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03 April 2011

Cardinals 2010 Nightmares Still Haunt 2011 Dreams

Jaime Garcia was a dream last year.  A revelation as a rookie starter for the St. Louis Cardinals, winning 13 games with a sparkling 2.82 ERA.  But more importantly, the young man is a left-handed starter, a rare commodity for the Redbirds short on development and long on humbling disappointments (Rick Ankiel, Mark Mulder).

And Garcia was a dream today, tossing a complete game shutout of the San Diego Padres while striking out a career high nine batsmen.  He managed to get out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth inning without allowing the situation spiral out of control - something he was prone to due during a rough spring training.  Garcia's masterful outing will ease the sleep of Cardinal Nation after the team started the season with two nightmarish games, both losses.

Tonight, this Redbird fantatic will be tossing and turning.  The monsters of St. Louis' disappointing 2010 campaign seemingly have not been eradicated by a busy off-season.  The scariest monsters being sloppiness of play, and untimely hitting.

Situational Hitting

The antennae go up every time a weak grounder is hit to a middle infielder with RISP and less than 2 outs.  Just like last year, I see too many batters not taking good at bats in that situation.  I love aggressive hitters that see the pitch they want and attack it no matter the count, but the key is to attack your pitch.  Swinging at the first pitch and grounding weakly to SS is not the mark of a formidable offense.

Luckily, the sample size is small, and the biggest offender so far has been Pujols - so there is a real hope for better results in scoring opportunities than we have seen thus far.  But Cardinal Nation on twitter has already expressed distain for all the St. Louis batters taking swings at the first pitch.  Often those pitches aren't choice ones.  I will grant you that the Padres have a roster full of pitchers capable of making a team look lost at the plate in a three game series.  Too often against the Cardinals, they did.

A good sign Sunday was the clutch piece of situational hitting new SS Ryan Theriot did to drive-in an insurance run in the ninth inning.  With Theriot not performing well with the glove in his first couple of appearances in Busch Stadium after replacing the popular Brendan Ryan, his clutch at bat is the other side of that coin.  Colby Rasmus also had a productive out in the fifth inning, moving Lance Berkman to third base and allowing Yadier Molina to stroke an RBI single through the drawn-in infield for the Redbirds first run.

A Not-So-Hard Nine

2010 showed us something I'm not sure we've ever seen - a Tony LaRussa managed club that seemed lax in the fundamentals.  If anything has been the main engine powering TLR's teams, it's that they play harder and with fewer mistakes than the other team.  Other than that scintillating but ultimately meaningless series in August against Cincinnati, 2010 was marked by the Cardinals sloppiness of play in key situations - especially against lesser teams.  This series was much of the same.

One very key point of Thursday's opening day game was the play that allowed the Padres to take the lead in the 11th inning.  Ryan Theriot took the error, but it all began to unravel with Jon Jay's three-hop dribbler of a throw to Theriot who was the cut-off man.  Theriot then clearly rushed the play, mishandling the throw and compounding it all with a poor relay throw to the plate.  Theriot did not handle that well, but it may have been a completely different situation if Jay simply makes a solid throw to the cut-off man.  That's little league basics.

Add in more nightmares from that game.  Matt Holliday getting picked off second to squash a rally, Skip Schumaker missing Yadier Molina's attempt to catch Ryan Ludwick stealing, and Pujols' team-record tying 3 GIDP's.  Mix in the innumerable walks the Cardinal staff gave up in Saturdays rout, and concerns about the teams readiness to play become valid questions.

With all these thoughts in my head, it will not be a sound sleep tonight.  But sleep I will because Jaime Garcia was a dream today. 

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