because that time could have been more and really let the Cardinals gauge him while Pujols was out.  Either way, I think Craig, along with Colby Rasmus, Matt Holliday, David Freese and possibly a 2 year contract for Lance Berkman should be enough in 2012 if the pitching is strong enough.  One thing I would like to see change is slick fielding Daniel Descalso take over at second base for 2012.  Skip Schumaker belongs back in the outfield as a reserve.  The Cardinals won before Pujols, they will win after.  I’m sure back in the day fans were worried about the end of Stan Musial’s career, which ended in 1963.  The Cardinals won the World Series in 1964.

The 2011 season is close to the halfway point.  The Cardinals have weathered the storm to as many injuries to key players as I can remember.  Pujols and Freese will return.  The Brewers will probably be in the driver’s seat the rest of the way as long as their pitching staff stays healthy.  However, it’s not a given it works out for them that way.  If the Cardinals can stay close, a lot of what happens will be decided by the 12 games they have left with each other in the last 2 months of the season.  I’ll keep watching with intensity and making my dog nervous when I yell at the TV.  I’ll also be wondering if the Cardinals are still going to be talking about Ryan Franklin getting close to coming around in September, but that’s ok I guess as long as it’s not September 2012.

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