The World Champions looked like just that last night as they defeated the new look Miami Marlins 4-1 to officially open Marlins Ballpark. Most of the ballpark’s “firsts” are now attributed to Cardinals’ players. The first hit was Carlos Beltran. He was also the first run scored. The first RBI was to David Freese. The first strikeout went to Josh Johnson, but he was the batter as Kyle Lohse fanned him in the bottom of the 3rd. We did not, however, get to see the new home run sculpture get a use.
Kyle Lohse certainly lived up to the billing of an Opening Day starter, taking a perfect game into the fourth and a no-hitter into the seventh. If not for a missed call at first base, he would have gotten out of the game without allowing a run and maybe gotten an opportunity to finish out the game himself. It was probably the best Opening Day performance by a St. Louis pitcher since Todd Stottlemyre threw 7 scoress innings of 3-hit baseball as the Cardinals shut out the Dodgers.
Lohse, who got the Opening Day call after Chris Carpenter‘s injury, was the team’s best pitcher over the course of last season, leading the rotation in wins, ERA, and WHIP.
The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have purchased the contract of Scott Linebrink, the final step required to make him a member of their 25-man roster for Opening Day. It was a move that was expected after the Cardinals’ had sent RHP Eduardo Sanchez to minor league camp where he is expected to start the season with the Memphis Redbirds. With the move, the Cardinals are now at 40 men on their 40 man roster, likely having alternative effects on other jobs.
Linebrink, 35, just misses out on being the oldest man on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster this year. LHP J.C. Romero is two months older to the day and Lance Berkman takes the honor at six months older than Linebrink. Berkman turned 36 on February 10th, interestingly enough, the day that Linebrink was signed by the Cardinals’ to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
In 2011, Linebrink was 4-4 with a 3.64 ERA in 54 1/3 innings with the Atlanta Braves. He expected to get more phone calls from teams than he did get, but ultimately chose the Cardinals as his best option. The question in many teams’ minds, I think, was the 6.17 ERA he posted after returning from a DL stint last August. However, he did have a 2.95 ERA when he went on the DL in July.
Right field. It’s a position that many expected to be handed to Allen Craig after his outstanding 2011 season coming off the bench and providing crucial hits for the Cardinals in the World Series. Not so fast though. With Craig potentially spending time on the disabled list to start the season, the Cardinals went big and signed Carlos Beltran to a two year contract.
Last year Lance Berkman primarily played the position. He played it quite well too, posting what was the best season of his career by OPS+. He made the All Star team and finished 7th in National League MVP voting (Personally, I felt he should have won the award). He surprised as many feared he couldn’t handle the outfield anymore. However his influence, in my opinion, had a great deal to do with the Cardinals putting the run together that they did.
Allen Craig broke out as the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder last season too, putting up MVP quality numbers over his 200 at bats. Good enough that if you extrapolate his WAR out to a 600 at bat season, he led the league. Not too shabby. However, a June collision with an outfield wall in Houston put a big gap in his season and led to offseason surgery which could delay the start to his 2012 season. It was enough of a question that the Cardinals seized the opportunity to make a big move to show fans that they weren’t just going to stand pat after parting ways with Albert Pujols.
David Freese had a spectacular postseason. He then had an amazing offseason that included a stop by Jay Leno’s show and presenting at the CMA Awards with Erin Andrews. The question will now be, can he put it all together, have the season everyone thinks he can have, and then take his place as one of the league’s premiere third basemen?
Of course, that’s what we asked last spring and unfortunately it only half happened. After starting the season hitting around .320, but missed 51 games after being hit by a pitch and breaking a bone in his left hand. It was the only derailment in 2011 for Freese who had ankle injuries force him from the lineup in both 2009 and 2010.
Thankfully for Freese and the Cardinals, Freese didn’t sustain any ankle injuries in 2011. Something that has allowed him to come into this season saying that his ankles feel better than ever. Hopefully that’s something that can continue.
In the end, Freese finished the season with a .297/.350/.441 line with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in the 97 games he did play. For the 28-year-old third baseman, that was just the beginning of the story of his 2011. As has been covered and will be covered for years to come, Freese lit up the NLCS with a line of .545/.600/1.091 and added 3 home runs and 9 RBI on his way to scoring the NLCS MVP award. He wasn’t going to stop there though.
As I said in the Catcher preview last week, there are only three players expected to start Opening Day at the same place they started it last year. Lance Berkman is the other player who stays in the lineup but will find himself a new home at first base.
Originally signed before last season to a value rebuilding 1 year, $8 million contract with the Cardinals to play the outfield, Berkman re-signed with the Cards in September to the tune of $12 million. He quickly became their insurance policy against the potential of Albert Pujols vacating the position. Pujols took a $240 million offer from the Angels and didn’t look back. That leaves Berkman, affectionately referred to as “Big Puma,” with some mightly large cleats to fill.
Berkman, who will be 36 on Friday, had a phenomenal year in 2011. According to OPS+ it was his best year as he scored a 166 last year, beating out 2006’s 163 OPS+ campaign. Overall he had a line of .301/.412/.547 as he led the Cardinals in both on base percentage and slugging. He also added 31 home runs and 94 RBI for the Cardinals in a big rebound year.