And so it begins...
The Jays open the 2023 season with a ten game road trip, and the defending NL Central champs provide the initial opposition.
(A quick note - I'm in the process of packing up and moving, and I'm not sure about my computer access for the next few days. So I'm preparing this on Monday evening. I don't even know what the roster will be, never mind who's pitching in this series.)
So I'll talk a little bit about the Cardinals. After all, some very familar faces will be missing. Albert Pujols strode off into retirement with honour, like the mighty warrior he always was, with one last burst of overall magnificence. After the All-Star Break, Pujols hit .323/.388/.715 with 18 HRs in 56 games. At age 42. He ends up second all time in RBIs and Total Bases, fourth in HRs, fifth in Doubles, tenth in Hits... He doesn't get a plaque at Cooperstown. He gets a statue.
I expect he'll - eventually - be joined in upstate New York by Yadier Molina, whom we just saw managing the Puerto Rican team in the WBC. It's longevity and defensive reputation that make the argument for the best of the Molinas - for most of his career he was a slightly below average offensive force (aside from his three year peak in 2011-2013, when he hit .313/.361/.482 while winning Gold Gloves and twice finishing up among the MVP vote leaders.) He ended up with nine Gold Gloves, ten All-Star selections, and only three men caught more games in the major leagues.
Adam Wainwright, at age 41, is returning for one final tour around the ball parks of North America. But we won't be seeing him, either. Wainwright will begin the season on the IL, having tweaked a groin during a workout. The old fellow can still baffle major league hitters with that curveball - he came in to the Rogers Centre and did just that for seven innings last July - and he should clear 200 career Wins at some point this season. He didn't get into the rotation until he was 25 years old, and he lost most of three full seasons to injury. His Hall of Fame resume will look a little like that of a modern day Don Sutton - never the best pitcher in the league, but one of the top ones (Cy Young runner-up twice, third in the voting twice) for a very long time. Pretty decent hitter for a pitcher, too.
The heart of the Cardinals lineup is the two All-Stars at the infield corners, who finished first and third in last year's NL MVP voting. Paul Goldschmidt, born the very same day in 1987 as our own Eephus, has been cranking out these interchangeable excellent seasons for more than a decade but 2022 was probably the best of them all, a mild September slump notwithstanding. Nolan Arenado turns 32 in a couple of weeks - already? - but the three-time NL homer champ may have had his best overall season last year as well. Arenado has now played ten years, and he's won ten Gold Gloves. Hard to improve on that.
The Cardinals have an extemely inoffensive outfield - Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbar - who combined to hit anywhere from .228 to .236 while contributing just 36 HRs between the three of them. The team is extremely excited, however, about the potential of the very young (he doesn't turn 21 until May) and rather large (6-5, 220) Jordan Walker, who will probably be the left fielder to start the season. Wilson Contreras takes over behind the plate - he'll hit more than Molina, but he won't provide anything close the same level of defense. Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman, and Brendan Donovan will fill the middle infield - Donovan is by far the best hitter of the three, and he's also one of the game's notable multi-positional players. He could be in the starting lineup almost anywhere.
The Cardinals are hoping for better health from erstwhile ace Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz, especially with Wainwright on the shelf to begin the season. Miles Mikolas gets the Opening Day start. I haven't seen anything official, but I'm expecting Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery to start the other two games.
Thu 30 Mar - Manoah (16-7, 2.24) vs Mikolas (12-13, 3.29)
Sat 1 Apr - Gausman (12-10, 3.35) vs Flaherty (2-1, 4.25)
Sun 2 Apr -Bassitt (15-9, 3.42) vs Montgomery (9-6, 3.48)