It will be one week from today when the Cardinals report for spring training in Jupiter, Florida. What can we expect in 2011? The way I see it, this is a team with the proverbial, “chip on their shoulder.” Let’s look at 5 very important players that have something to prove.
Just take away the numbers of some of these players over the years and consider the human element of trying to prove others wrong this season. At times, that can be way more important than trying to break down the numbers of the game.
Arguably, the most important player in camp is third baseman David Freese. Can he show that he can be healthy, productive, and play 130 games or more? Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was a guest on the “Sports Hub” on Thursday and he believes that Freese has done everything possible to be ready to go. I agree. I recently spoke to David and he is excited to get the season going and most importantly, he is healthy and has been way ahead of schedule in overcoming his injuries. You have to remember that in just 70 games last year that he hit .296 in and drove in 36 RBI’s but, most importantly, he gave the club stability. He was there for every game early on, and there weren’t infielders playing out of position because of necessity. Remember Flip?
Outfielder Lance Berkman represents the potential of damage. Where does he fit in the lineup? To me, that is the most important question when looking at the switch-hitter. I say that because I don’t feel he will cost the Cardinals games defensively in the outfield every game. There may be a hitch every once in a while but, over the course of a season how many times do you say, “the outfielder cost us?” Tony LaRussa says that he will wait until spring training plays itself out before he fills out an everyday lineup card but…just imagine the possibilities. Do you put him front of Albert Pujols for damage in the second spot of the lineup? Does he protect Matt Holliday? It’s a great problem to have. By the way, he’s motivated. He’s motivated to show everyone in baseball that he can play the outfield everyday and that he’s a still one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Will Houston regret not bringing him back?
Ryan Theriot. The Cardinals have rolled the dice to an extent by looking at the former Cub as their everyday shortstop. When looking at the player he replaced, Brendan Ryan, the former starter at short, there was a given commodity. He could flat out pick it. Defensively, he was at times sensational, but the Cardinals feel that Theriot is what you might consider a “gamer.” He will do anything to win. By all accounts, that’s what the Cardinals have gotten. Again, Theriot, wants to prove that he’s an everyday shortstop. Don’t discount the fact that he’s back in the NL Central, which happens to be the division of his former team, the Cubs. The Cardinals have replaced the flash for chemistry. Is it enough?
Skip Schumaker. The Cardinals’ everyday second baseman is still a work in progress. Fans won’t find a guy that works harder in baseball, a better teammate, or a better person. The organization asked him to play out of position at second base and hold the place of importance as a leadoff hitter in this lineup. He has done that without any complaint or fanfare. Two years ago he was outstanding in his transition from outfielder to second baseman. Last year, he wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what he did the year before in terms of numbers. Skip is a player that wears his emotions on his sleeve. He cares more than any fan in the stands. His first year at second base saw him hit .303 and commit just 9 errors. Last year, it jumped up to 16 errors. Offensively, he will get back to form, but the defense is still something he wants to improve on. My guess? He will be better. How good? A lot.
Finally, KMOX Radio. I know that KMOX is not a player on the baseball diamond, but KMOX is a major player in the St. Louis community. It’s up to us to provide great coverage to our listeners. All I can say is that we have been waiting to do this the last 5 years when baseball was gone. We need to prove to you that we are “America’s Sports Voice.“ I have worked at KMOX since 1994 and it is a privilege to walk through those doors and realize that I am about to go on the greatest radio station in America. From the greats over the years like Jack Buck to now, Mike and John, it’s up to us to give you insight, content, and insider information. We are motivated and we have to prove to you, the listener, the fan, why we are the best. Believe me, I know we will. Thanks for reading and keep us tuned in all season long. Should be a great run!
Dan McLaughlin, the television voice of the Cardinals, hosts “The Sports Hub” from 9p-12a on KMOX.