Dan's Dugout: Can Cards Flip Cubs in NL Central? • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Can Cards Flip Cubs in NL Central?


JUPITER, Fla. – Win, lose, or draw, the St. Louis Cardinals always pack Roger Dean Stadium in a sea of red.

STL logoSaturday was no exception as the Redbirds rallied in the ninth, staving off a 2-1 defeat to the Atlanta Braves and sending the audience into a frenzy. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, called after 10 innings because both teams had no more pitchers ready to work.

That happens in spring training, where the only thing that counts is the impressions players make on their manager’s mind.

The Cards always seem to thrive in the spring, perhaps because their compact park seems to magnify the excitement factor for their fans.

After opening the spring with 68 uniformed players, the Cards have reeled off a 10-4-2 record while leading the Grapefruit League in pitching and double-plays. In fact, the 2.94 team ERA the Cards took into Saturday’s game here was the best in the majors this spring.

Staff ace Carlos Martinez, whose 16 wins and 174 strikeouts led the club last

Carlos Martinez is the new Cardinals ace

Carlos Martinez is the new Cardinals ace

year, inked a new five-year contract that includes club options that could bind him to the Cardinals through the year 2023. In addition, erstwhile ace Adam Wainwright is showing signs this spring of recapturing his former All-Star form. Even the much-maligned Mike Leake looked great Friday, working four strong innings against the powerful Washington Nationals.

St. Louis pitching is also better with the addition of power southpaw Brett Cecil, signed to a four-year contract last November. He’s averaged 11.46 batters per nine innings since becoming a full-time reliever late in the 2012 campaign.

Although defeating the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the NL Central is a daunting task, the Cards have bucked the odds before. They took a giant leap toward closing their 17-game gap by luring Cubs centerfielder Dexter Fowler to St. Louis with a five-year pact on Dec. 9.


Dexter Fowler

A switch-hitting centerfielder with a lifetime on-base percentage of .366, Fowler represents addition by subtraction – the St. Louis gain is Chicago’s loss.

In nine years with the Rockies, Astros, and Cubs, Fowler hit 72 triples and stole 127 bases.

The anchor of the Cardinal lineup, catcher Yadier Molina, is aging gracefully but is still an All-Star in the field. At the moment, that field is far from Jupiter, since Molina is in Mexico for the World Baseball Classic. He had two hits, including a home run, in Puerto Rico’s 11-0 victory over Venezuela Friday.

As a team, the objective of Mike Matheny’s men is to return to their usual spot

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has a great winning record

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has a great winning record

in postseason play. The Cards missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2010.

Anything can happen in a short series and the Cards would love a shot at their 12th world championship.

Camp Notes:

Matheny has more wins (461) than any manager since succeeding Tony La Russa in the Cardinals dugout five years ago . . .

FOX Sports Midwest features former players Tim McCarver and Al Hrabosky in its broadcast booth . . .

Entering play Saturday, the Yankees, Pirates, and Cardinals were the only clubs with double digits in exhibition game wins . . .

Don Sutton's favorite

Don Sutton’s favorite

Braves broadcaster Don Sutton says his favorite player as a kid was Mickey Mantle . . .

Shortstop Dansby Swanson, the prohibitive favorite for 2017 NL Rookie of the Year, returns to the Atlanta lineup this weekend after missing a week with shoulder discomfort.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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