Taking Care of Business: A Preview of the 2011 Cardinals vs. Pirates Series
Though the 2010 series was won by the Cardinals (9-6), the Pirates took 5 of their 6 series victories in August and September. To Cardinals fans, this period is known as the great late season slump that killed the Cardinals hopes for winning the 2010 NL Central Division. The losses the Cardinals suffered at the hands of the Pirates were inexcusable and a huge reason why they failed at achieving their goals. The Pirates are traditionally terrible. A team that hopes to capture the NL Central Division can and must beat the Pirates consistently.
In 2011, the Cardinals are once again favored to challenge for the division title. The Pirates, once again, are rebuilding. They have some talent, but not nearly enough to make a run at the pennant. Here is how the teams match up:
The St. Louis Cardinals once again boast one the best one-two punches in starting pitching. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are arguably two #1 starters. Both of them could be a #1 starter on most rotations. Last year Wainwright won 20 games with a 2.42 ERA. Carpenter went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA. A down year for him, but if he can bounce back the lethal 1-2 combination of 2009 could be back.
The #3 and #4 starting positions are between Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook. In 2010, Garcia broke onto the MLB scene by posting a 13-8 record and a 2.70 ERA. Though, he did fatigue by year end. The Cardinals are going to have to watch him closely and possibly limit his pitch count again.
Jake Westbrook was added to the 2010 roster late in the season via the controversial Ryan Ludwick trade. He did well enough to entice GM Joe Mozeliak to resign him. Westbrook posted a 4-4 record with a 3.48 ERA. The good news about Westbrook was that he posted his best numbers toward the end of the year. With a full spring under Dave Duncan, perhaps he can improve and challenge Garcia for the #3 spot.
The #5 spot in the Cardinals rotation “should” belong to Kyle Lohse. The last two years have been huge disappointments for Lohse. Some of it can be blamed on injury. Some of it has been inconsistency. Hopefully Lohse can bounce back this year and become a solid starter again.
For the Pirates, there isn’t much to be excited about. The one bright spot on the Pirates rotation is Paul Malhom. In 2010 he led the team with 9 wins and a ERA of 5.10. Those are not dominant numbers in any respect, but, it’s the best the Pirates have to offer.
Edge: No contest. The Cardinals have a huge edge in the battle of starting rotations.
Similar to the starting pitching comparisons, the edge is clearly with the Cardinals. In 2010 the Cardinals had the 11th ranked bullpen in MLB compared to the Pirates, who ranked 28th. The Cardinals closer spot is not completely stable in my opinion. Ryan Franklin is just a game away from a melt down. But they are loaded with young RHP talent like Jason Motte. Not to mention Trevor Miller from the left side.
Octavio Duel collected 21 saves for the Pirates but has departed for the Blue Jays. Once again the Pirates bullpen will be pieced together.
For the last 3 years most of the infield positions outside of 1st base have been a question mark for the Cardinals. In hopes of stabilizing the middle infield, Mo added SS Ryan Theriot to the roster. I believe 2010 was an anomaly for Skip Schumaker who, in a “down year, batted .265. The tandem of Schumaker and Theriot must work hard to keep the number of errors down. Catcher Yadier Molina provides the most stability outside of Pujols. The Golden Glove catcher is remarkable at calling games and as a clubhouse leader. The main key to the Cardinals infield is 3rd base. If David Freese can play the whole year and if he can contribute as he did before going down last June the Cardinals infield could be significantly better than in 2010.
The Pirates added 1st baseman Lyle Overbay to their roster this offseason. Overbay brings a fair amount of power but not a lot of consistency to the Pirates infield lineup. The rest of the Pirates infield is decent, but not overwhelming. Neil Walker and Ronny Cedeno and Pedro Alvarez make up the middle infield, with Pedro Alvarez at 3rd base. Chris Snyder, and his .167 average, will be catching for the Pirates.
The Cardinals outfield has the potential to be extremely dangerous. The key is going to be if that potential pans out. General Manager John Mozeliak took a gamble on Lance Berkman, aka the “Big Puma”, this offseason. Most teams were put off of considering Berkman for the outfield. However, Berkman has gotten back into great shape. If he can stay healthy and put up big numbers up again, his bat is going to be a huge addition. In left field there are not as many questions, to say the least. Matt Holliday had another huge season with a .312 average while putting up 28 home runs. He remains a vital piece in the Cardinals lineup, providing “protection” for Pujols. The catalyst is going to be the promising but puzzling CF Colby Rasmus. Colby batted .276 and hit 23 home runs last year. The biggest being a grand slam against the Reds on his birthday. But he must get past his personal feud with TLR. And, he must be more consistent against LHP. If he gets the AB’s he deserves, he has the potential for a break out season.
The Pirates outfield is the lone bright spot for the team. Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen is a dynamic hitter and fielder. He led the team in average in 2010 hitting .286 with 16 home runs. He also fielded .987. McCutchen will remain the one player for Pirates fans to watch. In right field the Pirates will showcase Garret Jones. In 2010 Jones led the Pirates in home runs with 21, though he only hit for an average of .247. The outfield is rounded out with Jose Tabata. In 2010 he only played 102 games but he did hit for a .299 average with 4 home runs.
The Cardinals clearly have the edge in all aspects of their team. The 2011 season should see the Cardinals dominate the Pirates once again. But, it can not be as close as it was in 2010. And, most importantly, the Cardinals must take advantage of their matchups with the Pirates in August.