2011 Year in Review

2010 had some fascinating storylines. In the wake of admitting his steroid use to claim baseball’s single-season homerun record in 1998, Mark McGwire resurfaced after a decade in hiding to become the Cardinals’ hitting coach. The Redbirds played several memorable games, including a 20-inning instant classic vs. the Mets, and an emphatic 3-game sweep of the Reds in mid-August to seize first place. There were comebacks, blowouts, and heart-breakers, but I’m not concerned with that, I’m turning the page. With all the contract uncertainty looming in 2012 (Tony LaRussa, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman to name a few), the stakes will be high next year.

So what will the big stories and big moments be this time next year, when we sit back and reflect on 2011?

February 25th – Spring training begins for all players but, more importantly, it ends the Cardinals’ best chance to sign Pujols before he becomes a free agent. Let the next 8 months of nail-biting begin.

March 31st – Opening Day on a Thursday. Baseball is breaking tradition this year in order to start the playoffs on the weekend and end them in October. Opening Day is always special, and 2011’s is no exception… Clydesdales, cold beer, and a win over the Padres.

April 22-24th – The Reds rivalry is renewed for a three-game weekend series at Busch. Don’t think the Cardinals (or their fans) have forgotten about Brandon Phillips’ choice words, last year’s brawl, and ultimately the Reds taking the Central Division title away from the Redbirds. It’ll be a memorable opening month series, especially that first game. Cards take 2 of 3.

June 22nd-24th – The first three game series with the Phillies should be telling of the balance of power in the National League. At home, can the Cardinals hold their own and show the Phillies they won’t be pushed around despite throwing the likes of Kyle Lohse out there against Oswalt, Halladay, and Lee? Round 1 goes to the Phillies 2-1.

July 31st – The trade deadline – The Cardinals again find themselves looking for infield help and an impact bat to put themselves over the top, while at the same time dealing with rumors that Albert Pujols could be dealt to a contender in a 3-team blockbuster deal. The Cardinals do not trade Pujols, but don’t pick up the impact bat either.

September 16-19th – Gut-check time: A four game road trip to Philadelphia, the Cardinals one and only trip there this year. Both teams are in first place, and fighting to clinch. A tough fought series that sees Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright go toe-to-toe with the Phillies’ elite pitching. Cardinals steal a win late off their old pal Brad Lidge and salvage a 2-2 series split.

September 25th – The Cardinals Clinch the Central Division Title with a win over the Cubs at Busch Stadium. The team is headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

October – I wouldn’t dare tempt fate by predicting the outcome of October this far in advance, but it will be a much more memorable run than 2009. What will happen if the Cardinals and Phillies meet for another showdown in 2011?

November – Tony LaRussa announces his retirement after 15 seasons with the Cardinals. He leaves as the franchise leader in victories and a successful track-record in the playoffs, including at least 1 championship.

And that brings us to December of 2011. The big question remaining? Albert Pujols. How will fans view him at this time next year? Relief that he re-signed with the Cardinals? Nervous because he’s still unsigned? Frustrated because he left? Satisfied because he and LaRussa brought the city its second title in five seasons and at peace that he left?

It could be a more exhilarating than a walk-off win, more nerve-wracking than a late-inning no-hitter, with more drama than the latest chick-flick. Only time will tell.

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