Adam Wainwright

Springtime Storylines: Will the St. Louis Cardinals survive the loss of three legends?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The New-Look Redbirds.

The Big Question: Will St. Louis be able to defend its World Series title this year in the absence of Pujols, La Russa and Duncan?

For the Cardinals, the 2011 season was a whirlwind. They were 10 1/2 games out of a playoff spot in late August, they had to get through the Phillies in the first round, they were supposed to be out-slugged by the National League Central champion Brewers in the second round, and they were down to their last strike twice in a wild World Series with the Rangers.

But the craziness didn’t stop when Allen Craig caught the final out in Game 7. A day after the Cardinals paraded the World Series trophy through the streets of downtown St. Louis, Tony La Russa announced that he was ending his 33-year managerial career. A month later, longtime first baseman and franchise icon Albert Pujols agreed to terms on a 10-year, $250 million free agent contract with the Angels. And just before the start of spring training, pitching coach and likely Hall of Famer Dave Duncan informed the Cardinals’ decision-makers that he was stepping away from the game for at least a year to be with his ailing wife.

Three giants of the industry, gone in one short winter. And yet the Redbirds seem unlikely to skip a beat.

The return of ace right-hander Adam Wainwright, who missed the entire 2011 season following Tommy John surgery, should help ease some of the pain brought on by Pujols’ departure. Wainwright was worth a whopping 6.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2010 according to FanGraphs. Pujols was worth 5.1 fWAR in 2011.

The arrival of Carlos Beltran will also be big. He’s a full two years removed from microfracture knee surgery and has been improving offensively the further away he gets from that procedure. In the second half last season, the 34-year-old outfielder batted .325/.398/.562 with nine home runs and 26 RBI in 53 games.

The Cards were dealt a tough hand this winter, but they were able to come up with — or happen into — high quality solutions. And they should be right near the top of the National League Central standings as usual.

What Else Is Going On?

  • Replacing La Russa will be Mike Matheny, a former catcher for the Brewers, Blue Jays, Cardinals and Giants. There’s no way to know how he’ll operate as an in-game strategist because he enters the job with zero managerial experience. But his opened-mindedness to new ideas is, in a word, refreshing. “I know Bill James,” Matheny told reporters at December’s Winter Meetings. “I’ve done my share of research and realize that there is an advantage to it. … I’m willing to do anything if it gives us a better chance to win. I’ll take whatever information I get. That’s really the long and short of it; it’s really no more complex than that. If something becomes available to me that gives us a competitive edge, I’ll be all over it.”
  • The Cardinals signed catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75 million contract extension this spring. It might seem like an extreme overpay for a guy with a .274/.331/.377 career batting line. But Molina is the best defensive catcher in baseball and his ability to prevent runs — both by controlling the running game with lightning-quick throws and by blocking pitches with unteachable instincts — makes him more valuable than most publicly available metrics would suggest. The 29-year-old Puerto Rican is also coming around offensively, having batted .305 with an .814 OPS, 14 home runs and 65 RBI in 139 games last year.
  • Under former general manager Walt Jocketty, the St. Louis farm system was used mostly to fund trades and rarely produced elite-level prospects. But that has all changed with the arrival of John Mozeliak, who has introduced a better-streamlined organizational philosophy and put more emphasis on the amateur draft and international free agent market. The Cardinals are suddenly stacked in the minors, with top prospects like right-handers Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, second baseman Kolten Wong, outfielder Oscar Taveras and first baseman Matt Adams inching closer and closer to the major leagues. There’s nothing better than cost-controlled talent, and St. Louis should soon have it in abundance.

How Are They Gonna Do?

If Rafael Furcal, David Freese, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman can stay relatively healthy, the offense could be as good as any in the National League. And if left-hander Jaime Garcia continues to develop, right-hander Kyle Lohse remains a steady mid-rotation presence and veteran sinkerballer Jake Westbrook bounces back from an ugly 2011, the Cardinals should be able to breeze through two months sans Chris Carpenter. St. Louis will finish first in the National League Central, just inching out the Reds and Brewers.

Hyun-Jin Ryu suffered a setback after latest rehab start

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 02:  Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 2, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu felt sore after his latest rehab start with Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers will have him back off his planned assignments as a result.

Ryu hasn’t pitched for the Dodgers since September 12, 2014. He had offseason shoulder surgery and then suffered a groin injury in April. The Dodgers were hoping to get him back around mid-June but they’ll likely have to wait longer than that now.

Prior to Wednesday’s Triple-A rehab start, Ryu appeared in two rehab outings with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. He has decent results in his three appearances, yielding three runs (one earned) on eight hits with no walks and six strikeouts in nine innings.

Xander Bogaerts extends hitting streak to 22 games

BOSTON, MA - MAY 22:  Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after he hit a single in the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on May 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s hitting streak may be gone, but Xander Bogaerts‘ is still alive and kicking. The Red Sox shortstop extended his streak to 22 games on Sunday afternoon against the Blue Jays, hitting a ground ball single to left field off of R.A. Dickey in the sixth inning.

Coming into Sunday’s action, Bogaerts’ .351 batting average was the best mark in the American League and bested only by the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy (.390) and Ben Zobrist (.354). Bogaerts’ 71 total hits marked the most in baseball entering Sunday as well.

Report: Padres, White Sox discussing potential James Shields trade

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 7:  James Shields #33 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at PETCO Park on May 7, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Saturday that the Padres and White Sox have been discussing a trade involving starter James Shields. Those talks have “significant momentum,” according to Lin. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, however, says that nothing is imminent and that the Padres have fielded calls from a lot of teams interested in Shields.

Shields, 34, has a 3.06 ERA and a 56/23 K/BB ratio over 10 starts this season. He’s in the second year of a four-year, $75 million contract, earning $21 million this season as well as in 2017-18 with a $2 million buyout if his 2019 club option for $16 million is declined. Presumably, the Padres would be covering a portion of that remaining contract.

The White Sox got off to a hot start, but have slumped in May. The club entered Sunday on a five-game losing streak and had lost 11 of the previous 14 games. While Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have been outstanding at the top of the starting rotation, the back end of Carlos Rodon, Mat Latos, and Miguel Gonzalez has been underwhelming.

Jake Odorizzi loses no-hitter against the Yankees in the seventh inning

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 29:  Jake Odorizzi #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees on May 29, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Update (3:13 PM EDT): The no-hit bid is over. Odorizzi got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to lead off the seventh inning, but issued a walk to Brett Gardner before Starlin Castro crushed a two-run home run to left-center field, putting the Yankees up 2-1.

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Rays starter Jake Odorizzi is two-thirds of the way towards a no-hitter against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. On 81 pitches thus far, the right-hander has struck out five and walked none on 83 pitches. The lone blemish is a fielding error by shortstop Brad Miller.

The Rays have provided Odorizzi with just one run of support, coming on an RBI single by Evan Longoria in the third inning against Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi.

If Odorizzi can finish the final three innings without a hit, he would record the Rays’ first no-hitter since Matt Garza on July 26, 2010 against the Tigers. For the Yankees, it would be the first time they would be victims of a no-hitter since the Astros’ combined no-hitter on June 11, 2003 which involved Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner.