April 4, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; In honor of the Cardinals' 2011 World Series victory Marlins infielder Hanley Ramirez sewed gold thread into his hair.
Up until this morning, Kyle Lohse had no black ink on his Baseball-Reference page—not so much as a league lead in intentional walks, or balks, or a third rhyming, inconsequential thing. At this writing he is leading the National League in wins, starts, innings pitched, and ERA+, though not ERA. Oh, and sacrifice hits. Which is just to say that his Hall of Fame candidacy should receive a boost, provided he continue to do all that.
If Joel Pineiro was Duncanness at its most refined, so pure it couldn't exist in nature for more than a few fractions of a second, the Kyle Lohse we've seen since last year just seems like a regular pitcher doing his best to put the elements of Duncanness into practice on a game-to-game basis. His control isn't perfect, and his fastball isn't calibrated especially well for ground balls; he just always aims for the strike zone, and relies on his defense, and the way batted balls usually behave, and, in this case, a baseball stadium that combines Coors Field's dimensions with Florida's atmosphere (and, on a more superficial level, Miami's atmosphere.)
In a way it's been more impressive to watch the Return of Lohse than it was to see Joel Pineiro look like a political-cartoon allegory for Throw-Moar-Sinkers or it is to watch Chris Carpenter run mid-90s fastballs back against the edge of the strike zone all night; Kyle Lohse is the ultimate, most democratic expression of the Dave Duncan method.
His success makes everyone else's failure more frustrating. You watch him turning low-90s fastballs and a pretty-good change-up into soft line drives all night, and you wonder why everyone can't finish 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA, and what it was, exactly, that Kip Wells and Esteban Yan and all the other great-stuff nobodies the Cardinals ran through the Dave Duncan gauntlet were even playing at. Just throw it up there and they'll probably make an out, for god's sake.
Meanwhile: We ran through a bunch of Spring Training storylines in the course of two hours and 42 minutes. We're out of narratives!
1. Rafael Furcal is in trouble. Rafael Furcal went 3-5 with a ringing double and a stolen base. Add all that to his Spring Training numbers and you're up from .192/.222/.269 to .228/.254/.315. With a stolen base. The double was especially impressive, because Giancarlo Stanton's fly-outs reminded us that the Marlins' ballpark, in addition to opulent tropical aquariums and home run sculptures, features only the finest in baseballs made of solid gold.
The existence of reporters and beat writers and bloggers creates news, sometimes, where there isn't any, and I don't mean that in any malicious way—the Cardinals certainly evinced concern about Furcal when they were asked about it, and in March that's the kind of thing people want to read about and I'm content to write about. But here in April Mike Matheny had him lead off and he proceeded to do Rafael Furcal things; if there were nobody around to ask about it, and to read about it, I'm not sure Matheny and the Cardinals would have had a second thought about it.
2. The Cardinals will miss Albert Pujols. Well, okay, this is true, in the sense that I miss having Albert Pujols around, and worrying about posterity and baseball cards and where his own enormous, awful Soviet Realist statue would go. But once they actually go back to playing the baseball games it becomes clear that lineups are not made or broken on how they feel, or how an absence will be felt—it's just a matter of putting enough effective hitters in to make up for losing a really effective hitter.
Last night, with the help of some indifferent defense and one of those nights where a team hits .351 with three extra-base hits to its name, the Cardinals proved their hypothesis: You can score runs with a bunch of good players, even if none of them has ever been the best baseball player in the universe and the source of all that is good and noble about the game and the city.
3. Maybe Lance Berkman won't be awesome and outspoken enough! Okay, this wasn't a storyline. But I hear him talk, and even when I disagree with him—I love the Marlins' new ballpark—I want to hear him talk some more. After ESPN's broadcast team competed in a series of humiliating physical challenges for the right to drop grapes into Bud Selig's mouth I was happy to see MLB.com put up a video of Lance Berkman complaining about Tony Montana Stadium for two solid minutes. "They did intend for us to play baseball, I found out about 15 minutes before the first pitch."