The Cleveland Indians kick off their first series at a National League park this year tonight at Busch Stadium against the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. Interleague play is a great time to learn about teams we don’t see very ofte. So I talked to Justin McClary, editor of the great Cardinals blog Redbird Rants, about Albert Pujols‘ offseason departure, filling Tony La Russa’s shoes, and whether the Cards can overcome their slow start and get back to the Fall Classic.
Since you’re a Cardinals fan, I have to first ask: How did it feel losing Albert Pujols to the Angels this winter? Are you at all relieved after his slow start?
I don’t like to speak for all fans, but my personal reaction was a mixed bag. I was obviously hopeful that he would return, but worried about the amount of money the team would throw his direction. That week, rumors were obviously swirling heavily, but when news came out that the Cardinals allegedly had a 10 year $240 million offer on the table, I though it was locked up. Waking up to find out he signed with LA was a shock. I was more angry then anything at first. Not because he left, since that happens so frequently in sports, but that he was on record numerous times saying that he would never leave for money. The backlash after the signing was a mess.
I wouldn’t say I’m relieved by his start. I actually hated the slow start since I own him in a keeper league! I’m more relieved that the Cardinals have about 24 million dollars a year to cycle around the team over the next ten years.
- What were your thoughts on the rest of St. Louis’ offseason? Did the team do enough to bring the Cardinals back to championship shape?
I think the team did a great job building a contender. People are starting to get a look at Allen Craig and Matt Adams who were two players that the team was convinced could take over the first base position long-term. Having Lance Berkman on board and bringing in Carlos Beltran gave the team a lineup that was actually better on paper than the one that won the World Series. I think, given the fairly weak free agent market, the Cardinals did a great job putting a winner on the field.
- Entering Thursday, St. Louis in third place and just a game over .500. Is a playoff berth still in the cards? (pun intended)
The Cardinals are still very much in contention. The team is getting hit hard by the injury bug and is starting to see regression from backup players who have been thrust into everyday spots. I think they may have to make a couple moves at the deadline, but in general they are in a good spot. The Reds are a streaky team, so they are definitely not a lock to take the division.
- What are your thoughts on new manager Mike Matheny so far? How does his style differ from Tony La Russa’s?
I was a huge fan of bringing Mike Matheny aboard. He’s done a great job so far, as evidenced by the Cardinals solid start. His style is as different from Tony’s as is possible. Tony sometimes had troubles leaning on younger players and was more business-like in his approach to the game. The clubhouse under Matheny has been very loose and accommodating to younger guys like Daniel Descalso and Matt Adams.
Who’s pitching for the Cards this weekend and what should Tribe fans look for from them?
Indians fans should be familiar with Westbrook. He’s the same pitcher the Indians traded to St Louis in the three-team deal with the Padres in 2010. He’s an innings-eater who can put up the occasional quality start.
Lohse has been inconsistent over his last few games. He hasn’t earned a decision since early May, but has pitched a few quality starts. Westbrook and Lohse are both groundballers who probably won’t strike many Indians out.
The third game is the big mystery. Jaime Garcia would have started, but he is undergoing an MRI and might miss time. The options for the Cardinals could be to skip Garcia’s spot and start Adam Wainwright, but I think they may want to watch his innings. No one in the bullpen is built for a spot start, so there may be a call-up. If that’s the case, things could get interesting as the pitcher called up could be top prospect Shelby Miller. He’s a fireballer with electric stuff, but has struggled with command.
- What’s your prediction for the series?
I’m not a huge fan of Josh Tomlin or Justin Masterson, so those could both be high-scoring games with Westbrook and Lohse on the mound. I’ll say they split those two and Cardinals squeak out a victory in the third game against Ubaldo. You didn’t think I would concede defeat, did you?
Keep up with the Cardinals all season long on RedbirdRants.com.