The Top Ten Biggest Questions Facing The 2012 Cardinals
It’s never easy following up a World Championship. Expectations are higher, scrutiny is even more intense, and mistakes are amplified. Often, World Championship teams collapse rather than succeed; a quick look at the records of the 1983 and 2007 Cardinals will attest to that.
One of the best aspects of the 2012 team is the large core of younger players returning from their trial-by-fire in the magical 2011 postseason run. Very few key components from the championship team were shed in the offseason, and those missing pieces were largely replaced by similar and suitable parts.
Still, questions remain. These are mine (in order of importance):
10. Can Jaime Garcia get his head on straight? – 2011 was another frustrating chapter in the Jaime Garcia saga. The kid has amazing stuff; he should be a 20 game winner right now. Unfortunately for everybody, a hair out of place, a late cab, or an errant breeze can set Garcia off emotionally and ruin any random start. It’s time for Garcia to grow up. A season of 13-7 with an ERA of 3.56 is okay, but he should be so much better than that. This season is the one where it needs to happen.
9. Does Chris Carpenter still have anything left in the tank after 2011? - Carp pitched more innings than anyone else in 2011. At 36 years old. And he’s had multiple arm surgeries. Carpenter has the mental toughness and competitive will to accomplish almost anything; Carpenter might crawl out of his own grave to make a start if needed. Still, the human body has limits, and, in baseball, taxing the body in one season usually results in payments during the next.
8. Can Lance Berkman come close to duplicating his 2011 season? - The loss of Albert Pujols created a hole in the league’s best offense. While the Cardinals addressed some of that missing offense with the signing of Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals are clearly banking (or hoping?) that Berkman can do damage similar to his 2011 campaign. It may not be possible. I can’t imagine Berkman going on another tear like he did from April to July, when Puma collected the large majority of his extra base hits. If he can come close (let’s say 25 homers and 80 RBI), that should be enough.
7. Can David Freese live up to his postseason? - The baseball world sat up and took notice of double MVP David Freese after his incredible and historic postseason. It was just the kind of clutch power show the Cardinals had hoped from Freese as they patiently waited for him to recover from endless surgeries. Will Freese finally play a full season? And, if he does, will his ending numbers reflect the kind of hitting we saw in the postseason? Given some of the offensive questions, we might need him to do just that.
6. Can Tyler Greene play second base this year? - The Tyler Greene situation has been hanging over the club for three years, and it looks like 2012 will be the make-or-break season for this saga. Greene has all of the tools – speed, arm, defense, and hitting with authority – but he’s never put it together in the big leagues. If he succeeds at second base, he gives the Cardinals the potent, base-stealing table-setter that they’ve been missing for at least five years. If he fails, then the top of the lineup becomes a confusing quagmire.
5. Was Carlos Beltran’s 2011 season a fluke? - Nobody disputes the ability of Carlos Beltran to hit a baseball; he’s been one of the better hitters in the National League for a decade. But his 2011 numbers are so drastically different from the previous three years that it gives one cause for concern. Sure, Beltran had injuries plaguing him from 2008-2010. But the question remains: is Beltran healthy enough to continue his 2011 performance, or will he regress? The Cardinals are betting a lot of money on the former.
4. Is Jason Motte a full-time, full-season closer? - The whole TLR mind-game about refusing to name Jason Motte the closer at the end of the season was ridiculous and pointless; Motte was the only hope and his performance deserved the title. But Motte only took on the role in the last two months … can he do it for a season? Can his arm withstand throwing 98 MPH fastballs under pressure for an entire season? This is a crucial moment for Motte and the Cardinals.
3. Where does Allen Craig play? - Lost in the shuffle of the Beltran signing was poor Allen Craig. You’d think that, after Craig’s amazing postseason (eclipsed only by Freese), Craig would finally be handed his shot after two years of wallowing in TLR’s development program. NOPE. The Beltran signing once again pushes Craig into a utility outfielder role once his knees heal. While Craig sitting on the bench certainly helps our depth, it doesn’t give this natural hitter much of a chance to impact this team or this season. We’ll see how Matheny works this one out.
2. How well can Mike Matheny manage a game or a ballclub? - The biggest gamble of 2012 is on Mike Matheny, who has ZERO experience running a team or managing a game. We know nothing about his strategies, his methods, or his ability to take control of a clubhouse. Since we were endorsing Matheny back in August, we are definitely part of the pro-Matheny crowd. Still, his inexperience is a huge question mark.
1. Will Adam Wainwright return to full strength? – Tommy John surgery is nothing simple or easy to overcome for a pitcher. Some make the leap, and others don’t. Everything indicates that Waino is safely ahead of schedule, which is reassuring. However, the Cardinals will need someone to make up for the 5-8 WAR they’re missing from Pujols, and Wainwright is the one they’re hoping will fill that void. Given other questions about the rotation, we need him to do just that.