United Cardinal Bloggers Year in Review
Before I get to my selections, a quick note about a great piece of work some of the UCB contributors have put together. Ten of our favorite writers have collaborated and put together a single documents titled “The Year in Cardinals Baseball.” What I like about it is that each of the contributors looks at what happened from a different perspective and there is very little overlap, making it a thoroughly enjoying read. You can read about the project (including the list of writers) at this United Cardinal Bloggers article, or just download the Year in Review.
Now for the stories.
#1 Yadi the Enforcer
OK, this is really just another excuse to post my favorite picture from the 2010 season. Looking at it still puts a smile on my face and makes me sit up just a bit taller. What a great moment for Yadier Molina, and the rest of the Cardinals organization. While they did not achieve their goal for the season, they did send a loud and unambiguous message on this particular occasion.
Instead of trying to describe this story (which all of you know so well by now), let’s just watch it. Again and again and again.
It was one thing for Molina to get in Phillips’ face, after all he was wearing the armor. It’s what he did after the brawl that makes this the top story for the year: calming down rookie starter Jaime Garcia and allowing the young man to get back into the game plus all of his offensive contributions (home run, game winning RBI, stolen base).
If you want to read more, here are a couple of articles from back in August
#2 Bruised, Broken and then Ultimately Beaten
May 21 was the day that the Cincinnati Reds won the NL Central, it just took a few months for everybody to realize it. That was the day that Brad Penny’s grand slam swing put the big right-hander on on the disabled list. For the rest of the season. Up to that point, everything in 2010 was going according to plan. David Freese had shaken off his early season (and pre-season) troubles and was settling in as a productive third baseman. Jaime Garcia was beginning to look like the big league pitcher that we had seen the previous fall in Memphis. Until Penny did his best Mark McGwire impression and end his season with a pulled muscle.
The next day, another Cardinals starter went down to injury. Kyle Lohse also left his game early due to arm troubles. Unlike Penny, Lohse did return but to less than stellar results.
The final weight to drop (ok, that was a painful pun – ok, that was another – I’ll stop now) was on June 5 when David Freese had to be removed from a game against Milwaukee after sliding into second base awkwardly. He would return to the lineup and struggle until running out an infield grounder in Kansas City on June 27. His minor league rehab came to an abrupt end and he would soon have surgery to repair both ankles. He has also managed to drop a weight on his foot, breaking his big toe and narrowly missed getting hit in the head with a puck while attending a St. Louis Blues hockey game.
Injuries are a part of the game and championship teams are expected to overcome them, even if they happen to the star players. Either the farm system is expected to replace them or the front office must find players by way of trades. This is where the Cardinals season ended, because neither happened – at least immediately. Maybe if the Jake Westbrook deal was done shortly after Lyle Lohse *OR* Brad Penny went on the disabled list, but it happened at the trade deadline when it was too late. Instead of retooling with energetic minor league talent wanting to make a name for themselves in the big leagues, retreads that had been released by other clubs were signed and they filled the roster spots with little fanfare.
The impact of these injuries wasn’t obvious in the beginning. Like Whitey Herzog’s managerial miracle in 1987, the 2010 Cardinals initially played well, even building a small lead in the NL Central. At the same time, they were playing lots of hard innings, using up whatever reserves they had. Unlike Herzog’s team, the injured players didn’t return and carry the team when the others ran out of gas. The 2010 Cardinals all ran down together on a brutal road trip in August with one embarrassing loss after another.
#3 The Emergence of Jaime Garcia
Just like Garcia was supposed to take it easy last fall when he returned from Tommy John surgery. He was just there to throw a few innings to get his mechanics back into form. What he did was pitch his team to the AAA World Series, throwing inning after inning of brilliant shutout baseball. Anybody who followed him at the end of the the Memphis 2009 season already had him inked in as the 5th starter when the Cardinals would break camp in 2010, no matter what the coaches or sports writers said.
