Springtime Storylines: Is Albert Pujols' supporting cast good enough to help him win it all?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Cardinals


The
big question: Is Albert Pujols’ supporting cast good enough to help him win it all?

This isn’t exactly a “big” question as much as it is the question that has been asked every single year of Pujols’ career and must be asked until he retires and joins baseball Valhalla.  That’s just the way it goes with this guy on your roster: you don’t obsess on the piece-by-piece of it all. You start with the assumption that the team is a strong contender because of Pujols and ask how strong. Cardinals fans probably have a better grasp of the nuances of this annual parlor game than I do, but from where I’m sitting it seems like a strong enough supporting cast to easily give them the division and to make a bit more noise in the postseason than they did last year.

I love the addition of Felipe Lopez. I was lukewarm on the Brad Penny signing when it happened, but smarter people than me convinced me that I was being a too pessimistic. He beats John Smoltz at any rate and will help take some of the sting away from the loss of Joel Pinero. None of the departures apart from Joel Piniero are huge losses and many (e.g. Rick Ankiel, Todd Wellemeyer) represent addition by subtraction.  Several of the returning guys — Yadier Molina, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Ludwick and Brendan Ryan — can reasonably expect to be better in 2010 than they were in 2009.

The Cardinals weren’t terribly busy this winter as most of their time was spent re-signing Matt Holliday, but no other NL Central team did much to improve itself.  Between that, the strong rotation and Mr. Pujols anchoring things, the Cardinals are the closest thing to a lock there is to win their division in all of baseball.

So what
else is
going on?

  • He never fully answered all of the questions about his bad judgment, nor did he truly answer for it. His influence and example will clearly make it difficult for parents in St. Louis to explain things to their kids. He doesn’t play for the team, but his presence will create a distraction. The question is: can the Cardinals get past the fact that their manager was arrested for DUI?  Oh, you thought I was talking about the McGwire business? Jeez, that shouldn’t matter at all. It’s not like McGwire’s behavior in the 90s could have killed innocent people like La Russa could have in 2007. And he’s only the hitting coach for cryin’ out loud. This is a non-issue.
  • Above optimism notwithstanding, the rotation will take a step back. Carpenter and Wainwright are great and all, but not too many pitchers are that good year-in, year-out, so some falloff should be expected. Kyle Lohse should be a bit better. Whatever happens, I think the Cards have enough pitching.   

  • The contract. Negotiations for the Pujols extension are on hold until next fall, but the notion that the Cardinals aren’t going to eventually extend Pujols seems ludicrous to me. Prediction: the only people who make a lot of fuss over it this season will be visiting writers who are told that they must by their editors. Now, if we get to this time in 2011 and it’s still unresolved, OK, maybe it will be time to panic.
  • The bullpen should be sturdy and workmanlike. Ryan Franklin was kinda ugly late in the season and in the playoffs, but he leads a balanced bullpen with guys like Mitchell Boggs, Kyle McClellan and Blake Hawksworth, all of whom should be reliable even if they’re not spectacular. 

So
how
are they gonna do?

With Albert Pujols, a couple of Cy Young candidates, Matt Holliday and the best defensive catcher in the National League, the job of the pen, the bench and the role players is not to to shine. It’s to provide simple competence and the ability to rise to the occasion from time to time. This group seems capable of that, with nary a black hole on the roster. La Russa is still about the best manager in the game and he’ll usually get the best out of otherwise ordinary players. Between that and the fact that none of the other NL Central teams look at all like contenders, the division should easily win the division.

Prediction: First place NL Central. The real challenge starts when they meet the Phillies, Braves and either the Dodgers or the Rockies (I haven’t decided yet) in the playoffs.

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What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 02:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images
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White Sox ace Chris Sale will return after serving his team-issued five-game suspension. He’ll take on the Cub’s John Lackey in an 8:05 PM EDT start at Wrigley Field.

The lefty protested wearing throwback uniforms, which featured collars, this past weekend. He reportedly got into a shouting match with White Sox coaches and front office staff, and took a knife to his uniform as well as those of his teammates. GM Rick Hahn punished Sale for three offenses: violating team rules, insubordination, and destroying team equipment.

Sale apologized to fans as well as to the bullpen, which had to pick him up when he was scratched from Saturday’s start. But he didn’t apologize for standing up for what he believed in.

This isn’t Sale’s first conflict with the White Sox organization. He was part of the spring training Drake LaRoche controversy. He also was part of the club’s recent protest against the Mariners’ policy that siphoned money from clubhouse attendants. As a result of what appears to be a contentious relationship between Sale and the White Sox, many think the club will trade him if they get an enticing offer. Pitchers like Sale, however, are tough to find, and he could be under team control through 2019 if the White Sox pick up his ’18 and ’19 club options.

Sale enters Thursday’s start leading the majors with 14 wins as well as a 3.18 ERA and a 129/29 K/BB ratio in 133 innings. Could it be his last start as a member of the White Sox?

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez) @ Minnesota Twins (Kyle Gibson), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola) @ Atlanta Braves (Matt Wisler), 7:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez), 7:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Yordano Ventura) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (David Price) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark) @ San Francisco Giants (Johnny Cueto), 10:15 PM EDT

Report: The Diamondbacks are on the verge of trading Daniel Hudson

Daniel Hudson
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Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that the Arizona Diamondbacks are close to trading Daniel Hudson. It’s not yet known who the trading partner would be, but obviously a number of teams are in the market for bullpen help.

Trading Hudson seemed like a good idea for a while, but he’s been on a terrible skid lately, with his ERA exploding by nearly three full runs in the past month. It now stands at 6.08, with Hudson having given up 22 earned runs in 16 and a third innings in June and July. The bad stretch has appeared to result in some frustration for Hudson. The other day he took to Twitter to describe his recent performance, calling the last month “brutal” and “absolutely awful.” He said this has “been one of the most frustrating stretch of games I’ve ever experienced in my life.” Then he deactivated his Twitter account.

Despite his recent struggles, and despite his checkered injury history, Hudson has been durable the past two seasons, pitching in 64 games last year and 42 so far this season. If this stretch is just that, a temporary skid, Hudson could help someone.