It is New Years Eve. 2011 is about to come to a close, and what an amazing year it was, especially for Cardinals fans. We are about a month and a half away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, so this might be a good time to look ahead and make some predictions about the upcoming season.
Motte will drop the Not
We had a lot of fun with Tony La Russa’s “Not the Closer” routine last year. As with so many of Tony La Russa’s micro-strategies, it was one of redirection that made him the story, thus taking the pressure off his player. That is one of the big differences I expect to see in the 2012 Cardinals under new manager, Mike Matheny. The first benefactor of this will be Jason Motte, who will be given the title of “Closer” before he throws his first pitch in Spring Training. Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas are closers-in-waiting and will get plenty of high pressure opportunities in 2012. Lance Lynn will be the next addition to the rotation, whether as a result of an injury or trade, or perhaps, just waiting until Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook moves on next winter. Either way, the late innings are going to be a thing of beauty as Gentle Ben takes the mound and shuts down the bad guys like Mr. Phelps’ Impossible Missions Force.
Rafeal Furcal will steal 30 bases
It will be Rafael Furcal and not Carlos Beltran that will be the Lance Berkman of 2012. He has had a bad run with injuries, but he will see 2012 mostly injury free (ok, that’s more of a hope than a prediction). If healthy, his batting average will tick up a bit, even though he very quietly hit .255 for the Cardinals in the last 2 months of 2011 (yes, actually did – you have to look it up to believe it). Tyler Greene may get more than a little bit of playing time, which should go a long way to keeping Furcal off the disabled list.
4 Cardinals Starters will have 15 or more Wins
With all due respect to my overly analytical baseball buddies, wins are not overrated. And Cardinals starters will get them by the bucketfuls in 2012. Adam Wainwright will start off slowly, but by mid-season will be looking like the 2009/2010 Cy Young finalist than the bandaged cheerleader he was in 2011. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook will get to the magic number, although both will do so very quietly. Jaime Garcia will learn to deal with adversity, simply because there will be much less of it in 2012, and will go on to lead the team in wins. Chris Carpenter will battle hard and give us plenty of reasons to cheer, but will be the only pitcher not to hit the 15 win line. And we will be just fine with that.
The Bullpen becomes the Studpen
The biggest reason for the Cardinals starter success in 2012 is that most of the retooled 2011 bullpen will be back and healthy for the 2012 season. Although I’m sad to see Octavio Dotel leave, I don’t think there is a fan in Cardinals Nation that would rather see Dotel on the mound than Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez, Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle McClellan are the core of a very good bullpen (on paper). Add newcomer JC Romero, who only has to be as good as the Trever Miller/Arthur Rhodes combo from last year, and the continuing saga of Mitchell Boggs give the 2012 Cardinals the best pitching we’ve seen since Whitey Herzog’s 1985 team.
Let’s put this another way – if Mitchell Boggs is the biggest question mark going into the next season, your pitching situation is very very good.
Jaime Garcia will throw a no-hitter
In recent years, no-hitters have been thrown by some of the least likely pitchers than any other time in history. The last two Cardinals no-hitters (Bud Smith, Jose Jimenez) certainly back that up, as do many of the last 30 or so from other teams (Wilson Alverez, Eric Milton, Kevin Millwood, Derek Lowe). Still, there are some pitchers that you just knew were going to throw a no-hitter at some point in their career – Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Randy Johnson and Justin Verlander. If you had seen him pitch early in his career, you would also put Ray Washburn on that list.
Of the current flock of Cardinals, the pitcher that seems to have the best chance to join the no-hit list is Jaime Garcia. He has 4 plus pitches which means he has more than one way of getting a batter out. That is the key to surviving the third time through the batting order. We’ve already seen him come close a couple of times, and we will finally see him accomplish this rare feat in the first half of 2012.
I’m not giving up on Adam Wainwright pulling a Justin Verlander and throwing a couple of no-hitters in his career, but not in the season following his Tommy John surgery.
The Cardinals will win the NL Central by 6 games
Recent Cardinals history with rookie managers has not been good, although recent is something of a stretch. It’s been 16 years since we’ve had a new manager, and that goes back to an era of baseball that most of us have been successful in exorcising from our memories. I hope that last year has finally put aside the notion that the NL Central is a weak division. It isn’t, it is just a bit more balanced than some of the others.
Even though Mike Matheny will be a new manager, he is inheriting a strong core of players, and a good mix of youth and veterans. I can’t think of a better situation for a new manager to have, and Matheny will do well with this roster of Redbirds. Add that a few of the important coaches from the La Russa era will be staying with the Cardinals, you have to be very optimistic about the team’s chances next year.
There will be plenty of ups and downs, but this team will be more of a juggernaut than La Russa’s surprise sprint to the finish of last year. In other words, 2012 will be the season we were all expecting 2011 to be, and it all starts with a healthy Adam Wainwright pitching in the home opener.
These have been some of my predictions. Agree or disagree, let me know in the comments. And as with the top stories, please feel free to share some of yours.
One last comment, and it is the most important of all. Thanks to all of you that have read these articles over the last year. I truly appreciate it, and enjoy all of the comments (even the ones from irate Reds fans). I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very happy, healthy, safe and prosperous 2012. Happy New Year!