[Programming note: In honor of Opening Day, the best day of the baseball year, and to apologize for my Friday no-show, I'll be writing about the Cardinals month-by-month in five parts all day, including the ever-exciting first game thread of the year. (Comments will be off on the other morning entries, in keeping with Viva El BIrdos's characteristic abuse of huge, threaded discussions.) Keep checking in.]
The Cardinals' Opening Day festivities just got a little slower—Yadier Molina is in the lineup tonight, pending a morning physical, and with his participation the last question about the first few weeks of the Cardinals' season has been answered. April, pending the first worries about injuries and ineffectiveness of this long, long season, is a closed book, and the first page looks like this—
I'm not sure Brendan Ryan is going to have a better year with the bat than David Freese, but he looks the part of the number two hitter, and if Mark McGwire's going to have some extraordinary Ted-Williams-in-Washington effect on the Cardinals in his first year as hitting coach it'll probably start with his most determined, least-settled-in-the-box pupil. During Spring Training games on TV I was astonished to see him get to the plate, lick his shoulder... and then stop moving. There is nothing more subtly surprising and disorienting than a new baseball season—players in new uniforms; prospects who've been on paper for so long showing up in the flesh; Brendan Ryan, noted treasure-hunter, comedian, and spaz staying still in the batter's box and pulling the ball.
But in April I don't expect a lot to go on. The potentially weird backup catcher situation is rectified, the most ten uous parts of the bullpen might not appear enough for things to change, and the bill for the strange construction of this team's bench will only come due this early if one of the players on it is pressed into starting duty—at which point we have something more important to worry about, and this sanguine season preview will look ridiculous even earlier than anticipated. (The tentative date for the final hilarious peace-in-our-time-style repudiation of this piece is June 5, 2010.)
April, even more than March, is a chance to see what the team's most careful planning and best intentions are actually worth. The team they've intended to put out there for half a year will get this one month to play exactly as constructed, and we'll see which of our worries were the product of genuine weakness, and not the endless reconsideration and cable news-y overanalysis of the Hot Stove League. In May the triage will begin; this April's team, in the purest sense, is the Cardinals we've been waiting for, the ones Mozeliak and the coaching staff have built. They'd better not suck.