Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Pirates

With the Pirates about to put the finishing touches on a 15th consecutive losing season, let us be optimistic for a change. Here are some of the positive developments that occurred during the 2007 season:
– Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny have emerged as above-average major league starters. Snell in particular has shown ace-caliber stuff, with mid-90’s heat and a plus slider. Productive, pre-arbitration starting pitchers are worth their weight in gold.
– New management is in place and for the first time in several years, there appears to be a plan. Time will tell how successful Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington will be in implementing this plan, but any informed Pirates fan would have to love what has been emphasized: loosened purse strings in the amateur draft; a renewed commitment in Latin America; signing young players through their arbitration years.
Yes, the offseason will once again be longer than ideal for Pirates fans. But with a seemingly energized, revamped front office in place, there are legitmate reasons for optimism.

Tale of the Tape

St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 75-84 (3rd, NL Central)

Runs Scored/Allowed: 706/820

Pythagorean Record: 68-91

Defensive Efficiency: .699 (12th)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 68-91

Runs Scored/Allowed: 715/827

Pythagorean Record: 68-91

Defensive Efficiency: .677 (27th)

Probable Starters

Friday

RHP Todd Wellemeyer (44 ERA+ with Royals; 134 ERA+ with Cardinals) vs. LHP Zach Duke (77 ERA+)

Saturday

RHP Adam Wainwright (119 ERA+) vs. LHP Tom Gorzelanny (121 ERA+)

Sunday

RHP Braden Looper (90 ERA+) vs. RHP Bryan Bullington (75 ERA+)

Series Notes

Cardinals

– Though there are now potentially distracting circumstances, Rick Ankiel will be an interesting case study of player development. Ankiel is 28, an age where a player typically does not radically change or develop skills. However, there’s nothing typical about Ankiel’s development curve. In his rather brief hitting career, Ankiel has shown as much raw power as anyone on the Cardinals not named Pujols. His plate discipline has lagged behind, though, as Ankiel has walked in roughly 7% of his plate appearances. Will Ankiel remain a fairly useful but impatient hitter, or will his plate discipline continue to develop? Stay tuned.

– To say that the Cardinals have had problems in the starting rotation would be a profound understatement. St. Louis starters have compiled a 5.13 ERA, 26th in the majors. The 2006 World Series champions have had to rely on overmatched former relievers (Braden Looper, Brad Thompson) and retreads (Kip Wells, Joel Pineiro, Todd Wellemeyer) to fill in the gaps. One bright spot for the Cards has been RHP Adam Wainwright, who has posted a 3.69 ERA in 195 IP. With a low-90’s fastball, an outstanding curveball and a solid slider, Wainwright has the talent to be one of the better starters in the NL for a while. Wainwright has been especially good in the second half, perhaps adjusting more fully to his starting role:

1st half: 102.1 IP, 4.66 ERA, 59/40 K/BB

2nd half: 92.2 IP, 2.62 ERA, 75/29 K/BB

Pirates

– With another disastrous start, John VanBenschoten has put himself on the fringes of the team’s long-term plans. Likely out of options next season, VanBenschoten must make the Pirates out of spring training, or he will have to be put through waivers in order to be sent back to the minors. At this point, there seems to be little reason for another team to put in a claim.

The time has come to make VanBenschoten a full-time reliever. With decreased velocity, a flat slider and mediocre control, the 27-year old righthander just isn’t going to develop into a competent starter.

– Freddy Sanchez is ailing, this time the result of pain in his right shoulder. Sanchez will undergo arthroscopic surgery today.

Sanchez has enjoyed another solid season, showing competent range at second while continuing to make a good deal of contact. Sanchez’ injury history is somewhat concerning, however, and it may be in the best interests of the team to go year-to-year with Sanchez through his arbitration years, as opposed to signing him to a long-term deal.

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