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What Were They Thinking?!

What Were They Thinking?!: The Wager

For those of you that listened to the UCB Radio Hour last night, Dathan and I were both asked to weigh in on the reported over/under mark from Vegas of 88.5 wins for the Cardinals in 2012. He took the over, I took the under.

Let me say this…I “believe” the Cardinals will hit 89 – 91 wins this season. But belief is a different thing than a wager ;). If you ask me to take the over/under on a win total for this team, I have to say it’s going to be harder for this team to hit the 90 win mark than it will be to hit the 87 win mark. So…under. I mentioned a few reasons on the show, but I didn’t really do my position justice. Let me unpack it a bit now…

1. 90 Wins is Hard. Oh, what a difference a championship and an off-season makes. Last season was difficult…real difficult. Let me remind you that this team was an NL favorite for the postseason before the season started last year…and yet, by the end of August we were all but out of the NL Central Division race and 10 1/2 games out of the Wild Card race. In fact, it took a comeback like no one has ever seen before in baseball to even make the postseason. Our win total last season: 90 wins…just 1.5 over the over/under for 2012.

2. You Might Have Heard About Some Changes. The popular opinion right now is that this team could be better than last season – for multiple reasons – and that may very well be true. But let’s not forget a few changes that occurred this off-season. 

A) The game’s best player and hitter – Albert “The Betrayer” Pujols – left St. Louis for the Angels. As much as we hate to admit it, you don’t lose a guy like that and not feel the impact. His offensive replacement is, we believe, capable in Carlos Beltran – but what about his health and those knees? From the outset, we know Beltran won’t put up Pujols-like numbers…so you automatically lose some production. Now account for the games he’ll have to miss for preventative maintenance or handle-with-care aches and pains. Throw in an aging player in his first season on a new team, and the production loss gets more severe.

B) Allen Craig had knee surgery. A key contributor off the bench – and Beltran’s primary replacement – won’t make the roster until May…hopefully. And even then, will he be the Allen Craig we know and love for the entire season? Likely not. In fact, it could take a post-ASG break reset to get him back to form. That’s half the season.

C) We lost a Hall of Fame manager in Tony La Russa. Let’s not forget that. Much of the Cardinals’ success – in this blog’s opinion – over the last 16 seasons can be attributed to, attached to, and/or associated with the presence of TLR. He’s gone, now…and we replaced him with a true rookie manager – a man who has never managed at any level that matters. How can we possibly know what to expect with all of that? And while you ponder that question, keep in mind all of the “mad bullpen skillz” TLR was displaying during our September through October run last year. Many players commented that he was managing like it was his last game/season. It was. It will be Matheny’s first.

D) Dave Duncan – Papa Dunc – is gone. Let’s not underestimate the loss of perhaps the greatest pitching coach of this generation. For years the Cardinals’ pitching staff was guided by a near-mastermind. He squeezed value from bargain basement pitchers – guys like Weaver who went from winning the final game of the 2006 World Series to an eventual bullpen role as “just another guy” for another team. Guys like Jeff Suppan who went from winning the 2006 NLCS MVP to becoming one of the most hated contracts in Milwaukee Brewer history the next season. Duncan’s loss hurts. Even Keith Law – who you all know I despise – said he believes Duncan’s impact on the team was even more responsible for the Cardinals’ success than TLR’s was (of course, you know his opinion of TLR…but still).

E) Everyone is Another Year Older + Too Many Unknowns. That includes Mr. Injury himself, Rafael Furcal. Lance Berkman is already expected to take a step back from his 2011 production – although still be good – but his knees are one year older. And what can we expect from David Freese? I don’t know…do you? Will he play 140 games? Or 80? In fact, how can we expect the entire lineup to be pitched without Albert looming large in the 3 hole? Too many unknowns.

3. It’s Going to Take Time for This Team to Figure Itself Out. Tony La Russa was fond of saying that he was taught April is a good time to push “while other teams are trying to figure out what they have.” In other words, he tried to use April to jump-start the season and the NL Central race. That may not be a luxury we have this year. With so many changes and unknowns, this team – perhaps more than any team in the NL Central – has to answer that very question: What do we have? We could end up with an early season hole that this season has to climb out of – or at least a more or less sluggish start.

4. Injury Risk with This Team is Real…Very Real. People around baseball like to criticize the 2006 champions as a perfect example of how the playoff system is broken…how the “best team” doesn’t have a fair enough shake to win the Series. But people forget just how good – albeit flawed – that ’06 Cardinals team really was…when they were healthy. Things just happened to come together health-wise for this team at the right time at the end of the season…and we took off…after winning only 83 games to “fall into” the NL Central Division title. We could be looking at a possible repeat of that type of season. Berkman could require significant time off – as could Furcal, Beltran, and Freese – throughout the year. Carpenter is already showing reasons for concern, and Waino is only a year removed from Tommy John Surgery. Throw in the fact that our best bench bat is currently unable to answer the bell due to knee surgery…and this team could stumble, limp, etc. its way to an NL Central Division title…with just under 88.5 wins.

5. This Division Has a History of Beating Up On Itself. I don’t expect that to change in 2012. In fact, it may get worse as the gaps between some teams seem to have narrowed. Look…the NL Central has taken a lot of criticism over the years for being “one of the weakest” divisions in baseball. I have always maintained that we’re not that bad…it’s just that no one in the division is all that good. We don’t have a power house in the division that dominates everyone. Instead, we all beat up on each other routinely. That will happen again in 2012.

Now…after all of that…would YOU pick the over or under on Vegas’ 88.5 win mark? I know, I know…it’s our Cardinals here…they can do anything, right? I believe it…but I don’t know that I would bet on it.

A Quick Note: On the show last night, Chris seemed surprised I would pick the under and yet still pick the Cards to win the division. I say that for a simple reason…I have no idea what to expect from the Brewers and Reds, but I do know this: The Reds floundered last season and the Brewers won the division and moved on to the NLCS. But this season, the Brewers lost Prince Fielder…and didn’t replace him. The loss of Fielder is going to dramatically impact the Brewers in ways the Pujols loss won’t impact the Cards. Throw in Braun’s calamity with PEDs, Marcum’s reported shoulder issues, Hart’s shaky health status…and the fact that this team got another year older as well…and I don’t think they run away in the division race like they did last year. I think they contend…but they could easily struggle to win 90 games as well. Oh…and about the Reds…they finished under .500 with a 79 and 83 record. Will they contend this season? Sure. But to expect 90 wins out of them is a HUGE recovery…especially with contracts looming for guys like Phillips and Votto. The Reds may be in a “win now” mode…and that will make them dangerous…but to expect 11 or more wins out of them from last season…especially when they have to play a division champ and World Series champ as two different teams in their own division…may be too much to ask.

Okay…you’ve heard all I got, I think. If you haven’t listened to the UCB Radio Hour, go do that now! You should be able to download it on iTunes (I would post a link, but technical issues prevent it this morning). Also, please feel free to submit ideas regarding The Wager between Dathan and myself – he picked the over, I picked the under. What should Dathan have to “do” when he loses?

Post your suggestions in the comments section below…but remember a few guidelines:

1. Appropriate suggestions only…let’s not get weird.
2. No property or person damage allowed.
3. No permanent marks/changes to a person’s body – no tattoos!
4. And let’s at least not break the bank…I’m thinking the whole effort should come in at less than $25.

Other than that, have at it. I may have more restrictions as we go along, but maybe not.

Thanks for reading!



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