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3 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

April 06, 2009
April 06, 2009

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April 6, 2009

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3 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Still Short of AFull Deck
The skipper's sleight of hand can't compensate for a lack of lefty starters anda shaky pen

This is an article from the April 6, 2009 issue

ABOUT A weekbefore outfielder Skip Schumaker left his home in Southern California forspring training, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called him with a surprise."We're going to try you at second base," the skipper said. RepliedSchumaker, "I'm willing to try it." But after he hung up, Schumaker,who had played some shortstop in high school and college but never second base,began to worry. "Fear, anxiety, nervousness ...," he says. "All ofthem went through my mind."

Only La Russa, aguy who bats his pitcher eighth and who took an 83-win team with an emergencyrookie closer to a world championship in 2006, would think nothing of moving anoutfielder to second base for the first time in the player's life. The switchhas no direct historical precedent, according to sabermetrician Bill James. Themost similar conversions, James found, were those of the 1946 Cardinals, whomoved Red Schoendienst from the outfield to second base (but Schoendienst hadbeen a minor league shortstop); the 1972 Dodgers, who moved Bill Russell fromoutfield to shortstop; the 1992 Astros, who moved Craig Biggio from catcher tosecond base (his debut at the position); and the '98 Cardinals, who moved JoeMcEwing from outfield to second base (but McEwing did have minor leagueexperience at the position). There has been nothing quite like the Schumakermakeover. Talk about coming out of leftfield.

La Russa needed asecond baseman after St. Louis released Adam Kennedy in February. With RickAnkiel, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan, Brian Barton and top prospect Colby Rasmusproviding outfield depth, La Russa saw second base as a way to keepSchumaker—who hit .302 last season—in the lineup. "I'm not saying it'sgoing to work," La Russa says, "but it's not crazy."

In 13 seasonsunder La Russa, the Cardinals have carved out a reputation as one of themajors' most resourceful organizations, which has emboldened their creativitybut sometimes, as when they made no major free-agent signings this winter (orlast), tests the patience of their fans. Last year the team's biggest winnerwas a career 63--74 pitcher whom the Cards signed in the middle of March (KyleLohse, 15--6). Their ERA leader was a converted reliever who, in five seasonswith three other organizations, had never started a big league game before St.Louis acquired him in 2007 (Todd Wellemeyer, 3.71). Its only lefthanded powercame from a converted pitcher (Ankiel, 48 extra-base hits). And the guy whotied Albert Pujols for the team lead in home runs was signed as a minor leaguefree agent in '07 with metal rods in his hip and wrist plus scars on atwice-rebuilt knee (Ludwick, 37).

Last season, atage 30 and with his fifth organization, Ludwick finished third in the league inslugging and, in December, became a first-time father when his son, Stetson,was born. It was a storybook season for a star-crossed player who thought thathis life, not just his career, might be endangered when he smashed into awooden outfield wall in 2002. "The doctors saw a mass in my hip on theMRI," says Ludwick, who had 34 career home runs before last year'sbreakout. "At first they couldn't tell what it was, but until they ran moretests the next day, they thought it could be a cancerous tumor. They said itmight require an amputation." Ludwick eventually was diagnosed with astress fracture in his hip.

Ludwick's big2008 helped St. Louis become an unlikely contender. They'll need moreinventiveness this year. The club still doesn't have quality lefthandedpitching (righties threw 94% of its innings last year); Ankiel, as astoundingas his conversion has been, struggled against lefties; shortstop Khalil Greene,who played his way out of San Diego by hitting .213, is yet another flier; andthe bullpen, which last year had a 5.01 ERA in save situations, remainsunsettled. La Russa has no clear-cut closer but, in typical house of Cardsfashion, can hand over the ninth inning to a rookie (Chris Perez), a guy comingoff two elbow surgeries (Josh Kinney) or a converted catcher (Jason Motte).Such is life with the Cardinals, who in Pujols have the surest thing inbaseball but otherwise never know when the next Schu will drop.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

Pitching coachDave Duncan has had a lot of success retreading pitchers whose careers havestalled because of injury or ineffectiveness. Where the Cards go astray iscommitting big money to those projects rather than moving on to the next ones;that leaves them on the hook for contracts like those of Chris Carpenter (fiveyears, $63.5 million), Joel Pi√±eiro (two years, $13 million) and Kyle Lohse(left, four years, $41 million), in which the cost outstrips the performance.Instead, St. Louis should be on the lookout for the next Carpenter—or Pi√±eiro,at least—such as journeyman righthander Paul Byrd or former Braves southpawChuck James, both of whom have been effective at times, but whose teams gave upon them. The value is in finding and fixing guys, then letting someone else paythe big bucks for the work they gave you.

THE NUMBERS

LIE 1

Lefthanded powerthreat among Cardinals regulars. Though centerfielder Rick Ankiel was the onlylefty batter with more than 10 home runs last year (25), St. Louis mashedrighthanded pitching; its .443 slugging percentage was second in the NL only tothe Marlins'. The Cardinals' two best hitters, Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick,both of whom are righthanded, slugged .626 and .598, respectively, againstrighties in '08.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager Tony LaRussa

14TH SEASON WITHCARDINALS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

SKIP SCHUMAKER2B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R228.3028468
RICK ANKIELCF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L70.26425712
ALBERT PUJOLS1B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R1.357371167
RYAN LUDWICKRF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R-L26.299371134
TROY GLAUS3B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R176.27027990
CHRIS DUNCANLF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R194.2486272
YADIER MOLINAC
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R185.3047560
KHALIL GREENE [NEW ACQUISITION]SS
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R203.21310355
BENCH
JOE MATHERIF-OF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R261.2418181
COLBY RASMUS (R)*OF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L196.251113615
BRENDAN RYANIF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R306.2440107

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHERPVRWLK/9WHIPERA
RHAdam Wainwright871136.21.183.20
RHChris Carpenter89014.11.301.76
RHKyle Lohse1241565.41.303.78
RHTodd Wellemeyer911396.31.253.71
RHJoel Piñiero178774.91.455.15
BULLPEN
PITCHERPVRWSVK/9WHIPERA
RHJason Motte810113.10.730.82
RHRyan Franklin2386175.81.483.55
RHChris Perez135379.11.343.46

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie
*Triple A stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
September 12, 1960

Stan Musial laughed again at the memory, then steppedin to hit. He swung three times but never got the ball past the battingpractice pitcher. A knot of Milwaukee fans jeered as Musial stepped out of thecage, and the sound, half boos, half yahs, was harsh. Musial blushed and begantalking very quickly about other games against Preacher Roe and the oldBrooklyn Dodgers. "Yeah, I could really hit those guys," he said. Itwas strange and a little sad to see so great a figure tapping bouncers to thepitcher and answering boos with remembrances of past home runs. Why was hedoing it, one wondered.
—ROGER KAHN

For free access to all Cardinals stories andphotographs from the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTODILILP VISHWANAT/GETTY IMAGESBLASTING OFF Ludwick had 34 home runs total in his first five big league seasons, then rapped 37 more last year.PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONPHOTO