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3 St. Louis Cardinals Even Big Mac knows that it's pitching that wins, so the Cards have re-armed

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

3 St. Louis Cardinals Even Big Mac knows that it's pitching that wins, so the Cards have re-armed

The St. Louis Cardinals have played 378 games since they
acquired Mark McGwire from Oakland on July 31, 1997. In that
time McGwire has hit 159 home runs--the greatest burst of home
run hitting in the history of the game. And here's what the
Cardinals have to show for it: a losing record. They are 180-198
with Big Mac.

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

McGwire turns 37 on the final day of this season. With that in
mind, St. Louis decided it couldn't wait to see if pitchers Alan
Benes and Matt Morris make it back from major injuries and if
Juan Acevedo, Manny Aybar, Rick Croushore, Jose Jimenez and
Darren Oliver would grow into the nucleus of a championship
staff. All of them are 29 or younger. All of them, with the
exception of Morris and Benes, who are still rehabbing their
arms, are gone. "I can see how people would think there's
urgency here because we traded away young pitching," general
manager Walt Jocketty says. "People think we're trying not to
waste Mark's best years. But we don't look at it that way. We
were trying to win the last couple of years, too. It just didn't
work out."

Only five teams received fewer innings last season from their
starting pitchers than the Cardinals did. So Jocketty and
manager Tony La Russa remade their staff by dusting off the
blueprint that worked with the 1988 Oakland Athletics: take a
bunch of veterans whose careers have hit a wall and put them in
the hands of Mr. Fix-it, pitching coach Dave Duncan. The
Cardinals are taking fliers on Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen and Andy
Benes. Each won at least 18 games in 1996 or 1997, but they are
a combined 71-78 over the past two years.

Each presents a challenge. Kile sank from a 19-game winner for
Houston to 21-30 in two years with Colorado, where the altitude
at Coors Field took the bite off his curveball and the usual
monsoon of longballs and bloop hits eroded his aggressiveness.
He took his troubles on the road, too, going 3-10 with a 5.89
ERA. Though scouts detected a marked drop-off in his stuff,
Cardinals special instructor Jim Leyland, Kile's manager in
Colorado, says, "His stuff is fine. He just tried to be too fine
and got into bad habits. One thing about him: He never made
excuses about Coors Field."

Hentgen had a legitimate excuse last season. His arm was so
weakened by tendinitis in his shoulder that he was trying to get
by with an 84-mph fastball. After posting a 5.79 ERA before the
All-Star break, a more fit Hentgen had a 3.79 ERA afterward.

Andy Benes turned in his usual workmanlike season for Arizona
(13-12, 4.81 ERA), but the Diamondbacks contributed to his
reputation as a big-game liability by not letting him near the
mound in their Division Series against the Mets. Benes has a
career 6.44 postseason ERA without winning any of his six starts.

Though Kent Bottenfield was the team's best starter last year and
rookie Rick Ankiel has the best arm, the Cardinals' season is
likely to turn on how Kile, Hentgen and Andy Benes bounce back
and whether closer David Veres, another ex-Rockie, can prosper
much closer to sea level. The Cardinals traded for Veres in large
part on Leyland's recommendation; he told Jocketty that Veres has
a wicked split-fingered fastball but threw it infrequently in
Denver because the dry air made it difficult for him to grip the
ball. The numbers bear this out: a 7.40 ERA at home and a 2.52
ERA on the road.

Even the St. Louis lineup is dotted with reclamation projects.
Rightfielder Eric Davis was slowly coming back from shoulder
surgery in spring training; leftfielder Ray Lankford, whose home
runs dropped from 31 to 15, is looking for renewed power after
off-season knee surgery; newly acquired second baseman Fernando
Vina, a 1998 All-Star, played only 37 games last year because of
injuries; and can't-miss phenom J.D. Drew missed, hitting just
.242 and sometimes playing the outfield like a man searching for
his car in the vast parking lot of a mall. "He was making
mistakes that made us say, 'He didn't do that in college,'"
Jocketty said. "But in fairness I think we were guilty of
putting too much pressure on him by expecting so much out of
him." St. Louis is betting heavily not only that Drew will hit
enough to stick this time but also that he can adequately patrol
centerfield now that Lankford wants to remain in left.

La Russa began spring training by citing the '88 A's as a source
of inspiration for his current club. McGwire, a member of that
Oakland team, nodded and said, "Yes, I see a lot of
similarities. For all the attention Jose [Canseco] and I got as
the Bash Brothers, that team won because we got solid pitching
almost every night. You would think by now people would realize
that home runs may get a lot of attention, but they don't win
championships."

