Hey, look at that confidence poll bottoming out! Over there, on my right—we've crawled all the way to 29. That means it must be the offseason. The Hot Stove League isn't truly in session until the baseball season is over, but I'm starting to feel the move to future tense already. The 2010 season? It's no longer a going concern, it's stuff to be molded into a maybe over-optimistic storyboard of the 2011 season.
At SB Nation St. Louis, where I write under a clever pseudonym and am required to capitalize the first letter of every last word in a title, you'll find the Top Five bad things to take from the 2010 season. They came easier. But here, at Viva El Birdos, I come bearing good things. Since this is a companion piece, I come bearing five of them.
5. They finished strong again. Yeah, I don't get it. The Cardinals seem hell-bent on moving from the part in the draft where people expect you to draft Shelby Miller and are surprised you don't to the part where people don't expect you to draft Shelby Miller and are surprised you do. I guess comfort level is important.
But it was good to see that this team isn't a complete mess, because for the most part we're stuck with it. The top three starters (and Kyle Lohse?) (and probably Jake Westbrook, maybe?) Yeah, that's going to look familiar. The catcher, two outfielders, the first baseman, and probably two of the other infielders? We'll recognize them. Mozeliak wants to add guys, 15-homer guys, specifically, but I'm not sure where he'll do it, or where he can.
So it's good to see that this team, in spite of itself, in spite of all its injuries and underperformance, can manage 86 wins, even if the last 10 or 11 meant more for Memphis than they did for St. Louis.
4. The Memphis guys! We know more about them. And most of it's good news. Jon Jay finished the season at .300 on the nose and had himself a slightly-better-than-Skip-Schumaker year. If he turns out to play defense like Skip Schumaker that's bad news, but Jay is a little better all around; a better defender by reputation, a better hitter in the minors, and two years younger than Schumaker was when he got his briefer push into almost-full-time status.
Allen Craig's final numbers don't look great, but he started hitting at the right moment; he seems to have pushed past Nick Stavinoha on the Ineffable Tony La Russa Depth Chart. Tyler Greene topped 100 at-bats, Bryan Anderson showed up (but not enough), and Daniel Descalso got his all-important first call-up and responded well to La Russa's strange and sudden decision to make him a third baseman. Fernando Salas did well enough to look like a sure-thing in the 2011 bullpen.
I don't think we could have expected anything better than that for Jay, and he's developed at a moment where that might be good enough to spend the fat part of a platoon in right field. Craig and Greene and Descalso got themselves in the conversation. We don't know everything about these guys, but we know more, and when the Cardinals' 2011 plans suddenly blow up in some crucial spot one of the others might be prepared to play the Jon Jay role. It's good to have as many potential Jon Jays as possible.
3. Matt Holliday ended the season with the fans on his side. Also, he played extremely well. If you'd asked, in May, whether it would be good news that fans no longer complained about Matt Holliday's supposed unclutchness—well, I'd be suspicious. I'd be willing to wager you were an ironic rhetorical device, and that the Cardinals had fallen behind the Reds for good.
But I guess I'd also be happy about it. It looked like Matt Holliday was just doing his thing this year—awkward but effective defense, weird, displaced-football athleticism, lots of inexplicably hard doubles swings and a .310-ish average. But he was actually having the second best season of his career, not just by WAR but by examining his counting stats. Out of Coors Field he looked... well, like the Matt Holliday from 2008 and 2009, but with a little more extra-base power. He played 158 games, he never looked like he'd given up or checked out, and, yes, he only managed an .808 OPS with runners in scoring position.
With any luck, this will be the last time that's important.
2. Adam Wainwright was even better than he was last year. Wainwright was outstanding in 2009, of course. But he looked... well, lucky, a little. He had a high strand rate; we talked about it, and wondered about it, and when he didn't win the Cy Young, talked about what was and wasn't value, even though it might not happen again next season.
But then it did happen again next season. His peripherals were infinitesimally better, each one; his strand rate was even higher. So we have a pitcher who was wither even better, even luckier, or even better and even luckier. However it was, he looks every bit an ace, and he's finally got 20 wins on the baseball card, which is one perfectly excellent thing to take from a mostly imperfect season.
1. Jaime Garcia! This is what it's like to have a pitching prospect that Tony La Russa doesn't dislike!
Jaime Garcia's FIP this year was 3.41. I want to state that at the outset, because when you start from "his ERA probably won't be 2.70 again it sounds much less impressive when you get to 3.41. Garcia pitched 163 innings the year after he could have reasonably been expected to not pitch any at all. He struck out 7.3 batters per nine innings, walked 3.5, which might go down, and gave up 0.5 home runs, which will probably go up.
He's a young pitcher, and things could get worse than that, but even if they do I'm glad we got a chance to see him this good. He wasn't a flash in the pan, either—in the second half he went 5-4 with a 3.53 ERA, which would itself have been a successful rookie season, boosted his strikeout rate, and dealt with an increased home run rate. The Cardinals have developed a young pitcher who might be great, and is probably at least good. That's something to celebrate, when the fan confidence poll gets high enough to warrant celebration.