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A Few Thoughts at the End of Spring Training

Having watched the Cardinals play at least partially meaningful baseball games for weeks on end now, it's time to wrap it up and head into the season. So where does it look like things stand?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

You know, I find it very disappointing that Matt Bowman isn't going to be on this Cardinals team this year. I'm not saying he's going to be the next big thing, by any means, but having watched him several times now in spring training, I definitely think there's something there. A useful pitcher, at the very least, and quite possibly something more than useful, particularly in a relief role.

There's another part to my frustration with the knowledge he's almost certainly going back to the Mets (or to some other team that claims him), beyond the simple feeling the club is missing out on an at-least useful major league arm, and that's the reason that Matt Bowman isn't going to be on the club. Namely, the fact Jordan Walden has somehow managed to patch his shoulder together with chicken wire and duct tape long enough to look good in spring training is, paradoxically, bad news from where I'm sitting. I think it's bad news not because I don't like Jordan Walden; in point of fact, I greatly enjoy Jordan Walden and happen to think he could be a tremendous contributor for the Cardinals if healthy. Rather, it's because of the caveat portion of that statement; the if healthy bit that I fear. We all know perfectly well that what's going to happen here is Jordan Walden will look great coming into the season, make a handful of appearances, looking for all the world as if he's back to the dominant setup man the Redbirds believed they were getting, and then he's going to go down with an injury again.

This is a pitcher with an unrepaired shoulder injury and one of the most disastrous deliveries known to man. That delivery makes him wickedly effective, admittedly; the combination of deception, extension toward the plate, and the velocity boost he gets from the huge delay in his arm action all combine to make him one of the most potent forces in the game, particularly when we look at the perceived velocity leaderboards and marvel at the twin Lanny Poffos near the top in Carter Capps, currently cooling his heels in Tommy John land, and Walden. Still, the problem is obvious: Jordan Walden may very well be a ticking time bomb, and the fact he's probably going to be extremely good in the fifteen and a third innings he throws this year before his shoulder catches on fire in a low-speed collision will be cold comfort when he's back on the disabled list.

So I find it disappointing we're not going to get to see Matt Bowman in the bullpen for the Cardinals this year, both because I think he could do very much what Seth Manness does, only I think potentially better, and because I fear he's going to miss the roster so we can enjoy those fifteen and a third from Walden specifically, when we all know where this is going to end, with a big old Charlie Brown AAUGH! as the football is pulled away at the very end.

Then again, it's hard for me to really be too very upset about anything relating to the Cardinal bullpen currently, as it's probably the area of the club I'm most confident in. The starting rotation terrifies me, because I worry about something happening to Adam Wainwright. And because I worry that the Michael Wacha we've seen the past season and a half or so, the one that looks like the number 4/5 starter I believed him to be coming out of college is the real Wacha, and Pac-Man Wacha, the one who dominated the Pirates in October of 2013 and made Pedro Martinez fall in love with him, was a mirage. And because we all know that Jaime Garcia is basically the starting rotation version of Jordan Walden; brilliant when healthy but always dancing on the knife edge of injury. And because we went shopping for a David Price and came home with a Mike Leake, as if our first choice was an Infiniti QX70 and our second was a late model Ford Taurus.

And because I love Carlos so very, very much, and I don't want to even think about anything bad ever happening to him.

The offense terrifies me because, well, frankly, it's looked like dogshit so far this spring. And when a thing you remember looking sort of like dogshit six months ago shows up, claiming to be newer, sleeker, more powerful, and just what you're hoping for, but then sits there on the floor, looking unmistakably like dogshit, it's difficult to conclude you have anything but a pile of dogshit to clean up.

