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First Quarter Report Card

Howdy, you all.

I had such a good response to my report card for John Mozeliak's first offseason, including the man himself bringing it up in a chat, I thought I would do it again.  This time, I'm going to do the team as a whole for the first quarter of the season, and I don't have a clever, contrived lead in.  Sorry. 

Anyway, let's dive right in, shall we?  The less said about last night's debacle, the better. So, without further ado,

We'll break it down by groups of positions. That should be fairly easy to get a hold on.

Starting Pitching

Overall grade: B+

I only give this a B+ because I hesitate to give out A's, particularly this early in the season. However, so far, the starters have done as good a job as anyone could have possibly expected. Hell, they've far outperformed what I expected, with the exception of Wainwright.

The biggest surprise of the rotation, for me, has got to be Todd Wellemeyer. He's shown us far more than I think we had any right to expect. He's been just as tough to hit as he's been for most of his career, but he's finally begun to get a handle on his walks and pitch counts. In his first season beginning in the rotation, Wellemeyer has looked far more comfortable, and far more confident, than I believe we ever saw him as a reliever, either here or in Chicago.

The disappointments? Well, there haven't really been any to this point, except for the fact that the cavalry does not appear to be coming, at least not anytime soon. Clement is looking more and more like he's just toast, and Muldoo has been up and down in his attempts to return to the big leagues, to say the least. Still, it's hard to complain when two of the pitchers you expected to be in the front half of the rotation haven't thrown a pitch for the Cards this season, and nobody really seems to care.

Bullpen

Overall grade:D+

This has been a definite sore spot for the team, especially lately. The relief corps appeared to be pretty solid early, but have revealed themselves to be the weakest link in this team as the season has continued.

I'm not sure the bullpen has been bad enough to merit a D grade on it's own, but this was supposed to be the strongest part of the team! Remember back during the offseason, and even into Spring Training, when we all thought the team would probably suck, but the bullpen would be really good? Well, so far, it's been very nearly the exact opposite of that, with the bullpen actually dragging down the team's record. If not for some very painful bullpen episodes, the Cardinals could very well be looking at anywhere from 3-7 more wins this season, and a substantial cushion over the Chicago bunch.

The biggest positive has got to be Kyle McClellan. He came into camp with almost zero chance of making the team, and is now, just about two months later, being touted by many fans as the best candidate to replace Izzy. K-Mac certainly has the stuff, and he's shown some real mental toughness already this young season. He'll have his ups and downs, to be sure; after all, he is a 23 year old rookie, but the future looks very bright for McClellan, wherever he ends up pitching.

The disappointment? That's not really a tough question; it's obviously the performance of Izzy so far. But a dishonourable mention also has to go to the left side of the bullpen. Flores has been pretty much crap, there's a very real chance we won't see Tyler Johnson this year, and Ron Villone... Well, Villone's been pretty solid overall, but he's come up small for the Cards the last couple of times out, and those have been games the team could ill afford to let slip away. The lefties have not been good.

Outfield

Overall grade: B

A very solid group this year. I don't think any of us thought we would see this level of production from our flycatchers this year; it's been the most pleasant surprise of the season for me. You know things are going pretty well when you clamour for a given player to get more playing time, but then can't come up with a good way to get that playing time for him without taking out another player who deserves it just as much.

Best so far? Skip Schumaker. I know, we all love the Ricker, and that's fantastic. But we all knew how talented Ankiel was coming in. There was some doubt, of course, as to whether he would manage to maintain any kind of consistency, or if he would just be horribly exposed, but we all knew the potential was there. The improvement that Skip has shown has really, to me at least, come almost out of nowhere. The plate discipline, the increased ability to drive the ball, and the continued excellent defense have moved Schumaker from the level of fifth outfielder/ defensive specialist into the realm of pretty solid leadoff man. He may not be the leadoff hitter on a championship club, but he's a serviceable, dependable leadoff hitter.

The disappointment, again here, is pretty obvious. Chris Duncan has been far less than we though he would be this year. He's still getting on base at a nice clip, due to his solid plate discipline, but his ability to actually make things happen by swinging the bat has virtually disappeared. His power stroke still hasn't come back, even when he seems to be completely healthy, and he's obviously a minus in the field. Duncan is the least complete player the Cardinals have in the outfield, and the one dimension he formally could be counted on to provide just hasn't been in extant. He has shown at least minor signs of life lately, so that's encouraging, but to this point, Duncan has been very disappointing.

Corner Infield

Overall grade: B

This one is really a tale of two players. Albert, obviously, is still the biggest asset the Cardinals have. He's probably the best player in the National League, even if he does occasionally drive us all crazy with his baserunning antics. He's reached base in every game he's played this year; it's tough to perform much better than that.

