Monday, September 29, 2008

Well I got what I asked for...

...And that was a sweep of the hapless Reds. It's nice to go out on a winning note, especially a 6-game winning streak. St Louis finishes 86-76, which is 14 more wins than I predicted they'd get at the beginning of the season. Well done to all.

Additionally, this club finds itself in a LOT better shape as it enters the 2008 off season than it did entering the last. Last year we had questions at second (who?), short (resign Eckstein?), third (Rolen's friction with LaRussa), right (who to succeed Encarnacion), center (would Edmonds be healthy), and in the rotation (Carp out, Reyes on the way out, and a patchwork of other starters). This year, we have questions at second, because Miles isn't the answer, short, because I'm not sure Lopez is the answer, and the bullpen. That's actually a lot better than it was.

- Glaus turned into a more than capable replacement for Rolen, with the bat (despite his cold start) and surprisingly with the glove. Glaus is a legitimate Gold Glove candidate at 3B, and if they still took defensive stats into account when selecting that award he'd win it.
- Pujols had another typical MVP year.
- Molina proved his hitting actually has improved and turned into one of the more reliable Cardinal bats.
- Ludwick realized the enormous potential he's always had.
- Ankiel proved his second half surge last year wasn't a fluke.
- The committee in left (Duncan, Schumaker, Barton, et al) was competent.
- Wellemeyer has a future as a starter; he pitched very well in his first full season as a starter, including Pitcher of the Month in May.
- Lohse won 15 games and carried the team the first half.
- Looper was more good than bad.
- Kyle McClellan. At least until August.

- Izzy's done.
- Bullpen in general.
- Revolving door at second
- Joel Piniero
- Carpenter's new arm injury
- Wainwright missing 3 months to a strained ligament
- Wasted money on Mark Mulder and Matt Clement
- the Anthony Reyes debacle

So as the off-season starts, I like the foundation Mozeliak's put in place. Wainwright, Lohse, Wellemeyer, and Looper make 4/5 of a pretty good rotation. Carpenter is a HUGE question mark; how his arm responds to treatment will, I think, largely define how next season goes.

Priorities in my view: We need to find a reasonably priced starter as insurance for Carp. The bullpen must be rebuilt; Perez as closer and McClellan as set-up are good places to start, Thompson can be the long relief bubba, Springer probably has some gas left in the tank, but left handed specialists and 1-2 more reliable right-handed arms are a must. More offensive production must be found at second. Get a thumper in there, and we can put up with Izturis at short (love the glove), although a better bat (more gap power) would obviously help.

Chicago is the best team in the NL right now and probably will be again next year. Milwaukee just made the playoffs, but their best 2 starters will probably play for someone else next season. Wild Card and 90 wins should be our goals for next year. Once we make the playoffs, as we learned in 2006, anything can happen.

And hopefully we won't be happy with a season-ending sweep of the Reds next year. Unless, of course, we're playing the Reds in the NLCS.

Since the Redbirds won't be in the playoffs this season, I'll have to adopt someone for rooting interest. There will be interest in the baseball playoffs at my house so long as Boston remains alive, courtesy of my wife, but I need something else to write about. I've been thinking about this since St Louis was officially eliminated from the playoffs, and after careful consideration, there's only one team to back.

Whenever someone makes their initial trip to the post-season, some part of your soul has to root for them. So it is for me. We'll be watching the Tampa Bay Rays here at the Stance.

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