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

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2010 #14: An even worse year at third

Third base was a major problem for the St. Louis Cardinals for the second consecutive season. A year after eight different players manned the position and posted a (non-pitchers) team-low combined OPS of .661, believe it or not, the 2010 group was even worse.

That’s right. The Cardinals’ third sackers collectively managed just a .655 OPS this past season.

Third base, a spot in the lineup from which offense is traditionally expected, has instead been a black hole for the Cardinals since Troy Glaus’ standout 2008 campaign. By position, only Cardinals shortstops and pitchers had a lower OPS in 2010.

A fast start by David Freese (.765 OPS) was more than iced by poor play from Felipe Lopez (.664 OPS as third baseman) and Pedro Feliz (.482 OPS) through the final two-thirds of the schedule. A September cameo by unlikely rookie cornerman Daniel Descalso (.648 OPS) wasn’t even enough to raise the position’s aggregate output.

For the second consecutive year, Freese’s season was scuttled by injury. He suffered what was originally called a bone bruise on his right ankle on June 5. The injury at the time was thought to be minor, but proved not. Before being placed on the disabled list, Freese tried to play through it for three weeks, during which time his average dropped from .316 to .296.

Freese’s next injury was a freak one, a broken toe sustained in the weight room. On August 2, during his very first rehab game, he suffered tissue and tendon damage to his right ankle that required season-ending reconstructive surgery. In September, a clean up procedure was needed on his left ankle, making three ankle surgeries in two years.

Signed at a bargain price in late February, veteran switch-hitting infielder Lopez was expected to be a versatile reserve. Instead, because of Freese’s injury, Lopez was pressed into regular duty. He played third base almost daily from late June until mid-August, struggling both with the bat and the glove. Lopez was summarily released in September amid concerns over his attitude and approach.

After failing to secure other alternatives, the Cardinals acquired the 35-year-old Feliz from Houston on August 19. He would prove to be better than Lopez defensively but a further step down offensively for a club that badly needed consistent hitting. Feliz showed his offensive fuel tank was bone dry.

Having seen enough of Feliz after 40 games, manager Tony La Russa turned to September call up Descalso. The 23-year-old was thrown into the fire at third base, not his regular second base spot. In limited action, nine starts, Descalso performed credibly, especially so considering it was his MLB debut.

Looking ahead to 2011, Freese is expected to be back and ready to go from his surgeries. Recent media reports are predictably rosy as to his rehab progress, but who wouldn’t continue to be concerned about his lack of ability to remain on the field?

La Russa announced a plan for Allen Craig to come to camp to compete to be the reserve at the position. An offense-oriented player, Craig was a third baseman in the minors but was later moved to the outfield due to concerns over his defense at the hot corner. Descalso could also figure in the mix and Tyler Greene can play third in a pinch as well.

Third basemen at the upper levels of the minor league system have not yet proven their readiness to contribute in St. Louis. Matt Carpenter had a strong season with the bat in Double-A but has no higher level experience. 2010 first-round draft pick Zack Cox has just four games of regular season professional play under his belt, but does posess a 40-man roster spot.

In other words, the Cardinals seem willing to forget about the offensive horrors from third base over the last two seasons and put their eggs in Freese’s basket once again in 2011. One must hope Freese’s ankles will prove to be stronger than those proverbial eggs.

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

Poll: In how many major league games will David Freese play during 2011?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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