Troy Glaus, on the other hand, has been mildly disappointing, at least in one regard. The power definitely hasn't been there yet, and it's been pretty glaring, considering that power is the most striking part of Santa's game, at least in an ordinary year. He has, however, been a pleasant surprise with the glove, showing much better defensive prowess than what I had expected coming into the season. Glaus drags the grade down a bit here, but not a ton. His bat has underperformed, his glove has overperformed. I expect the power to be there, but I will admit to being a little impatient to see it show up.

Middle Infield

Overall grade: D+

Now this is a group that's a little less enjoyable to rate. The Cardinals, on balance, have one of the weakest middle infields in all of baseball. There's an almost complete lack of pop in these bats; in fact, the bats themselves are so weak they're almost not there.

Adam Kennedy has shown at least a pulse this year, hitting for a decent average and playing solid average defense, but he still mostly hit ground balls to the right side. They're slightly firmer ground balls this year than last, but grounders to the right, all the same.

Cesar Izturis actually helps the grade here slightly, as his defense has been as good as advertised, and his plate discipline has been better than what we've seen in the past. He's still an awful hitter, but he's done his part getting on base and has been a definite upgrade in the field over what the Cardinals have had the last couple of years. Overall, he definitely hasn't been great, but we shouldn't have expected more than what we're currently getting from him. Not a terrible signing, although I do think that Brendan Ryan could do mostly the same job much more cheaply.

Speaking of Mr. Ryan, he's probably been the brightest spot in the MI to me. He brings tremendous energy, he's hit well, he probably has more pop than any of the other guys here, and his defense is a plus. He does still have an occasional mental lapse, but he seems to have calmed down a bit since he's been here. Overall, I like the kid, and I would like to see him play more. Unfortunately, I kind of doubt that's going to happen.

Aaron Miles rounds out this rather unimpressive group. Miles has done exactly what he always does. He hits for a nice average, with no power and no walks. He has limited offensive value, and is on the team mostly for his versatility. The problem with that, of course, is that he's not really that versatile. He plays second base well enough, but doesn't really have the physical tools to play short or third base. As long as Miles is here, I'll probably say the same thing about him. He's fine as the 25th man, but he's really miscast getting 400 at bats. Sunrise, sunset.

Catcher

Overall grade: C

The catcher position hasn't really added much, nor detracted, from the team this year, in my opinion. Yadier has made some of his standard highlight reel throws, and has swung the bat pretty well, but he is what he is. I think there are better uses of resources than to carry a catcher who really only offers a glove, but that's my personal crusade, and I don't expect many to agree with me. Yadi has saved a few runs with his arm, and he's probably cost a few with the stick. Still, the Cardinals could do much worse.

Jason LaRue, on the other hand, really only has his mullet and his facial hair going for him. Since he's not riding a Harley up to the plate, he doesn't bring a whole lot of value, entertainment or otherwise. He has a nice arm as a backup, and doesn't seem to actively irritate the pitchers the way Einar Diaz used to. Still, when you find yourself looking back on the offensive play of Gary Bennett with nostalgia, something isn't right.

The catching corps is what it is. Neither of these guys kill the team, and Yadi's probably a small plus. But the Cardinals don't have an impact talent here, and that's why their grade sits squarely in the middle.

Managing

Overall grade: B

Sigh. Here's my chance to really stick it to Tony, and I can't bring myself to do it. Sure, there are plenty of things he does that still want to make me run my head through a wall, but I just can complain about the job he's done this year. Tony has this team believing that they should be good, and that's a pretty impressive achievment in and of itself. This is a team that isn't loaded with talent, and yet they've played solid baseball so far. They've done most of the little things right, and that's why they find themselves five games over, when I didn't think they would get over .500 for more than a day or two at a time this whole season.

I'm also including the coaching here, which I think has really been exemplary. I'm not a fan of Dave Duncan, by any means, but this pitching staff, composed almost entirely of castoffs and question marks, has been surprisingly solid. I have to give the man props for that.

On the offensive side of things, while the hitters haven't been great, the overall approach they've taken to most at bats has been. This team may not have the talent of the 2004-2005 clubs, but they have the same patient, tenacious approach that was a large part of what made those teams so tough to play. Like I said, the hitters themselves may not be All Stars in many cases, but the coaching staff has made these guys into tough outs.

Overall Team Grade: B-

I would like to just give this team a B, as I think they've played very well to this point, and have probably overachieved. I have to take them down just a peg from that, though, because there have been some troubling patterns early as well. They leave far too many men on base, the bullpen has hurt the team in the standing, and the starting pitchers are showing signs of coming back down to earth. This team has performed quite well, but it's not all sweetness and light. I think a B- is just about right for this group.

Where this team goes from here is tough to really see. There are obviously some areas that can be improved, and what can be done to shore up those weaknesses will largely determine the direction our Birds head in. I have a feeling the roster may look a fair bit different even by the time I do a midseason card; this team is definitely still a fascinating study in the way a roster can evolve when a team is in transition. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing where the season takes us, even when it's frustrating. 

Okay, gang. That's my quarterly report. Feel free to discuss. (Otherwise, the site really doesn't have much of a point, now does it?)