Happy Opening Day Cardinal Nation.

The holiday of all holidays in St. Louis will likely be a welcome site for players and fans alike, as each experienced some road rage during the six-game trip away from Busch Stadium to start the season. The Cards finished 3-3 after a tough West Coast trip, which is nothing to scoff at, but things certainly didn’t go according to plan. Before we dive into the frenzy that is the home opener, here’s a look back at the road trip that spawned some eye-opening moments and early season trends… both elating and deflating.

Let’s start with the highlights and pleasant surprises.

-Adam Wainwright appears to be on his way back to his old self and ready to resume his role at the front of the rotation. His first start had a few hiccups, and he’s allowed a lot of hits to start the season (18 in 13 IP), but he earned a quality start in each of his two outings and he looked dominant against the Giants. His peripherals though are the real cause for excitement. In 13 innings Waino has struck out 12 and has yet to issue a free pass. That usually translates to dominance and is a sign that his curve ball (the last thing to develop after Tommy John surgery) is as nasty as ever.

-The kids have come to play. The trio of Pete Kozma, Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter have been the most formidable offensive force to start the season. Somehow Wicked Pete leads the team in homers and RBI and is hitting .333. Adams, with just two starts under his belt has a double, a pair of RBI and is hitting a cool .600. And Carpenter already has four doubles, four RBI and four walks to go along with his .320 average. Obviously these stats will normalize over the season, but it’s nice to see a contribution out of the youngsters. And any time you get offensive production from short, second, and your bench it’s a huge plus.

-Shelby Miller had a solid debut against the Giants, earning his first win and outpitching Ryan Vogelsong… something the Cardinals couldn’t do last year. A thorn in the Redbirds’ side the past few seasons, it was nice to see him finally get hit around a bit and have young Shelby hold up his end of the competition. Five and a third innings with just two runs on four hits is a pretty impressive season debut for the rookie, but the four walks were a little concerning. The strikezone was eerily tight for Shelby (and to a greater extent, Jake Westbrook the day before), so you can cut him a little slack, but you’d like to see that control a little more in check. That’s being said, he did fan four and his mechanics looked fluid. He had a nice easy delivery, mixed his pitches well and (while he’s known for his fastball) his breaking ball looked exceptionally filthy.

And now for the bad stuff.

-The starting staff has had issues going deep in games. Wainwright and Westbrook managed to last six-plus innings in their starts, but Jaime Garcia (5.2), Lance Lynn (4) and Shelby Miller (5.1) could not, and it has put some strain on the bullpen. Yes, it’s just three games, and yes, it’s early, but this is not a precedent the team wants to set. If this trend continues the bullpen will be in shambles by midseason and the Cards will have a tough time hovering around .500, let alone challenging the Reds for the division title. Shelby will be monitored closely (due to the fact that he’s a rookie and the organization doesn’t want to jeopardize his extremely high ceiling by burning out his arm), but Lynn and Garcia need to be workhorses for this club to succeed. Jaime will get another chance today and Lynn will get his tomorrow, so hopefully those two have figured out a way to make more efficient use of their pitches and keep their heads in the game. Both seemed to unravel after some minor hiccups.

-The bullpen hasn’t been great. It hurts not having Jason Motte and they have been called on a lot in the first six games, but this was supposed to be a strength this season… and so far it has been anything but. Fernando Salas (0-1, 8.10 ERA, 1.80 WHIP) and Joe Kelly have been nightmares (9.82 ERA, 2.18 WHIP, .421 opponents avg) and with the exception of Mark Rzepczynski (4 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 0.00 ERA) the others have failed at the most inopportune times. Salas blew the season opener wide open and cost the team any chance of a win and the pen coughed up what feels like a thousand leads in the 16-inning nightmare in the desert. Rosenthal and Boggs have looked dominant for the most part, but both have blown a save in three appearances. The pen needs to find it’s rhythm or this is going to be a long season.

-The big bats have been relatively quiet. The core of this lineup is Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, and while they’ve been driving in a decent amount of runs (17 RBI between them, note: the same as the Orioles’ Chris Davis) they aren’t hitting with any kind of consistency and are striking out way too much. Respectively the “fearsome foursome” are batting .259, .240, .182 and .235 and they have whiffed 19 times already. Some plate discipline and the ability to string some hits together will go a long way. I’m not saying they won’t come around, but it’s been frustrating to watch so far. The 1-0 loss to Barry Freakin Zito was especially infuriating.

All that being said, a .500 road record is a good start, and now we can look forward to the Cards taking care of business at home. Mat Latos and the Reds will be tough customers today, but here’s hoping a little Opening Day magic can get this club over the .500 mark for the first time this season.

Here’s to winning baseball, trouncing the Reds and making Stan proud. Happy Opening Day.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013 12:57 PM
Another good column Chris, but I barely found you way down here on the page. What the hell you gotta' do to get a tab again!?

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