Larry Walker became only the second native Canadian to homer in a World Series game. George Selkirk hit home runs for the New York Yankees in Games 1 and 5 of the 1936 World Series. Walker homered in Games 1 and 3 of last year’s World Series.
The Cardinals will face World Series nemesis Boston, and shortstop defector Edgar Renteria, when the teams meet March 16 for a Grapefruit League game in Ft. Myers, Fla. The teams will have a more significant rematch when the Cardinals play host to the Red Sox June 6-8 at Busch Stadium.
With Mark Mulder on board, the Cardinals will begin a season with a lefty in their starting rotation for the first time since 1999.
Curse of Keith
While much attention in the World Series was given to the Red Sox bursting the “Curse of the Bambino,” the Cardinals seem to be dealing with their own supernatural problems. The team has not won a World Series since it traded Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets in 1983. Nothing to it? Remember the key baserunning gaffe made by pitcher Jeff Suppan in Game 3 of the series? Suppan wears No. 37 — Hernandez’ old number with the Cardinals.
Sanders Six Pack
Reggie Sanders, who for the first time since 1998 enters spring training with the same team for two consecutive seasons, bacame the first player in major league history to hit as many as 20 homers in a season for six different teams.
Outwinning Big Unit
Mark Mulder’s career winning percentage is .659 (81–42), which is better than that of fellow lefthander Randy Johnson.
Of the four World Series Tony La Russa has managed in, three ended in sweeps: with Oakland in 1989 and ’90, and last year’s Cardinals. His first Fall Classic, with the A’s in 1988, lasted five games. Four World Series, seventeen games.
Hang a hundred
In 2004, the Cardinals won in triple digits for the first time since the Whitey Herzog era (101 wins in 1985). St. Louis’ 105 victories last season were the most since World War II, when the Cards won 106 in 1942 and 105 each in 1943 and ’44.
The Cardinals had a remarkable regular season in 2004, piling up 105 wins, the organization’s most since 1944. But getting swept in four games in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox removed some of the luster and left management with some explaining to do. General manager Walt Jocketty focused his offseason work on finding a No. 1 anchor for a starting pitching staff that turned soft during the postseason. The Cardinals made some impressive additions, such as former Oakland A’s lefthander Mark Mulder, but there were a number of subtractions from their pennant-winning lineup as well. The 2005 edition will feature a revamped middle infield, a new look at the top of the batting order and a slightly altered bullpen. But the core still includes Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker, which ain’t all bad. If the pitching falls into place as it did last season, the Cardinals once again have a chance to be playing in October.
The acquisition of Mulder, who has won 72 games over the past four seasons, gives the Cardinals the top-of-the-rotation pitcher they craved. Chris Carpenter, generally regarded as the club’s most talented starter last season, missed the postseason because of a nerve problem in his right biceps. He is expected to be healthy, but until he demonstrates it, there remains uneasiness. Like Carpenter, Matt Morris won 15 games last season, but the righthander had offseason shoulder surgery that will limit his availability early on. Jeff Suppan, a 16-game winner who outpitched Roger Clemens in the NLCS Game 7, is back, as is Jason Marquis, who seemed to wear out at season’s end. The club still has high hopes for lefthander Rick Ankiel, who will come to camp mentally and physically healthy.
Despite a sore hip and an uncharacteristic degree of vulnerability (2.87 ERA), Jason Isringhausen shared the NL lead with 47 saves last season. He is hoping a healthy hip will help him recapture some velocity. Ray King is among the top left-handed setup men around. He will be called on to shoulder a heavier burden this season after the departure of Steve Kline. The versatile Julian Tavarez offers balance from the right side. Mike Lincoln was the club’s primary setup man last year before elbow surgery ended his season. He hopes to return and be effective as the season wears on. Veteran Cal Eldred also returns to add depth.
This department has a whole new look. Long-established shortstop Edgar Renteria is now sleeping with the enemy — i.e., playing in Boston. The Cardinals adjusted by signing former Angels shortstop David Eckstein. Although not Renteria’s equal defensively or offensively, the pesky Eckstein will fit a need as he replaces Tony Womack at the leadoff spot in the batting order. The Cardinals replaced Womack, who jumped ship and signed with the New York Yankees, at second base with Mark Grudzielanek. Grudzy still can hit a little bit and, like Eckstein, won’t make many mistakes in the field, but the two won’t exactly rob too many base hits either. Hector Luna, who batted .249 and showed promise as a Rule 5 draft keeper last season, could figure prominently at both positions.
There’s not a club more talented at the elbows. Scott Rolen is the premier third baseman in the NL, if not in all of the major leagues. He had career highs in all the Triple Crown categories last season and would have done even better if not for a strained calf muscle. Albert Pujols is arguably the premier first baseman in the game. He has soft hands, a strong arm and an aggressive approach defensively. Offensively, he was third in the NL in RBIs (123), fifth in batting (.331) and first in total bases (389) last season. He has finished second, second and third in MVP voting the past three seasons.
Jim Edmonds returns to center, and he remains perhaps the best defensive outfielder in the game. He has seven Gold Gloves, including five in a row. A left-handed hitter, Edmonds can carry a club offensively, and he batted .330 against lefthanders last season. The Cardinals acquired Larry Walker in August of last year, and he returns in right field. The former MVP and five-time All-Star is not as dynamic as he once was, but at age 38 he remains an above-average player offensively and defensively. Reggie Sanders will be in left, where he will accomplish something he hasn’t done since 1998 — start two consecutive seasons with the same team. Sanders is underrated defensively and 2004 was the fourth 20-20 season of his career.
The Cardinals did not re-sign Gold Glover Mike Matheny and will turn the bulk of the work over to promising Yadier Molina. Defensively, Molina already is advanced, and he possesses a powerful throwing arm. He will need to develop the kind of game-calling rapport Matheny enjoyed with the pitching staff. Veteran Einar Diaz will be around as a safety net.
This is another area under reconstruction. John Mabry is a valuable anchor, with his ability to play outfield and infield positions. Mabry, a corner outfielder and infielder, had 13 home runs in a backup role last season and will get plenty of playing time. The Cardinals also will bring back outfielder So Taguchi, a defensive specialist and sound situational player.
With 2,114 career wins, Tony La Russa is a sure-bet Hall of Fame skipper. Along with pitching coach Dave Duncan, he got the most from an unsung starting staff and a deep bullpen to get the club to the World Series in his ninth season in St. Louis. La Russa’s aggressive style always leaves him open to criticism, which he is willing to take. General manager Walt Jocketty made a key acquisition in getting Mulder, as he has in getting players like Rolen and Edmonds in years past. But limited to an $85 million budget, Jocketty lost Renteria to the Red Sox.
It is hard to look at a club that lost three of its eight starting position players and expect it to once again win 100 games. The effects of the changes are a little difficult to read as 2005 arrives. But there remains plenty of talent in the everyday lineup and a solid nucleus in the bullpen. The Cardinals’ improved rotation should be good enough to make them a contender again.