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON ROCKY PAST The Cardinals hope a change in altitude will help former Colorado starter Kile regain his form and his wicked curveball.COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE

around the Horn

OFFENSE
[3 1/2 stars]
DEFENSE
[2 1/2 stars]
STARTING PITCHING
[3 1/2 stars]
BULLPEN
[2 stars]
MANAGER
[3 1/2 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .262 (13)
Runs scored 809 (10)
Home runs 194 (5)

1999 record: 75-86 (fourth in NL Central)

Opponents' batting average .273 (12)
ERA 4.74 (11)
Fielding percentage .978 (12)

next up...

St. Louis has moved former No. 1 pick Rick Ankiel through its
system over the past two years as if he were a Ming vase. This
year the bubble wrap comes off--very carefully. Ankiel, just 20
years old, will take the No. 5 spot in the rotation, thanks to
the off-season additions of Darryl Kile, Pat Hentgen and Andy
Benes. "It's the perfect spot for him," pitching coach Dave
Duncan says. "Those guys all pitch a lot of innings, so we don't
have to ask a lot out of Rick." Ankiel threw 170 2/3 innings
overall last season (with 233 punchouts), which puts him in line
for about 190 this year on his growth chart. He struck out 39
batters in 33 big league innings, hinting that he could do for
the Cardinals what Kerry Wood did for the Cubs in 1998 at the
same age. Like Wood, Ankiel has a hellacious breaking ball. When
asked when he last saw a lefthander with a curveball like
Ankiel's, Duncan replied, "Koufax."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Tony La Russa (fifth season with St. Louis)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Fernando Vina[1] L-R 207 .266 1 16 5
SS Edgar Renteria R 159 .275 11 63 37
1B Mark McGwire R 15 .278 65 147 0
LF Ray Lankford L 124 .306 15 63 14
3B Fernando Tatis R 45 .298 34 107 21
RF Eric Davis R 215 .257 5 30 5
CF J.D. Drew L-R 160 .242 13 39 19
C Eli Marrero R 327 .192 6 34 11

BENCH

OF Brian McRae*[1] S-R 294 .218 12 48 2
IF Shawon Dunston[1] R 296 .321 5 41 10
IF Craig Paquette R 311 .287 10 37 1
C Mike Matheny[1] R 326 .215 3 17 0
IF Placido Polanco R 410 .277 1 19 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kent Bottenfield 37 18 7 6.1 1.50 3.97
RH Darryl Kile[1] 116 8 13 6.0 1.75 6.61
RH Pat Hentgen[1] 90 11 12 5.9 1.46 4.79
RH Andy Benes[1] 150 13 12 6.1 1.50 4.81
LH Rick Ankiel[4](R) 85 7 3 5.5 1.35 3.16

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Dave Veres 51 4 8 31 1.62 5.14
RH Heathcliff Slocumb* 207 3 2 2 1.66 3.77
RH Garrett Stephenson 244 6 3 0 1.39 4.22
LH Scott Radinsky[4] 278 2 1 3 1.63 4.88
LH Jesse Orosco[1] 321 0 2 1 1.50 5.34
RH Matt Morris[3][4] 295 7 5 0 1.26 2.53

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Combined AL and NL stats
[2] Triple A stats
[3] Will begin season on DL
[4] 1998 stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cardinals

"The Reds are the popular choice to win this division, but if
St. Louis's starting rotation can give the Cardinals some
innings, they'll be right there with Cincinnati. Rick Ankiel has
a chance to win 10 to 15 games. He has a mid-90s fastball and
the poise of a guy who's been around for 10 years.... Andy Benes
was horrible last year--he's lost arm speed and his fastball is
straight and very easy to pick up.... I'm anxious to see how
Matt Morris bounces back from arm trouble. Two years ago he was
an awfully good pitcher.... J.D. Drew is about to have a
breakthrough year; he'll never have huge power, but he'll hit 20
to 25 home runs.... The outfield is a weakness--no depth....
Fernando Vina looked fantastic in spring; he can really work a
pitcher--by the time the No. 2 batter comes up, he's usually
seen everything the pitcher will throw.... I have serious
reservations about Fernando Tatis. He's a bad third baseman, and
there are some big holes in his swing.... Dave Veres is a
passable closer--decent slider, decent split--but he can't
overpower anybody."