I will admit to being, at least intellectually, intrigued by the potential of an offensive improvement from this club over what we saw a year ago. At the very least, there's a real possibility we could see a murderous run of platoon bats played against left-handed pitching; the all-righty lineup I proposed a while back is potentially more real now than it was even then, with Matt Holliday at first base appearing more and more to be an actual thing. I look at the young outfielders the Cardinals could run out on a given day, and while I still have concerns about Randal Grichuk's contact abilities, I cannot lie and say I'm not irrationally excited by his sudden outbreak of patience at the plate this spring. But Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty, as a group, feels to me like a potential force in the NL Central for years to come. The team still boasts one of the best hitters in baseball over at third base, regardless of what form he decides his offensive contributions should take this season. (I'm thinking he should reverse course from last year, go full Tony Gwynn on the league, and hit .385 with two home runs and a 5.9% strikeout rate, just to fuck with people.) If Matt Holliday is on the field, I feel like he's going to get on base at a very high clip. And while I'm an admitted Kolten Wong skeptic, perhaps there is room for him to improve his approach at the plate and tap more into that dynamic package of offensive abilities he brings to the table. There are real reasons to think this offense could be better, perhaps much better, than the weakening pulse we've endured over the past couple seasons.

But then, you know. Dogshit. I know it's spring training, and it doesn't matter. But still. This team hasn't hit this spring, at all. And when a team that didn't hit the last time you saw them comes back and still doesn't hit, well, it feels like those same old dogshit on the floor blues, dontcha know.

The bullpen, though....the bullpen, I have very, very few concerns about. In fact, if I were pressed very hard, I would perhaps admit my chief concern about the bullpen the Cardinals will field this year is the fact they seem awfully keen on investing heavily in it, when I'll bet there was a more cost-effective, and probably just as effective in general, way to go about constructing a 'pen this year that probably would have saved the majority of the difference between that Taurus the Cards purchased and that Infiniti they actually wanted. In other words, I would have preferred to see the investment in the big-ticket items and creativity in the relief corps, rather than a near-endless litany of names brought in to Matheny-proof the bullpen, particularly when we know there's no such thing as a Mathenty-proof 'pen.

But the performance on the field? No. I have no real concerns about the bullpen. This should be an extraordinarily good unit; potentially one of the best in baseball, in fact. The Yankees may have the names and a couple big contracts at the end of their bullpen, and the Royals may still have The Wade Davis (which is a hell of a thing to have, admittedly), and the reflected glory of their recent success being absurdly heavily predicated on their 'pen, but front to back, the Cards' relief corps is going to be tough to beat, I think.

On the other hand, as we sit here in the middle of the final week of spring training, just days before the rubber meets the road moment of Opening Day in Pittsburgh, I wonder how many leads this club is going to be able to hand to that bullpen. I worry the offense is going to be what we've seen so far this spring, and things are going to break wrong in the rotation, in terms of injuries or just ineffectiveness, and that bullpen may very well lead MLB in ERA, yet serve only to prop up a truly mediocre club.

Then again, I always feel this way at this time of year, when the season is very nearly here but not quite, and it feels like the games that don't count will never end, and like Jordan Walden is going to be very good and then very hurt, and we're going to miss out on a perfectly cromulent reliever that won't move the needle either way in the long run, really, but will somehow serve to me as a summation of everything that went wrong with the upcoming season. Except he won't; not really, anyway. But he will for me, probably.

As we sit here at the end of spring training 2016, I'm scared. I don't feel good about this team. And I've tried to feel good about them; I really have. But this club feels to me like an opportunity already missed, and preparing to play out its six-month demonstration of how it was missed. But then, as I said already, I always feel bad about the club I'm preparing to watch as spring training winds down. Or I do most years, anyway; I have to say, last year about this time I was feeling absurdly confident thanks to the shiny new right fielder we were all in love with and the prospect of six months of a tsunami, or perhaps a tsunamy, every fifth day.

Enough about me, though. What about all of you? Spring training is nearly over; what do you think of this team now, having watched them play meaningless exhibitions for almost a month?

I'll be back on Sunday, everyone, with my own season preview post. And then next Wednesday, with some more draft stuff. And then that Sunday, with some other thing; I'm thinking of a do-over of the offseason post, but perhaps that should wait until we see how this team is going to turn out. Or perhaps it should never be done at all, condemned as overly navel-gazey and pointless. But then, if I didn't write things that were overly navel-gazey and pointless, I wouldn't have enough to say to earn those giant SBN paychecks I rely on to pay for my solid gold rocket car.

Okay, I admit it. It's more of a solid gold late-model Taurus. But you get the point.