Tuesday, November 15, 2011

11.11.11 UCB Roundtable

The United Cardinals Bloggers (of which I am a proud member) are currently conducting a roundtable discussion about various St. Louis Cardinals-related topics. For this particular project, each day, one member poses a question to the group for all to answer. My turn in the rotation was yesterday, and I posed the following question to the group:

"What is it going to take for the Cardinals to make a postseason appearance in 2012?"

I'd classify engagement as "good", as participation levels were decent, and most were answers that you could tell had some thought, reasoning, and sometimes "guts" behind a member's response. The collection of answers for Friday's roundtable question are below. For the comprehensive collection of UCB Roundtable answers, check out the United Cardinals Bloggers website. We'll start with my own answer to my question:

I believe that with the pitching we do/will/should have in place for 2012, the absence of Prince Fielder in MIL, and Dusty Baker still at the helm in CIN, the Cardinals could reasonably expect to contend, and possibly win the division. I don't think we'll see nearly as many GIDPs in '12 (or at least, would certainly hope not), and I think it's reasonable to assume Holliday will be healthier. So, even considering the possibility of Pujols not returning, having a lineup that consists of Berkman, Holliday, Freese, Craig, & others lends itself to a respectable offense, certainly one that can compete in the NL Central. The defense up the middle will be key--just think about the difference in the way your stomach felt when you saw a ground ball hit to the left side before & after Furcal came over. If the same pitching rotation (+Waino, -KMac) comes back for 2012, and Dave Duncan is back in 2012, I think we can, once again, expect enough ground balls that infield defense needs to be solid in order to compete. As near impossible as it is to predict much of anything in baseball, attempting to do so with a bullpen is even more difficult. Suffice it to say that will be another area to keep an eye on, and may require upgrades mid-season.

Bill Ivie: I-70 baseball

I will say this:

The Cardinals should compete next year and, with or without number five, should be considered the favorites to, at the very least, win the Central Division. However...

Should Pujols walk, the Cardinals need to upgrade at another position. The drop off from Pujols to Craig is a large one. However, if the upgrade from Jon Jay to <insert center fielder here> is substantial without sacrificing defense, then it can be absorbed.

The Cards have the potential to upgrade at second, short and center without having to make a major splash (or spend a ton of money) and still sustain a solid defense. It all hinges on what our first base situation looks like so they know what they can afford elsewhere.

Should Pujols come back and Mo finds a way to upgrade one of the other three pieces, this team has to be a favorite to go a long way into October next year.

Tom Knuppel: Cardinals GM

To win more games than anyone else in the National League Central.... there I am done.

On a serious note I believe we must have solid pitching throughout the entire year from the bullpen and starters. Let's face it, they almost waited too long to make some necessary changes. To catch lightning with Salas and Sanchez was a great break and then when that started turning a bit, Motte rescued the pen. A new manager may/will handle this staff differently and may get some players a bit out of sorts from what they are used to doing.

Prepare Rzcep as a long reliever starter from Spring Training and have that second lefthander ready to start.

Jon Doble: Redbird Dugout

I expect the Cardinals to be postseason favorites next year, if not World Series favorites. That said, they'll probably finish third in the NL Central behind the Cubs and the Pirates or something crazy like that.
With or without Pujols, the return of Wainwright is a huge boost for this club. As good as Carpenter is, he isn't that ace pitcher anymore, but that's not to say he isn't a really, really good #2. The Cardinals should easily be capable of winning 10 more games next year with a solidified closer situation (or at least, better candidates for closer) and Wainwright back. 
I don't even feel like the Cardinals need to upgrade that heavily next year. I would strengthen the defense up the middle and call it a day. There are ultimately two ways to win baseball games, score runs or keep the other team from scoring. With the rotation and bullpen this team could have next year, we are in a position to be one of the best pitching staffs in the league and a secure middle infield would just make it all that more likely.
Even without Pujols, the Cardinals offense is still in shape to be one of the top-3 in the National League. Combine that with a top-3 pitching staff and you have a recipe for a team that is capable of going far.

I’m beginning to worry less and less about personnel with every season. Mozeliak and his staff have earned my respect and expectation that they will put a team on the field with an opportunity to succeed.
So my answer is health.
The Cardinals must stay healthy. They’re not going to always be able to overcome losing an Albert Pujols for any stretch of time. They were lucky to have Craig and Freese step up when Holliday struggled with injuries late in the season. Sure, it’s a great story that they accomplished what they did in 2011 without Adam Wainwright, but let’s not do that again, eh?
If the Cards can keep their Opening Day lineup on the field for 140 games or more, they’ll win a bunch of those.

Ray DeRousse: STL Cardinal Baseball 

First of all, forget the Pujols situation. While he hits his share of home runs and hits for average and RBI's, his current numbers are replaceable by others like Craig. I'm more concerned with having clutch hitters on this team than I am about gaudy home run numbers, and the fact is that Pujols is not nearly the clutch hitter he once was. If he walks, this team will be just fine.
Now, the rest: we have a championship-caliber bullpen now, a brilliant catcher, and a very solid third baseman, right fielder, and left fielder. 
The starting pitching scares me, but there isn't much that can be done. Big questions remain about Waino, Westbrook (can he ever get below a 4.00 ERA for $8 million a year?), Lohse (consistency), and Garcia (again, consistency as well as mental issues). And Carp threw 3,000 innings this year at 36 years old. Who knows what to expect, but we won the whole thing with mostly awful starting pitching.
I cannot imagine going through a season relying on Furcal at short. If he's healthy all year (good luck), you're still stuck with a very nice guy hitting .200 and committing 25 errors (his pace with us in 2011). 
I'd also like to see the team finally address the second base problem. I see other teams with big production and defense from second base, while we have Ryan Theriot and Skip there.
Overall, we are in decent shape, though.

