Cards Complete Winning Season, Miss Playoffs
The Cards executed their longest winning streak of the season to end their 2008 campaign against the Cincinnati Reds. An 11-4 victory increased St. Louis’ record to 10 games above the .500 mark at a record of 86-76. Though missing the playoffs is not acceptable to Tony LaRussa, this has to be looked upon as a successful season for the Redbirds. LaRussa proves to be a manager who really knows how to deal with adversity. This is a ball club that essentially dealt without their 1-3 starters all year. Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder each gave Dave Duncan’s pitching staff their best effort but nagging injuries had both pitchers sidelines throughout the year. Adam Wainwright did manage an 11-3 record, but also had a couple of stints on the Disabled List.
The Cardinals had a lot of questions coming out of spring training about their starting rotation and young offense while the bullpen was expected to carry them. However, this is why the games are played because the total opposite was this year’s occurrence. The Cardinals were not getting consistently solid starts every 5 days from Chris Carpenter, instead late off season acquisition, Kyle Lohse, who led the staff with 15 wins. Albert Pujols did not stand-alone has the club leader in Home Runs; he shared the lead with Ryan Ludwick. Jim Edmonds was not roaming center field making electrifying diving catches; former phenom pitching prospect Rick Ankiel was there instead. The feisty David Ekstein was not the one figuring out ways to get on base to lead the game off; Skip Schumaker did his best impression. Also, instead of the role of sharp plays being made at the hot corner and solid protection for Albert Pujols being played by Scott Rolen; Troy Glaus occupied the role. However, rather than Dave Duncan being able to depend on late inning relief to hang on to victories for his starters, the Cardinal bullpen lead the league in blown saves. In conclusion, it was a particularly successful season for this young club. There is enough talent in place to build around. Here are my top 5 most important off-season matters management needs to address:
5. Sign infielders Felipe Lopez and Aaron Miles to multi-year deals. The Cardinals struggled to get much offensive out of its middle infield this season. One bright spot on the club this year was utility player Aaron Miles batting over .300 this season. Here is a guy that seems to execute all of the little things Tony LaRussa asks of him. There is always room in a clubhouse for a guy like Aaron Miles. Also, acquiring Felipe Lopez late in the season gave the Redbirds a boost. Lopez is a former all-star and hit .385 in his time in St. Louis. I can really picture him resurrecting his career in a Cardinal uniform.
4. Present a new contract to Kyle Lohse. There is no doubt the Cardinals would not have stayed in the race as long as they did without the pleasant surprise of SP, Kyle Lohse. Lohse was given a short contract late in the off-season when it looked like the Cardinals might be short of arms in the rotation. Kyle ended up leading the team in wins posting a 15-6 record with a 3.78 ERA. If the Cardinals have Wainwright and Carpenter healthy next year, Lohse could be one of the best number 3 starters in the NL.
3. Sign or Trade for a veteran outfield bat. You really like the production that was provided from Ludwick, Ankiel, and Schumaker in the outfield, but in key situations in games, I felt the Cardinals were missing that experienced threat behind Albert Pujols. The Cardinals have some money to spend or they have some guys they could use as trade bait including OF Joe Mather and OF Colby Rasmus.
2. Solidify Chris Perez as the team’s closer. Jason Isringhausen may be nearing the end of a great career. The fact of the matter is a change needs to be made at that position. Perez proved near the end of the season and he is capable of excelling in this role. The last time the Cardinals got great stuff from a closer it was when Adam Wainwright charged after Yadier Molina after throwing the final pitch of the 2006 season against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
1. Convince Tony LaRussa to stay. The last few off seasons for Tony LaRussa have been similar to those of Indianapolis Colts’ Head Coach, Tony Dungy. A lot of questions concerning whether or not retirement is a possibility. Look, Tony LaRussa loves managing baseball games more than anything in the world, but at his age with his accomplishments it would be justified if he wanted to call it quits for awhile or even for good. This should be the biggest fear for GM John Mozeliak. No manager gets the most out of his players and has a team better prepared than Tony LaRussa. He must be convinced the pieces are in place and maybe if management makes a move for a big name, he’ll stick around and make another run at a World Series Title.
By Zack Estes
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