1 St. Louis Cardinals Is a World Series in the Cards? Only if Big Mac gets back, back, back to form

March 26, 2001
March 26, 2001

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March 26, 2001

Baseball 2001 Preview

1 St. Louis Cardinals Is a World Series in the Cards? Only if Big Mac gets back, back, back to form

Cardinals fans hoping to get an eyeful of Mark McGwire in March
didn't see much. In what has become a rite of spring training,
Big Mac typically took a few cuts in the batting cage and then
strolled off to the clubhouse. Game appearances were similarly
abbreviated, as McGwire limited himself to playing every other
day, taking no more than a couple of at bats per game, to ensure
that his surgically repaired right knee suffered no unnecessary

This is an article from the March 26, 2001 issue Original Layout

That's exactly the way manager Tony La Russa wanted it. As
McGwire's manager with the A's from 1986 through '95 and in St.
Louis for the past 3 1/2 seasons, La Russa has become accustomed
to keeping his injury-prone first baseman under wraps during the
spring. "Mark's workout this year is no different than it has
been in the past," La Russa says. "If we take 20 minutes of
ground balls, he takes 10. If we take 40 batting practice swings,
he'll get 20. We don't want to push that knee. We want to give
him just enough work to get him ready."

The Cardinals are optimistic about having McGwire in the lineup
for the season opener in Colorado on April 2. After going under
the knife last October to repair patella tendinitis, McGwire
returned home to Huntington Beach, Calif., where he worked out
twice a day, five days a week, for the next three months. He,
too, is convinced that the agony of last season--when he couldn't
run the bases without limping or drive a car without grimacing--is
behind him.

If the 37-year-old McGwire is indeed on form, St. Louis has a
good shot at reaching the World Series. Even with McGwire
available for only 89 games last season, the Cardinals still won
the Central Division title before losing to the Mets in the
National League Championship Series. This year St. Louis is even
more dangerous--deeper in its rotation and bullpen, more
experienced in postseason play and certainly still strong in the
power department. "We all realize it's going to be tougher on us
this year," says McGwire, who signed a two-year, $30 million
extension on March 1. "Last season nobody picked us to do
anything. This year everybody is picking us to do a lot. But I
haven't heard anybody around here talking about championships.
It's almost as if we know we're going to do well."

The Cardinals don't have many unsettling questions. One is Rick
Ankiel's well-documented throwing woes; after looking sharp in
his spring debut, against the Mets, the 21-year-old lefty
unraveled in his second outing, walking eight in 1 1/3 innings
against the Marlins. Another problem is the decline of
leftfielder Ray Lankford, who, as the batter behind McGwire,
can't afford a repeat of last season, when he struck out once
every 2.7 at bats. Lankford wasn't the only Cardinal who went
whiffing in 2000; St. Louis set a league record with 1,253

Cardinals opponents will do their share of swinging and missing.
The front office has upgraded an already strong pitching staff,
acquiring Steve Kline, a capable lefthanded reliever, and Dustin
Hermanson, a righthanded starter, in the December trade that sent
Fernando Tatis to the Expos. Hermanson has been impressive with
his wide assortment of pitches and willingness to throw inside.
"I'm a bulldog, and I'll give you 200 innings," says Hermanson,
who's averaged exactly that over the past three seasons. "The
best thing about being here is that I only have to be one piece
of the pie, whereas in Montreal I thought I had to do everything.
I feel my career has started over."

In his attempt to instill that same dogged attitude in his other
players, La Russa has been quick this spring to jump on anyone
who appears too comfortable. Still, he doesn't conceal his
optimism about his team. "If everything breaks right, we can be
as good as anybody," he says. "If everything doesn't break right,
we can still be pretty good, right?"

A big reason for such high hopes is clear. "What you can't assess
are Mark's intangibles," says catcher Mike Matheny. "If he hits a
home run, for example, that gives the starting pitcher some
confidence and helps him get a win. This is a game where you ride
confidence, and losing him deflated us at first. Having him back
is a scary thought."

--Jeffri Chadiha

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Despite his limited spring training appearances, McGwire expects to make a powerful statement come Opening Day.COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS RENTERIA

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cardinals

"You don't think of a championship club platooning its third
basemen, but the Cardinals could pull it off. Craig Paquette is
a good mistake hitter with some pop, and Placido Polanco puts
the ball in play and is good defensively. The Cardinals don't
get a lot of power there, but when you have Mark McGwire, Jim
Edmonds, J.D. Drew and the rest, it doesn't matter....Edgar
Renteria is the most underrated player in baseball. Defensively
he's every bit as good as the American League's Big Three, and
he's a number 2 hitter who uses the whole field, can hit and
run, and shoots the ball in the gap....Fernando Vina is the
catalyst at the top of the lineup; he sees a lot of pitches and
always puts the ball in play. His range is average, but no one's
faster turning the double play....Bobby Bonilla was a good
pickup for them: He can play first, third and the corner
outfield spots, and he did a good job hitting off the bench last
year....Edmonds makes you think playing centerfield is easy.
He'll have another monster year....They'd really like to move
Ray Lankford....Darryl Kile might be even more effective with
the high strike. He's very tough when he rides his fastball up
in the zone and then throws that big curve....If Rick Ankiel is
the same guy he was in the first 150 games last year, he's a No.
1 starter. He has the stuff to dominate....Steve Kline is a
durable lefty, and he gets righthanded hitters out with his
changeup and backdoor curve. You can let him pitch the whole
eighth inning and get you to the closer."

projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 95-67 (first in NL Central)
Manager: Tony La Russa (sixth season with St. Louis)


2B Fernando Vina L-R 211 .300 4 31 10
SS Edgar Renteria R 67 .278 16 76 21
CF Jim Edmonds L 37 .295 42 108 10
1B Mark McGwire R 27 .305 32 73 1
RF J.D. Drew L-R 95 .295 18 57 17
LF Ray Lankford L 128 .253 26 65 5
3B Craig Paquette R 182 .245 15 61 4
C Mike Matheny R 257 .261 6 47 0


OF Bobby Bonilla[1] S-R 283 .255 5 28 0
OF John Mabry[1][2] L-R 319 .235 8 32 0
IF Placido Polanco R 338 .316 5 39 4
C Carlos Hernandez R 342 .256 3 35 2
C Eli Marrero R 352 .225 5 17 5


RH Darryl Kile 6 20 9 6.8 1.18 3.91
RH Dustin Hermanson[1] 73 12 14 6.3 1.52 4.77
RH Matt Morris 139 3 3 -- 1.32 3.57
RH Andy Benes 144 12 9 6.0 1.46 4.88
LH Rick Ankiel 56 11 7 5.8 1.30 3.50


RH Dave Veres 53 3 5 29 1.19 2.85
LH Steve Kline[1] 165 1 5 14 1.40 3.50
RH Mike Timlin[2] 175 5 4 12 1.59 4.18
RH Mike James 233 2 2 2 1.25 3.16
LH Jason Christiansen 282 3 8 1 1.42 5.06
RH Alan Benes 318 2 2 0 1.67 5.67
RH Garrett Stephenson 129 16 9 0 1.36 4.49

[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 156)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats

"Defensively Edgar Renteria is every bit as good as the American
League's Big Three."