Aaron Hooks: Cards Diaspora

What's it going to take for the Cardinals to make a post-season
appearance in 2012?

The players wanting to make a post-season appearance in 2012.


Daniel Solzman: Redbirds Fun

The will to get back in the postseason.

Chris Mallonee: Birds On The Bat 82

I look at this question as, what is it going to take for another team to knock the Cardinals off the division crown in 2012...They are the clear favorites in the weakest division in baseball.

If El Hombre bolts, Mo will bring in a good player whether through trade or free agent acquisition. With a key left hand addition, the bullpen should be even better than '11, plus everyone is expecting Waino back at 100%. As others have mentioned, the Redbirds not making 2012 playoffs would have to come down to losing key players to injury for an extended stretch and Waino not returning to form. But if 2011 taught us anything, even those 2 factors might not be enough to keep them out.

Kevin Reynolds: Cards 'n Stuff

Innings from the rotation. If Pujols is here, we are well positioned to absorb a lineup injury or two. If he's not, Mo will upgrade somewhere else...even if its just the bench to replace Craig's versatile presence.

The big question and need - w Carp's load in 2011/2010 and Waino's recovery - is quality innings from the rotation. With Westbrook's struggles and Garcia's Jekyll and Hyde routine, this rotation needs to keep pressure off the 'pen as much as possible.

Miranda Miraklus: Aaron Miles' Fastball

The addition of Adam Wainwright back in the rotation. Consistency from Holliday and Jaime Garcia. A continuation of awesome from Freese, Craig, Jay, Descalso, Yadi, Berkman, Lynn, Zepper and Motte. Maybe even the addition of another pitcher ... like Roy Oswalt or Mark Buehrle. Maybe if Roy played with the Cardinals, he wouldn't mind Rally Squirrels so much! Maybe get Furcal and Pujols back as well. I think this combined with how things are in the NL Central make the Cardinals chances pretty good!

I’m with Nick, health. If you go to the Cardinals website right now and look at the depth chart it’s in pretty good shape even without # 5. Minus Tyler Greene at short I’d feel pretty good running that lineup out on a consistent basis. Plus having Waino back in the rotation isn’t so bad either. Of course like most things this off-season the Pujols situation will probably factor in some personnel moves but as a fan I’m not losing sleep over it.
An addition or two in the bullpen, a shortstop not named Greene or Theriot and a couple bench guys and bring on Opening Day.

Mark Tomaskis: Retro Simba

The key to a postseason return for the Cardinals in 2012 will be whether the Cardinals’ starting pitching staff is effective and healthy.

Bob Netherton: On the Outside Corner

Nick said it perfectly, health. The Cardinals were very fortunate this year, which might seem like an odd thing to say when your staff ace goes down for the entire season. But consider that the remainder of the rotation were amazingly durable. Jake Westbrook made every single start. Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia were skipped a few times due to fatigue, not injury, and Chris Carpenter was a regular iron horse. The bullpen had its share of outages, but were retooled into a healthy squad at the very end.

Lance Berkman also stayed healthy, which was the real question going into 2011. It will be again in 2012.

The big difference between the two seasons will be how effective Memphis will be in backfilling injured players. Most of those players used in 2011 will be with the big club in 2012 (Eduardo Sanchez, Lance Lynn) and the bench players like Daniel Descalso and Allen may find a larger role, perhaps even as a starter. In 2011, there was ample MLB-ready (or near-MLB-ready) talent, ready to step in - Matt Carpenter, Andrew Brown, Mark Hamilton, Tyler Greene, Nick Stavinoha (sort of), Adron Chambers. That same list for 2012 will be Adron Chambers, Matt Carpenter and maybe Mark Hamilton. Aaron Luna, Tommy Pham and Darryl Jones are exciting young players, but none of them are ready to step into the shoes of the MLB players.

2012 will be far more about the health of the pitchers, veterans and David Freese than about individual performances.

J.E. Powell: STL Fear the Red

I would like to see a more consistent, slightly younger short stop or
2nd baseman. Maybe a 20 HR-80 RBI-.280 hitter, but of course that
would almost have to be done via trade, the Free Agent market is too
thin this year. If that doesn't work out, I think the Cards need an
everyday center fielder. With all due respect to Jon Jay, his numbers
just haven't been as good when he plays everyday.

Overall, as long as the Cards can stay relatively healthy (no season
ending injuries or several injuries at once) I think they will compete
in the division and will make the playoffs.

My closing thoughts:

First of all, let me just say that I was totally going to throw in a clause about how 'your answer should be something other than injury-related.  They're a part of the game, and no respecter of person.

But I didn't.

I can see where many of the thoughts and ideas from above are coming from, and the perspective of the writer, and can agree with many of them. Some of the comments I don't agree with, which is just one reason why these projects are so enjoyable, and why interacting with other members of the UCB is so much fun for me--I love a good, intelligent baseball discussion.

For more, bookmark the UCB website, as the roundtable project is set to continue for a couple more weeks, with new questions daily.

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