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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Reviewing the predictions: TCN Blog’s top five Cardinals stories of 2009

A look back at the top projected stories across the Cardinal Nation in 2009 from one year ago.

    A little over a year ago, last January 3, I published my predictions of what I thought would evolve into the top five stories across the Cardinal Nation in 2009. With the benefit of full hindsight, including the top 20 stories of 2009 countdown finally in the books, this is a look back at my initial forecast.

    The original top five projections follow, along with where the stories actually ended up, including links to the before and after articles. I won’t be repeating my 2009 summaries here, so click on the links if you’d like to read the detailed stories.

    2009 prediction story Prediction rank Actual rank 2009 actual story
    Lame duck La Russa 1 5 The successful odd couple – Mo and TLR
    Chris Carpenter’s health 2 3 Cy close and closer
    Calm or chaos at the closer’s position? 3 8 Franklin the finisher
    The future of Rick Ankiel 4 16 Change in centerfield
    When will Colby Rasmus arrive? 5 16 Change in centerfield

    Generally speaking, none of the five stories I thought would grab the headlines in 2009 turned out to be as big as expected. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Let’s review each as several stories morphed into others.

    1. Lame duck La Russa

    Oddly enough, unlike in 2007, when Tony La Russa’s expiring contract seemed to hold an unusually-strong level of interest with the local scribes all summer long, it was not nearly as big of an issue in 2009. This was the case despite the fact his contract was again up following the season.

    The relative calm may have been due to a combination of several factors, including the fast start of the 2009 team, which went 16-7 in April, as well as a divestiture of several veteran players over the last two years who clashed with the longtime skipper.

    Certainly, the saga of the family Duncan (2009 story #12) added to the La Russa uncertainty but also in a way diverted attention from La Russa personally. When push came to shove, Tony took his first-ever one-year contract to return for 2010.

    With the controversy over the return of Mark McGwire added to the mix, La Russa’s future should again remain a curiosity during the 2010 season and into the fall.

    2. Chris Carpenter’s health

    While this was a non-story, a good thing, the fact is that Carpenter’s health was a major factor in 2009. Because the ace missed about five weeks due to an oblique strained in his second start of the season, he ended up making just 28 starts, compared to 32 to 34 for his Cy Young Award competitors.

    Those voters who left Carpenter off their ballots entirely cited this as a reason for doing so and this most certainly affected other voters’ placement of Carpenter second or third instead of first or second.

    As such, given Carp finished just seven points short of winning his second Cy Young, it is not a stretch at all to say his health cost him the award.

    Of course, in the bigger picture, the injury was relatively insignificant. It was early in the season, during a time when the team was consistently winning and most importantly, neither lingered nor was connected to his past shoulder, elbow and nerve ailments. He still won 17 games, second-most in the NL behind teammate Adam Wainwright, and captured the league ERA title.

    In his age 35 season, Carpenter’s continued well-being will remain a critical success factor for the 2010 Cardinals.

    3.  Calm or chaos at the closer’s position?

    Not only was the identity of the 2009 closer unknown last January, it still was unresolved as the season began. The main question was “Which of the young contenders would take the job, Jason Motte or Chris Perez?”

    As we quickly learned, the answer was “neither”.

    Motte owned the job for one game, a blown save on opening day. Perez was given his chances, but his inconsistency soon put him back in Memphis before being traded away. 36-year-old Ryan Franklin, the last man standing, took over and put together a fantastic season.

    Yet a contract extension followed by a final-month failure which continued in the National League Division Series re-opened questions about the stability of the position in 2010. The Cardinals have reportedly assured Franklin that the job is his, but have also expressed concern over his supposed late-season fatigue and have at least thought about other options.

    This story may be back in 2010.

    4. The future of Rick Ankiel
    5. When will Colby Rasmus arrive and who will play centerfield?

    These two stories became intertwined. Yet even together, they placed just 16th in my final countdown.

    Compared to the acrimonious end to 2008 spring training for Colby Rasmus, followed by an ineffective and injury-plagued season with Memphis, 2009 seemed calmer for the 22-year-old. His making the big league roster did not seem to be in jeopardy this past spring, but the concern was replaced by an uneasy competition with Rick Ankiel, a stated favorite of his manager and beloved by the fan base for his revival from numerous past setbacks.

    As the season went on, illness and fatigue affected Rasmus as injury hampered Ankiel, yet their trajectory was very different. The latter continued in a downward spiral that ended in him leaving via free agency with no real attempt made to keep him after 13 years in the organization.

    The former doubled Ankiel’s starts in centerfield, 104 to 52, and was one of the team’s post-season standouts. Rasmus is clearly the present and future, while Ankiel will forever hold memories of the past as well as the wonderment of what might have been.

    Next up: In the final article of this series, I will outline my predictions for the top five Cardinals stories of 2010.

    Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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