St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals In Spring Training Dugout-Clearer

Tony La Russa and Jim Riggleman had words for each other after Miguel Batista beaned Ian Desmond.

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Spring Training 2011: David Freese Has Two Hits In Grapefruit League Return

The St. Louis Cardinals likely won't allow themselves to exhale until David Freese has played 140 games as their starting third baseman in 2011, but he passed a major milestone in his return from surgery on both ankles Monday afternoon, starting at third and picking up two hits in the St. Louis Cardinals' 10-4 win over the Minnesota Twins

A number of Freese's potential replacements at third also played well, offering some consolation for the team in the event of Freese's continued injury problems. Matt Carpenter, who hit .316/.412/.487 in his 105 game stint with the AA Springfield Cardinals last season, replaced Freese at third and went 2-2; Allen Craig, starting in right field with Lance Berkman still a DH, hit 2-4; and Daniel Descalso, a second baseman who spent some time at third in his first Major League cup of coffee, was 1-2 with a double in a late-innings appearance. 

Jake Westbrook was much-improved in his second start of Spring Training, throwing 3.2 innings while allowing one run and no walks. 


Spring Training 2011: Chris Carpenter Still Not 100% For Cardinals

The Post-Dispatch reported Monday that Chris Carpenter, the St. Louis Cardinals' number-one starter with Adam Wainwright recovering from elbow surgery, threw briefly in a practice session on Sunday, representing a limited improvement in his condition following his injury-shortened Spring Training debut. Carpenter's still "not going all out", according to Rick Hummel, but he's able to pitch, which makes him the Cardinals' healthiest ace.

Carpenter was outstanding and mostly healthy in 2009, and he was good and extremely healthy in 2010; considering he'd made four starts in the previous two years that run of health and performance has been a remarkable surprise. In post-Wainwright 2011 the Cardinals need one more 28-start season out of their ostensibly fragile ace; it's a tough thing to rely on, but that's the position they find themselves in. 

The good news—the last time he suffered a leg injury in Spring Training was 2009. Based on this sample size I can state definitively that Carpenter will go 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA across 28 starts this season. Given the recent change in run environment it will be a slight decline from those 2009 heights, but it should be enough to get the Cardinals' through Wainwright's year-long vacation.


Spring Training 2011: Kyle McClellan Strong, Leads Fifth Starter Race

Kyle McClellan, the early favorite in the St. Louis Cardinals' Spring Training 2011 race to replace Adam Wainwright in the starting rotation, put together a dominant performance in his first appearance of spring, striking out three in three scoreless innings. Fringe candidate Bryan Augenstein threw two scoreless innings of his own, striking out one. The Cardinals got two hits from Albert Pujols and their only RBI from Matt Holliday; Lance Berkman, DHing again, was 0-3, and third baseman Matt Carpenter was 1-2 with a walk.

McClellan hasn't started since a stint in the low minors before his successful relief conversion, and there's concern—coming mostly from outside the Cardinals' camp, and in part from inside SB Nation St. Louis—that he has no real track record in a starting role. But it's clear he wants the job, and it's equally clear that Lance Lynn can't win it—McClellan would have to lose it, at this point.

Fernando Salas, who will have to pick up some slack in the bullpen if Kyle McClellan departs it, closed out the win for his second Spring Training save, striking out one.


Chris Carpenter Injury "Routine," Mitchell Boggs Strains Back

The St. Louis Cardinals don't need your sympathy, but they'd probably accept your veteran starters. Just a day after ace Adam Wainwright underwent season-ending elbow surgery Chris Carpenter left his first start of spring training with what the Post-Dispatch reports is a "mild left hamstring strain." Carpenter isn't expected to miss significant time for this latest injury. Mitchell Boggs' lower back strain — I hope this doesn't become a recurring theme — seemed more serious at the time but has also been described as minor. 

Carpenter's 35 starts in 2010 were the most in Major League Baseball, as well as a career high; he'd made 32 starts in the previous three years, and hadn't thrown 200 innings since finishing third in the Cy Young vote in 2006. Without Wainwright, the Cardinals find themselves relying heavily on Carpenter's 36-year-old right arm. Boggs, converted to relief near the end of 2009, flashed a high-90s fastball in his first full season in the Cardinals' bullpen. Fernando Salas is the most likely choice at the back of the Cardinals' bullpen if he's not ready to start the season. 


Spring Training 2011: St. Louis Cardinals Kick Off Grapefruit League Slate Vs. Marlins

Raul Valdes is the starter, and Bryan Augenstein and Blake King are among the relievers set to follow him up, but Spring Training 2011 is officially in session—the St. Louis Cardinals will play the Florida Marlins Monday at 12:05 CST at Jupiter, Florida's Roger Dean Stadium. The Post-Dispatch reports that Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman will start, which should give Valdes and King more run support than they are historically accustomed to. 

Berkman is starting (and playing in the outfield) after struggling to loosen up a sore elbow over the weekend. David Freese, recovering from ankle problems that claimed much of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, won't play, although he expects to be back in at least a limited capacity well before Opening Day. 

Among the pitchers in today's action, Valdes and Augenstein are at least ostensibly candidates for the fifth-starter spot vacated following Adam Wainwright's elbow injury. Fernando Salas, set to pitch third, is likely to break camp in the Major League bullpen, while Eduardo Sanchez remains one of the Cardinals' top relief prospects. Blake King and Francisco Samuel are hard-throwing relievers whose control problems have oscillated between "serious" and "legendary." 

Follow all the action along with an extremely active game thread at Viva El Birdos


Spring Training 2011: Lance Berkman Misses Practice Again Saturday

St. Louis Cardinals offseason acquisition Lance Berkman, expected to play the outfield regularly for the first time in five years in 2011, missed practice again on Saturday. The veteran slugger has been dealing with elbow soreness since Spring began, but the Post-Dispatch reports that Tony La Russa expects Berkman back on the field tomorrow, for the last practice before the opening of the team’s Grapefruit League season against the Florida Marlins.

