As we approach the non-waiver trade deadline, many Cardinals fans are wondering what the front office will do. With Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse on the disabled list, it would seem starting pitching might be a priority. Since Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker are both in prolonged slumps, maybe a productive middle infielder might be a better idea. Even though the Cardinals bullpen has been spectacular this season, another arm in the bullpen is frequently heard among bloggers and tweeting Cardinals fans.
What if the Cardinals didn’t make a move, or at least not a major one ? Clearly built for the postseason, does this team have enough to survive the 162 game season and make it in to the playoffs with what they have on the roster right now ? In a word yes, but I feel like some additional background might help you come to the same conclusion.
Let’s take a look at the current team and compare it to the one that won it all in 2006. I can already hear the stats purists ringing the alarms – you can’t do that, the NL Central was different then, the Reds are so much better now, blah blah blah. I’ll even help that out a bit by pointing out that the 2006 team were a bit of over achievers, especially during the playoffs. But that team did what was needed to get into the playoffs and they beat two divisional champions (San Diego Padres and New York Mets) that were supposed to brush aside the Cardinals with ease. So let’s look at each of these teams by position and see what we can learn.
|Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols|
|Aaron Miles||Skip Schumaker|
|David Eckstein||Brendan Ryan|
|Scott Rolen||David Freese|
|Yadier Molina||Yadier Molina|
Albert Pujols was the best player in baseball in 2006. In 2010, he is still the best player in baseball. If there has been any drop off in production, it is more than compensated by his gold glove play at first base. No Cardinals fan would ever bet against Albert, so we’ll call that a wash. The same can be said of Yadier Molina. Yadi is one of our favorite Cardinals, but the truth is that he wasn’t an offensive force in 2006, largely due to injury. When we think back on his 2006, we remember that he was on fire throughout the playoffs, including a game winning 2 run homer in New York that sent the Cardinals to the World Series. The regular season was another story. It might surprise you to know that he’s actually doing slightly better in 2010, even though his numbers are way down from where they have been the last couple of seasons.
When healthy, Scott Rolen was a beast in St. Louis, both with the bat and the glove. No question that Scott Rolen was the best third baseman to put on a Cardinals uniform since Ken Boyer. After a severe injury in May 2005, Rolen had a solid year in 2006, hitting .296 and driving in 95 runs. That would make him a finalist for the Comeback player of the Year along with earning his seventh Gold Glove. His 2010 counterpart, David Freese, got off to a slow start, but started putting up some nice offensive numbers to go along with some very solid defense, before an ankle injury put him on the disabled list. At the time of his injury, Freese was hitting .296 and had 32 RBIs. Freese is also a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. While Scott Rolen was one third of MV3 and one of the best big game players in recent Cardinals history, David Freese is showing fans that he is a factor and not to be taken lightly. Advantage Rolen, but not by a huge amount.
If there was one player from the 2006 team we could get back right now, it would be David Eckstein. He played a solid shortstop and was an absolute terror at the top of the order. Brendan Ryan has the tools to do both, but something is not working this year. A platoon with Felipe Lopez and Tyler Greene is getting the job done, but nothing like what Eckstein did for the Cardinals in 2006. For his efforts, Eckstein was rewarded with the World Series MVP.
For all that we have complained about Skip Schumaker’s offense and defensive woes in 2010, he is so much more productive than the Aaron Miles/Hector Luna platoon that got us through 2006. Well, almost through 2006. Ronnie Belliard was obtained at the non-waiver deadline for Hector Luna to try to improve one of the big holes in the Cardinals lineup – second base. Belliard anchored the right side of the infield, but was hardly an impact player. He did come up big in the NLDS, but was largely absent in the NCLS and put up an 0-fer in the World Series. You can grumble all you want about Schumaker’s performance in 2010, but I’d take him over Miles, Luna or Belliard any day of the week. We know that Schumaker is a better hitter than what we saw in the first half of 2010. Fortunately, he appears to be coming out of his slump and his offensive numbers are trending in the right direction.
Conclusion: Eckstein and the 2006 team by a tiny tiny margin.
|So Taguchi||Matt Holliday|
|Jim Edmonds||Colby Rasmus|
|Juan Encarnacion||Ryan Ludwick|
No, I am not making that up. The 2006 outfield was a platoon of Chris Duncan and So Taguchi in left, Jim Edmonds in center, and a platoon of Juan Encarnacion and Preston Wilson in right. Oh, how we forget these things. Yes, Jim Edmonds was a big time guy. He was one third of MV3. And when the camera was on, he was a one man highlight reel. Colby Rasmus may be that kind of player in the future, and when he is on a hot streak, he can be that kind of player right now. He doesn’t play defense like Edmonds, but his offensive abilities and foot speed are impressive. The Rasmus vs Edmonds comparison gets lost in the noise when you take a look at the corner outfield positions. Matt Holliday vs Chris Duncan ? Are you kidding me ? I think that we are seeing Holliday’s first half trouble with runners in scoring position (RISP) was an anomoly. Nobody has been better than Holliday over the last few weeks, except perhaps Adam Wainwright – but that’s the next paragraph. Yes, Chris Duncan came up huge for the Cardinals at times in 2006, but nothing close to what Holliday has done and will continue to do. Holliday is an elite player in the major leagues. As much as we enjoyed the story of So Taguchi and Chris Duncan, elite is not a word generally associated with either of these players. And to make matters worse, consider Ryan Ludwick vs Juan Encarnacion. Encarnacion was the biggest underachiever to wear a Cardinals uniform since Alex Johnson in 1967, and was essentially replaced by Preston Wilson who had been released in August by the Houston Astros. That would be like benching Ryan Ludwick in favor of Randy Winn – that just isn’t going to happen.
