Cards Blog: What to Watch for Against the Nats

Apr 4, 2008 at 10:18 am

The Washington Nationals are coming to town! Hmm, not really that exciting, huh?

Well, they’re not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, so maybe you can be excused for thinking that. However, a weak team is just what the doctor ordered for the Cardinals. They just took two of three from a very good Colorado team (NL champs, no less), and now they need to keep winning, get that confidence level up. Other bloggers are buying in to the Cardinals early success as well.

Things to watch for in this series:

For the Nationals:

Ryan Zimmerman: The Nationals’ third baseman is the only real star on the Washington squad. He also just happens to be one of the best third sackers in the game today. He can hit, he’s got some power and his glove may just be somewhat reminiscent of our own dearly departed third baseman of recent years, Scott Rolen. He really is that good.

Dmitri Young: Dmitri started at first base last year for the Nats, with their usual starter, Nick Johnson, missing the entire year with a broken leg. This season, though, the former Cardinal (can you believe this guy started out as a shortstop?), is riding the pine. I don’t think he’ll make a huge impact in the series, but he’s always fun to watch.

In fact, he's one of the few players in the game I would deliberately give up a hit to, just to watch him try to run the bases. When it comes to fitness, Dmitri is definitely no Ray King. By the way, gentlemen, watch your ladies when Dmitri’s around. No, seriously. In fact, you should probably just watch out whenever any member of the Young clan happens to be around.

Odalis Perez: This man was Washington’s Opening Day starter this year. Congratulations, Odalis.

So, why is he worthy of attention? Because Albert Pujols likes Odalis Perez. A lot. Here’s how much:

Batting Average: .650 On Base Percentage: .741 Slugging Percentage: .1500

Before you even ask, no. None of those numbers are typos. Albert’s still looking for his first home run of the season; tonight's not a bad night to bet on it.

Brian Barton: He has to get a start sometime, right? And with Chris Duncan on the bench with a tweaked hammy and Skip Schumaker still looking for the season's first hit, tonight might be the night for Mr. Excitement. All right children, I need you to all clap your hands if you believe in Brian Barton. Come on, now, that’s not nearly loud enough. You’re going to have to do much better than that.

Braden Looper: This is the big one. Looper pitched admirably last year in his first taste of starting at the major-league level, after exclusively relieving for the previous eleven seasons. But at times last year, he looked as if his stamina simply wasn’t there, and he ended up on the DL for a stint. Even after coming back, he was markedly less effective. Looper’s always been a guy who throws with a ton of effort; I fear how well he’s going to be able to hold up this season. He was brutal in spring training, and there were some whispers that his velocity was down even further from where it was last season.

I think Mr. Looper may be the single largest reason that John Mozeliak pushed so hard to keep Anthony Reyes on the team, rather than moving him down to Memphis. I think that at least part of the Cardinals’ brain trust may be afraid that Braden is heading toward a serious breakdown. Unfortunately, I fear the same thing. Too many innings and, more important, too many pitches, on an arm that’s never been asked to perform that sort of service before. I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but I don’t think this will end well.

If the Cardinals win today, they’ll be two games over .500 for the first time since the end of 2006. There’s a stat that won’t cheer you up. If we never had the rain, though, sunshine wouldn’t impress us.

Happy Friday, folks. The first weekend of the baseball season is upon us. Hope you enjoy it.

- Aaron Schafer