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The Best Defense

Thank god that my day is Wednesday. Instead of having to try and come up with something illuminative to say about the shit sandwich that was Opening Day, I get to coast along on the wave of good feeling brought about by a pasting of those pesky Pirates of Pittsburgh.

To be frank, the difference between last night's game and Opening Day was nothing short of startling. Last night,  the Cardinals drew eight walks. While Ian Snell was admittedly lacking in the command of his pitches, the Cards' approach against him was the really big factor. Compare that to Opening Day, when the Cardinals, with Joe West and his Disappearing Strikezone of Wonder behind the plate, somehow managed to work only two walks the entire game.

We saw last night what this year's edition of the offense should look like. This team has more than enough firepower to beat up on opposing pitchers, but the real kicker in this lineup should be the near-constant stream of baserunners. We all know what Pujols can do, and as much as it pains me to say it, Chris Duncan brings outstanding on-base skills to the party as well. (I'll be perfectly honest: Chris Duncan bugs me on a really visceral level, the way that Juan Encarnacion used to bug other people. I know the numbers, I really do, but just watching him play the outfield is like pulling eye teeth to me. Because of this, I'm fully aware that I'm often much tougher on him than actually warranted.) Colby Rasmus, possible slow start aside, has proven himself to be a remarkably patient hitter, capable of posting walk rates over 10%. (Even in his lost season last year, Colby still managed to walk in 12.7% of his at-bats.)

 Schumaker appeared to make significant, and real, progress last year in his plate discipline. Maybe he keeps it up, maybe he doesn't, but hey, what can I say? I think Skip is entirely capable of putting up a .350 OBP without too much trouble. I've been a Yadi skeptic for as long as I can remember, not because of Yadi himself, but because I happen to be one of those people who think catcher defense is the most overrated thing since the Rolling Stones. (Seriously, what am I missing with those guys? I loved Her Satanic Majesty's..., but the rest of the catalogue just basically leaves me scratching my head. I flat out don't get it.) However, the fact is, Yadier Molina has put up an OBP over .340 each of the past two years, and all of his numbers are trending in the right direction. Yadi is, in fact, a pretty decent hitter these days. With those five players in the lineup for most of the year, the Cardinals shouldn't have any trouble generating enough runners to score a large number of runs. Add in Ludwick (2007 or 2008 version, take your pick), and Ankiel occasionally taking a pitch or two, and the offense will be a serious strength.

Now, I freely admit that other parts of the order may be a little more shaky. We're all a little unsure as to what Freese is going to give us, and while I'm all kinds of excited to see what Khalil 'Mr. Roboto' Greene is going to do in a Cardinal uniform, the man is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an on-base machine.

Still, it looks to me as if those are probably the only two spots in the lineup that are really going to be question marks. (Well, outside of the occasional La Russa brain storm when he decides to play nothing but backup middle infielders in every spot  on the field, that is.) I don't think any of us would have thought that at the beginning of last year, when we looked around the diamond and saw damned near nothing but question marks.

It might give Dusty Baker the mean reds (like the pun?), to watch a team create this many base-clogging runners, but I have to say, this offense is going to be very, very potent, mark my words.

And yes, I am fully aware that is was one game, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Snell had a hell of a time throwing strikes. However, there is a lesson here. When we look at players who depend on high batting averages to get on base vs. those who have good ISO plate discipline numbers, a very powerful rule emerges: those who have to hit their way on base are much more prone to wide variance than those who can draw a walk to get on base as well. There's no such thing as a BABIP number attached to walks. A team that draws free passes at an elevated rate is going to fall under that same axiom.

Of course, they could also go back to their Opening Day approach of hacking at anything and everything, as early and as often as possible. I suppose we'll just have to cross our fingers and hope. (Oh, and not pencil Brendan Ryan into the lineup too very often.)

Finally, I have a question for all of you. We've broken down the great outfield debate a thousand different ways this offseason, to the point that I don't know there's a whole lot more to be said on it either way. Nonetheless, I'm very curious as to the community opinion on this query: You have to trade either Chris Duncan or Rick Ankiel. Which one do you move, and why?

See, I find this interesting because I would lean toward moving Duncan, for reasons I've already stated in this post. However, the more and more I look at the situation, I think the only answer that I can give in good faith is that Ankiel would be the guy I move. Financial reasons, age reasons, positional reasons, offensive reason, I've got 'em all, but I'm not trying to make my own case here. I want to hear your take.

Other stuff:

Alex Eisenberg, the always wonderful mechanics guru of Baseball Intellect and Maple Street Press fame (I'm the one who recruited him for the MSP thing; yay me), has a very nice breakdownof the Cards' maybe-he-is maybe-he-isn't closer candidate, Jason Motte, over at Future Redbirds. Good stuff, as always.

To celebrate Opening Week, I've been interviewing Cardinal fans over at the RFT. I've got two in the can already, including Will Leitch, and two more to do, with the scion of VEB himself, Larry Borowsky, coming up sometime today. I was thrilled with some of the stories I got from the interviewees; I think they're definitely worth a read.

Schlafly beer is now available in Busch Stadium! Oh wonder of wonders! Oh, glorious day! Oh joy unbounded! Oh, no. Think of the damage to my wallet.

I'm planning on doing haikus again for game threads this year, but if anyone has any objections, I'm willing to hear them. I'll probably do them anyway, but if you really don't like them, feel free to let me know. If public opinion is decidedly negative, I may reconsider.

Anyhow, have a nice day, everyone, and just think, there's a baseball game on tonight. All is right with the world.