CINCINNATI, OH - APRIL 5: Colby Rasmus #28 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark on March 5, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The only team that looked more like the all-hit no-pitch Cardinals of 2003 and 2008 than the 2010 Cardinals yesterday was the Reds, who were helped in the impression by Scott Rolen pretending to be Scott Rolen with two shoulders. Eleven hits, two home runs (almost three) off of a Cy Young-caliber starter, a roughed-up bullpen—it's good to see, until the other team knocks your opening day starter out after five and then scores seven runs on the relievers.
As opening day scenarios go there are worse fates than being on the winning end of a wild game like that. As bullpen meltdowns go, at least, it was milder than last season's tone-setter, where Jason Motte entered the game as the flamethrower who had struck out 126 in 78 innings and left it as the guy who, at 90 or 95 or 100, could not throw his one pitch past anybody's bat.
An off-day this early is always tough for me to stomach, but the Cardinals go into it with a few 2010 milestones and questions checked; it won't be quite so bad as all the off-days we had between now and last October.
For one thing, we know that Chris Carpenter will have at least one win for two consecutive years, which is not a milestone for most ace pitchers but is reassuring here. Carpenter didn't look great, although the two at-bats against Rolen—first pitch mid-nineties fastball up in the zone gets taken out of the park—suggest, maybe, a familiarity with the Carpenter gameplan, but given the way Great American Ballpark was fooling broadcasters all day it could have been worse. (Carpenter, for his part, blames insufficiently muddy baseballs, which would make for a nice Cardinals braintrust meme now that John Smoltz is too busy broadcasting to tip his pitches.)
We know that Yadier Molina is ready to hit a baseball, which is heartening; is it still too early to thank the capricious gods of baseball that a strained oblique has finally healed within its original timeframe? As the Cardinals' bizarre catcher panic reached its late-March peak I half-expected the trainers' Western Front-style war of attrition with oblique muscles to be the first dragging concern of April, Matt Pagnozzi taking the opportunity to exhaust his rookie eligibility, but as of right now the Cardinals' asinine Memphis depth chart remains, thankfully, a minor league story. The Cardinals should be careful with Molina anyway, as the season opens—if nothing else it's an excuse to avoid another 140 game workload—but he's too important, on offense and defense, for the team to lose.
We also know that David Freese's defensive malaise could escape the other withering Spring Training storylines and become an April concern, which is less heartening. In the minor leagues Freese was never particularly error-prone, and his 11 chances at third in 2009 were error-free. I'd hate for Freese's long-delayed first impression to be colored by his uncharacteristically unsteady hand in March and April, in addition to all the other unsavory things it's been colored by; it's not something he can risk with Mather and Craig behind him and his hitting, even when it's valuable, not impressive enough to carry his reputation through.
Most of our remaining old-business questions about this team will take a few months to sort out—Craig and Stavinoha haven't even played yet—and the new-business concerns haven't yet cropped up. But it's safe to say, now, that the Cardinals will not lose 162 games this year, that Chris Carpenter will win one, and that Yadier Molina will make one start in defiance of his threatening oblique. That's better than we could do in March.