5 Lessons From the Cardinals' First Three Games

click to enlarge All right, listen up, kids. This moderately attractive and no doubt long-dead teacher from Pleasantville is gonna learn you up reeeaal nice.
All right, listen up, kids. This moderately attractive and no doubt long-dead teacher from Pleasantville is gonna learn you up reeeaal nice.
One series in the can, god only knows how many more to go in the baseball season. Unfortunately, 2011 hasn't exactly begun in stellar fashion for the Redbirds, with a 1-2 record and Matt Holliday's exploding gut only the most obvious concerns. 

It isn't all bad, though. Things didn't start off quite the way the Cardinals hoped, I'm sure, but there are some positives to take from these first three games. It would be nice if the percentage of good news were a bit higher, of course, but hey, the season is young. Too early to get too worked up one way or the other. Right? Right. 

Positive or negative, we know more about this team now than we did when they were just a hypothetical gleam in the city's collective eye. So here, in no particular order, are five things we now know about the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. 

1. Yes, the middle infield really is bad. -- Sorry, but you just can't sugarcoat this one. Coming into the season, the middle of the infield was a huge concern for the birds, as they were running out Skip Schumaker, coming off his worst offensive season and still a negative value with the glove, at second base, and Ryan Theriot, who projected to be a mild upgrade with the bat and a marked downgrade with the glove from Brendan Ryan

Not to pile on, but it didn't even take a full game for the middle infield to start costing the Cards runs. Skip dropped a throw from Yadier Molina on Opening Day which would have been a sure out and saved a run. Theriot committed the decisive error in extra innings. In game two, the pair teamed up to do their world-famous impression of a sieve, garnering critical raves but also allowing grounder after grounder to find daylight. 

In fairness, Theriot did have a very nice hit in yesterday's game to tack on an insurance run late. He's going to need to do that an awful lot, though, to make up for the rest of his game. 

2. Colby looks locked in. -- In the interest of trying to break up the negativity with a positive, Colby Rasmus looks fantastic at the plate right now. Even with an ofer yesterday, Colby has been on base six times in twelve plat appearances, walking three times. Of course, the challenge now is for Colby to maintain some semblance of this level going forward. After all, he looked brilliant in April last year as well, beginning a pattern of up-and-down months that tantalized and frustrated in equal measure. Remember, Razzle, think about your sack

3. The bullpen looks terrifying. -- I was skeptical of moving Kyle McClellan to the starting rotation. Not because I was afraid he would weaken the 'pen too much, mind you, but because I just don't see him as having enough stuff to be a successful starter. 

Well, time will tell whether my concerns are borne out or not, but the concerns lots of other people had about his impact on the relief corps already seems eerily prescient. Did Ryan Franklin giving up a home run on Opening Day have anything to do with K-Mac being in the rotation? No, probably not. Ryan Franklin just happens to be a mediocre pitcher who gets lit up when his command isn't perfect. That doesn't mean it isn't already obvious the bullpen is in bad shape without its underappreciated (by me, mostly), anchor. 

It's enough to make a man wish he could just snap his fingers and somehow bring in a couple of the best young relievers in the game to stabilize things. Guys like Chris Perez or Luke Gregerson or...oh, wait. Never mind. 

4. When Jaime Garcia says he's good, don't you dare question him. -- Admit it. You were worried about Jaime Garcia. It's okay, you can say it. I was too. I started hearing the words Sophomore Slump echoing in my dreams at night as he scuffled all spring. Sure, he did have the one nice start at the end of spring, and that was mightily encouraging, but still. You watched him pitch this spring, he just flat-out didn't look like the same guy who received all those Rookie of the Year votes last season. 

Jaime Garcia doesn't give two shits about your worries. Jaime Garcia eats baseball bats and spits out toothpicks. Jaime Garcia is a bad, bad man. And when he tells you he's really encouraged by his four inning, eleven run outing, you just nod and smile and agree with him. And try not to make eye contact. He can taste fear in the air. And it makes him hungry. 

A complete game shutout, four hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts. Even better, just 102 pitches. Remarkable economy. Do I question the wisdom of letting one of your horses go nine his first time out on the season? Yes. Yes I do. But then again, I believe I outlined above why you don't ever want to argue with Jaime Garcia. That includes telling him he's got to come out of the game. 

5. It's never too early to bitch about the manager. -- Look, I said a moment ago the bullpen scares me. But you know what scares me even more? The manager's handling of the bullpen. We've seen it every year, and it never fails to drive me up a wall. 

Miguel Batista was ostensily brought in as a swingman/sixth starter/insurance policy. He has the repertoire and experience to start, so he can go multiple innings out of the 'pen or even spot start here and there when you need him to. It's not the worst thing in the world, having a guy with that sort of track record on your team. 

So can anyone tell me exactly what the hell Miguel Batista was doing pitching the eighth inning of a close game? The long man is supposed to soak up those low-leverage middle inningss, not come into close games under high pressure. 

The answer, of course, is Tony La Russa. That's why Batista was in the game in such a vital juncture. Batista has tons of experience, which is something these other young bucks out there just can't match. Hell, Batista has been a closer, for god's sake! That kind of experience cannot be bought. It must be lived. Never mind the role he was brought in to play, or the fact he was never all that good as a closer anyway; we can now watch Batista load the bases in a close game in the most experienced, veteranny way possible. Who could ask for anything more? 

The Cards got lucky Trever Miller was around to bail Batista's hindquarters out of trouble. This time. If La Russa thinks Batista is going to serve as an effective setup man this season, though, then he's got another thing coming. And we've all got a very, very long baseball season to look forward to.