Berkman, struggling with injuries and traded in midseason to the New York Yankees, hit a career-worst .248/.368/.413 in 122 games in 2010, which led him to accept a one year make-good contract with the Cardinals in the offseason. He last played the outfield regularly in 2004; he hasn’t appeared in the outfield at all since 31 games there in 2007.

The Cardinals’ reserve outfielders look to be platoon candidate Allen Craig, who’s spending most of his Spring Training time at third base, and center fielder Jon Jay, the presumptive starter in right field before the Berkman acquisition.


Albert Pujols, The Chicago Cubs, And Schadenfreude

Fangraphs has been startlingly thorough in its plumbing of the St. Louis Cardinals’ most horrifying nightmares. There were five or six articles yesterday about the impact of Adam Wainwright needing elbow surgery, and recently they also decided to explore the possibility of Albert Pujols joining

Here’s what it comes down to: Pujols will likely be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, and Carlos Pena, at the very least, will be free agents on the Cubs’ end. They’ll have a lot of money to throw around, because they’re the Cubs.

As Chris Cwik, the author, notes, the Cubs have a lot of holes to fill, but at the same time signing Pujols would likely earn them a pass from their… occasionally unhappy fanbase, at least for a year. But I can’t see why Pujols would join a losing team, lest he throw off every last bit of goodwill he earned by saying all the right things throughout his Cardinals career, so the Cubs will have to find some way to compete on the relative cheap in 2011.


Adam Wainwright Injury Leaves Internal Options, Lance Lynn Bandwagon Rolls On

With Adam Wainwright's elbow injury leaving the St. Louis Cardinals suddenly a pitcher short, and the free agent market less interesting than it would have been, say, three months ago, the team's internal starting options are about to be put under a series of very large microscopes. Kyle McClellan seems like the top option—this in a year when it seemed like he might finally go an entire February without being put into a fifth starter competition—but Lance Lynn, as the top prospect-in-waiting, seems most likely to catch a wave of March buzz. Ian Snell... well, Ian Snell also exists. 

Kyle McClellan throws more than two pitches, doesn't hit 95 on the gun, and doesn't strike out a batter an inning, which means that he's doomed to "look like a starter" for the rest of his career. Coming off the best season of his career in relief he seemed like a fair bet to spend a fourth consecutive year as the Cardinals' set-up man by default, but Wainwright's injury puts a crimp in that bit of bullpen certainty. McClellan's relatively pedestrian peripherals don't give him as much leeway as the average bullpen-starter conversion, but so long as he looks like an option people will want to make him one. 

Lance Lynn has spent his entire minor league career in preparation for this moment. He's not a replacement-level starter—at least, that's not the ceiling you imagine for a first-round pick—but he's the ultimate depth prospect, having moved quickly through the system and possessing none of Shelby Miller's fragile star power. Of course, he's earned some star power of his own recently; it was revealed over the offseason that Lynn had traded his boring, dependable sinker for a four-seam fastball, and was now throwing between 92 and 96 miles per hour. 

It doesn't seem to have made any difference as to his effectiveness, but it's more fun. And sometimes, when your ace might miss the entire season, fun is all that's left to ask after. 


Spring Training 2011: Nick Punto Cardinals' First Casualty

New utility-man Nick Punto is the St. Louis Cardinals’ first casualty of Spring Training 2011, due to miss two to three months after it was revealed he’d need surgery for a sports hernia—Chris Duncan’s Disease, as it’s called in St. Louis. Punto had been limited in practice already; Derrick Goold reports Tony La Russa as suggesting he practice “under control” prior to this final revelation.

Punto was set to be the Cardinals’ top backup across the middle infield, with particular attention paid to third base, where fragile David Freese is the returning starter. His absence creates an opportunity for former Cardinals prospect Tyler Greene as well as non-roster players like Ramon Vasquez and Daniel Descalso. Backup outfielder Allen Craig’s bid to return to the third base depth chart will also be strengthened by Punto’s disappearance.

Punto signed with the Cardinals in January after a long career with the Minnesota Twins. He’s a career .247/.321/.322 hitter, which puts him within striking distance of unlocking the Brett Butler OBP > SLG career achievement.


Spring Training 2011: Colby Rasmus's Future Bright, Hopefully

At Viva El Birdos the talk of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, as Spring Training finally starts moving, has been Colby Rasmus, the team's erstwhile top prospect and occasionally maligned breakout star. On Sunday azruavatar compared him, briefly and robot-tongue-in-robot-cheekily, to recently retired Jim Edmonds; on Monday bgh detailed the changes he made between his disappointing 2009 and his only-disappointing-Tong-La-Russa 2010. 

Rasmus is a hard player to project in 2011; his 2010 season was the fulfillment of the potential he showed in his outstanding 2007 season in the Texas League, but between that we have his abbreviated stint in Memphis and his invisible rookie year to contend with. Rasmus's upside all along has been the kind of power he showed in 2010, but the average projection doesn't have a lot of evidence to show for that; ZiPS projections, for instance, have Rasmus at .262/.341/.443, which is, all at once, plausible, valuable, and disappointing. PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus's proprietary numbers, are even less optimistic, suggesting a slugging percentage of .417 is closer to the mark. 

A bet on a Rasmus breakout season, then, can't be dependent exclusively or even mostly on numbers; it's an intuition play, a hope play. It writes 2008 off as injury-ridden and 2009 off as an awkward adjustment. It's the ultimate February preoccupation, and I'm glad, if nothing else, that Cardinals fans have a player to dream on as spring unfolds. 

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