And he did not disappoint. We hadn’t seen a rookie pitcher like this since Steve Carlton’s breakthrough season in 1967. Consider the following three pitchers rookie seasons (ok, I threw in a 4th because it’s still an amazing story).
|Pitcher A||22||11||5||.688||3.26||21||6||5||151 2/3||1.114||2.04|
|Pitcher C||23||13||8||.619||2.70||28||1||1||163 1/3||1.316||2.06|
|Pitcher D||29||16||7||.727||2.67||27||12||3||222 1/3||0.954||3.35|
Here are the pitchers.
Pitcher A is Larry Jaster (1966). He reminds me the most of Garcia with an upright stance and the ball disappearing behind his head, keeping his shoulders up and level. When he was pitching well, he kept his front shoulder from flying open, and the result was four effective pitches to both right handers as well as lefties.
Pitcher B is Steve Carlton (1967). Although he looked nothing like Garcia on the mound, “Lefty’s” rookie campaign was a lot like Garcia’s in 2010. The two differences were in the number of complete games – more of a sign of the times and the number of strikeouts. Carlton was still a work in progress at this point in his career, and had yet to master the slider which would serve him well in his Hall of Fame career, but even early in his career, he was a strikeout machine.
Pitcher C is Jaime Garcia (2010). His line is still impressive some 3 months after his season ended. As we marvel at his rookie record, a bit of praise should be given to Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa, neither of whom are generally associated with rookie success stories. Not only did they keep him in the rotation, but they carefully managed his innings and made his outings as positive an experience as they could.
The mystery pitcher D is the only right-hander in the bunch. It is Dick Hughes (1967). I only included him in this discussion to point out how dominating he was – especially since he wasn’t even in the rotation at the start of the season. Hughes had one of the nastiest sliders in the game and his sub-1 WHIP shows that he was relatively unhittable.
Let’s hope that Garcia builds on an amazing rookie season and has an even stronger sophomore year. Jaster and Carlton both made improvements in their second year, and it took a torn rotator cuff to keep Hughes from being one of the best pitchers of his era.
#4 Aligning the Major and Minor League philosophy
Perhaps this will also be a top story for 2011, but the promotion of John Vuch to Director of the Farm System, overseeing all of the player development throughout the minor league program, should give Cardinals fans reason to be optimistic about the future. Vuch is an old-school Cardinal with ties to George Kissell and Dave Ricketts, and this should bode well for a minor league system that will focus on development at least as much as they have the draft. One of the first things that Vuch did in his new capacity was to reach out to the major league coaches to insure that both parts of the organization are working to a common goal.
#5 Pardon Me, There’s a New Ace in Town
Adam Wainwright’s continued development into a bona fide ace is one of the best stories in 2010, to be filed right next to Garcia’s rookie season. Since the first time he took the mound as a September callup in 2005, we knew he was going to be something special. Interestingly, his major league debut came in relief of the last apprentice to become a staff ace, Matt Morris.
I remember flying into St. Louis on business, just before the 2005 season, and listening to a radio show where they were introducing the team. One of those youngsters was Adam Wainwright, and even then, he was being praised as a future top of the rotation type pitcher.
If there was still any doubt about Wainwright, that should have come to an end on September 24, when he earned his 20th win of the season. As if scripted, that victory was against the Chicago Cubs.
Wainwright became just the 11th Cardinals pitcher since 1960 to win 20 or more games. Barring injury, there is no reason to suspect that he will not repeat that in 2011 or 2012, making him the only Cardinals pitcher to do that since Joaquin Andujar in 1984 and 1985. Considering that Bob Gibson was 29 when he had the first of his five 20 win seasons, maybe even that record will be in jeopardy before Wainwright’s career is over.
Rather than go on more about Wainwright, feel free to take a peek at these articles in the archive to get more perspective on just how unique the young right-hander’s career has been.
There were many other great stories, but the rules say I have to stop at five. I thank you for taking the time to read mine, now tell me some of yours.