Conclusion: 2010 outfield by a Matt Holliday home run derby moonshot.
|2006 Starting Pitchers
||2010 Starting Pitchers
|Chris Carpenter||Chris Carpenter|
|Mark Mulder/Anthony Reyes||Adam Wainwright|
|Jason Marquis||Jaime Garcia|
|Jeff Suppan||Brad Penny/Blake Hawksworth|
|Sidney Ponson/Jeff Weaver||Kyle Lohse/Jeff Suppan|
When I look at the 2006 starters, I begin to wonder how the Cardinals got to postseason in the first place. Well, the answer is simple – Chris Carpenter. And Carpenter was good in 2006, just as he is good in 2010. The Mark Mulder injury in July was devastating, especially considering how much we gave up to acquire him from the Oakland Athletics. Even before he went on the disabled list, Mulder was not right. His replacement, Anthony Reyes was not much better, even though he pitched one of the greatest games in Cardinals history in game 1 of the World Series. Matching up #2 starters, Mulder’s opposite number would be Adam Wainwright in 2010. There are no #2 pitchers in baseball that compare to Adam Wainwright. There are very few #1’s that compare to the big right hander. Jason Marquis vs Jaime Garcia ? Marquis threw batting practice for most of 2006 and was left off the postseason roster as a result of his performance, or rather lack thereof. Twice he gave up more than 10 runs in 5 innings. In comparison, Garcia is one of the best rookie arms in baseball. Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan have managed his pitch count as the young lefty is working in his first season after Tommy John surgery, hoping to keep his arm fresh for the second half of the season. Recently he’s shown a tendency to nibble at the plate, but that is more likely a result of his early success than any sort of second half breakdown. Even if Garcia fades a bit in the second half, it is unlikely that he would fall as low as Marquis in 2006. Jeff Suppan was good in 2006, but not much better than what Blake Hawksworth has shown while filling in for Brad Penny. If Penny does come back in 2006, he will blow past the 2006 version of Jeff Suppan, as he did in the first part of the season. Before the injury, Brad Penny was making a believer out of a lot of skeptical Cardinals fans (ok, I can only speak for myself and he was making me a believer). To close the lid on the 2006, all I need to do is mention Sidney Ponson and Jeff Weaver. Yes, the 5th starter in 2006 was initially Sidney Ponson, eventually giving way to the human rollercoaster, Jeff Weaver. For all of the complaining we have done about Jeff Suppan’s return to the rotation, the name Ponson strikes significantly greater fear in the hearts of Cardinals fans all over the country.
How did we win in 2006 with that starting rotation? Oh yeah, it was Chris Carpenter. Whew.
Conclusion: 2010 in a landslide (probably caused by an Albert Pujols home run off Brad Lidge or David Weathers)
|Jason Isringhausen||Ryan Franklin|
|Josh Hancock||Kyle McClellan|
|Braden Looper||Mitchell Boggs|
|Randy Flores||Dennys Reyes|
|Tyler Johnson||Trever Miller|
|Adam Wainwright||Jason Motte|
|Brad Thompson||Blake Hawksworth|
The 2006 bullpen was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Josh Hancock, Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson and Braden Looper all turned in good performances. Add Josh Kinney late in the year. Until he was injured, Izzy was a machine, albeit one that required fans to consume massive quantities of antacids. That said, there was not a single reliever that had an ERA under 3. The closest was a young right hander named Adam Wainwright, who posted a 3.19 in his rookie year. While the dog days of summer have not yet taken their toll on the 2010 bullpen, the current set of arms are putting up some mighty impressive numbers. If you take away the two meltdowns in Denver, everybody in the 2010 bullpen except for Blake Hawksworth has an ERA under 3. These guys are good – they are frighteningly good. Waiting in the wings, should any of them go down with an injury is Fernando Salas, and he might be the best of the setup guys.
Conclusion: 2010 bullpen, like a Jason Motte 100mph fastball. You know what’s coming and you still can’t do anything with it.
|Gary Bennett||Jason LaRue|
|Preston Wilson||Jon Jay/Allen Craig|
|Scott Spiezio||Felipe Lopez|
|Chris Duncan||Randy Winn|
|John Rodriquez||Aaron Miles|
Scott Spiezio and John Rodriguez were great off the bench for the Cardinals in 2006. Chris Duncan added some serious pop off the bat to go along some seriously entertaining play in the outfield – every ball hit to left field was an adventure. Felipe Lopez easily matches up with Scott Spezio and the platoon of Jon Jay and Allen Craig is more than a match for John Rodriguez. Randy Winn and Preston Wilson are a wash – and that’s interesting since both players were acquired after being released by their previous team. That leaves Aaron Miles vs Chris Duncan, and the 2006 version of Chris Duncan wins that one pretty handily.
Conclusion: A tie, just like the 2002 All Star Game.
Putting all of this together, the 2006 team had a slightly better infield, but the 2010 team features a significantly better outfield, starting pitching and bullpen. If I have learned anything in my nearly half century of following the Cardinals, it is pitching wins championships. Since the 2006 team won the National League Central title, there is absolutely no reason to expect anything less from this team, even if nothing is done at the trade deadline. With all due respect to the Cincinnati Reds, who are a much improved team, this 2010 version of the Cardinals is good enough to win the division and play well into the postseason. Watch out Yankees fans, I think I’m hearing the ghosts of 1964 calling.