2012 is bound to be an exciting season for St. Louis Cardinals fans.
By Cannon Huge
For starters, the Cards will be defending World Series Champions for the 2nd time in 6 seasons, and for the 11th time in franchise history. The incredible run that culminated in an epic Game 6 followed by the first Game 7 in a World Series since 2002.
Nevertheless, the events that began unfolding soon after have unjustly taken attention away from the 2011 season. Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols are two seismic departures, but in no way should that take away from what was possibly the greatest late season run to a World Series Championship in baseball history.
It is safe to say that we will never witness that kind of run and that kind of finish again in our lifetime. It’s a shame that the celebration was tempered not even 24 hours after the victory parade with TLR’s retirement. Soon afterwards, the greatest baseball player on the planet decided to pack up for L.A., bypassing the opportunity to become an iconic figure with an iconic franchise. Regardless, most can agree that Albert Pujols should be a Cardinal now and forever, but he wont be, and the Redbirds are starting to toss it around down in Jupiter without him. So, its time to move on and continue to build the legacy of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise while the Angels try to lock down that elusive 2nd World Series in a city that will always belong to the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite their recent financial hardships.
Both losses left craters, but GM John Mozeliak answered the bell. He locked up SS Rafeal Furcal and landed one of the bigger names, OF Carlos Beltran. Furcal was a key cog of 2011. Defensively, he is the quarterback of the infield.
Beltran represents production that can soften the blow of #5 leaving. Beltran is a pure baseball player when healthy. THAT’S A BIG IF. Still, Beltran’s was a signing that MO NEEDED.
Forget Pujols. The bigger story heading to Jupiter is LaRussa’s absence for the first time since 1995.
Tony LaRussa’s unrivaled passion is stitched into the Cardinals. TLR’s teams came more prepared than most throughout his tenure. No matter the score, the situation, or whether it was game 1 or game #162, we as fans KNEW that TLR was going to have the team ready. His unorthodox moves and decision-making upset some, but his numbers speak alone. MLB’s rigorous 162 game schedule makes this trait even more admirable. I honestly wonder what the guy is going to do after spending 33 years completely devoted to the game of baseball.
None of this means that the Cardinals will experience some sort of drop off under Mike Matheny, but change brings new, different ideas. Very different. The egotistical TLR managed his way, against the grain at times. I’m assuming Matheny’s techniques will lean more towards an established way, which in and of itself will be a major change. One aspect of this is the use of speed. A stolen base is a game-changer.
Another intriguing aspect is Matheny’s history with St. Louis. A former TLR favorite, Matheny now steps in as his heir. The Cardinals chose him over 2x World Series Champion Terry Francona. Was Francona a big name signing before the 2004 season when the BoSox took a chance on him? No, he wasn’t, and what happened? He won a World Series year 1, beating STL in 4 games to lock up Boston’s first World Series since 1918. My point is that people get caught up in names, and numbers. Starting his blank managerial career with a defending World Champion team, Mike Matheny could not ask for a better opportunity. After being fortunate to watch the immense impact he had playing, and hearing his reputation as a leader, there is no reason to believe he wont take FULL advantage of his opportunity to become the next great Cardinal manager.
All of these exciting changes will be put to the test early in 2012. All but one game in April comes against NL Central rivals. As defending champs, opponents play with that extra incentive. But the depth of this team is immense.
Solid starting pitching, a proven bullpen, and impact bats
There is no reason to believe the Redbirds can’t weather the storm en route to another division crown. Having 5 legit, healthy starters gives any team a realistic shot at winning. The return of staff ace Adam Wainwright relieves pressure off Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook. One could argue them as the best backend starters in the league. Lohse led the team in wins last year and Westbrook has an All-Star season under his belt. The “bulldog” Chris Carpenter headlines the front end. Jaime Garcia should learn from his inconsistency throughout last season, and continue to develop as an impactful left-handed. Waino is pitching with a brand new elbow. Throw on top the bullpen depth (Lynn, Motte, Boggs, Salas, Sanchez), and this pitching staff is scary good.
Going from Beltran, to Berkman, Holliday, Freese, Craig, Yadi…woah.
The offense is potent.
Regardless, a season defending a World Series title brings excitement and intrigue. The north side of Chicago is defending a 108-year drought. Fans can’t wait for spring training…to be over. On April 4th in Miami the questions are over, and…. the Birds go for 12 in 12′.