The defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals roll into Cincinnati having taken two of three from the division rival Milwaukee Brewers.
The Milwaukee series gave fans a glimpse of the 2012 team. David Freese, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran proved that they can hit. Adam Wainwright showed he was healthy, even if he did not have his best stuff. Jason Motte showed that he is ready to be the team’s closer, at least as the season starts.
As they pull into the ballpark known as Great American, what do the Cardinals hope to see out of this series?
Jake Westbrook builds on his Spring
Let’s face it, most fans were perfectly okay with the thought of Jake Westbrook being relegated to the bullpen for the remainder of his Cardinal career, which most still hope is simply the end of this year. However, Westbrook put together a fine Spring Training.
Spring stats are hard to judge. It’s like the line from Major League 2 –
Rube Baker: Wow, Willie’s really got some power.
Lou Brown: Off a guy who’ll be bagging groceries in a couple of weeks!
So, who is the real Jake Westbrook? The Cardinals could use some stability in the rotation and if Westbrook can be a fraction of the pitcher we watched as the flowers were beginning to bloom, it will go a long way towards that stability.
Sending a message early
I am not bold enough to say that a three game series in April will make or break this season. There is a whole lot of baseball to be played. But these two teams are coming together as the favorites to win this division. A message can be sent here in the early going to let the other team know that they mean business.
As defending World Champs, the Birds need to send these messages quickly. They are being counted against pretty regularly by most of the “experts” and a series win, or even a sweep, could silence some of their critics very early on.
The $200 Million man
The offseason and early part of 2012 has shown the world that teams are willing to dig deep and pay big for the big men at first base that can hold their lineup together.
Albert Pujols has admitted recently that the contract was on his mind last season. Prince Fielder has started showing Detroit fans just what they paid for. Now the focus fall on young Joey Votto and what he can continue to bring to the Reds. The pressure is on his shoulders and, in my opinion, he will respond just as well as they need him to. That being said, the Cardinals are going to see this young man facing off against them for a long time to come, someone will put a big step forward in establishing dominance in this series.