Albert Pujols averaged 42 home runs a season, but he more importantly contributed a .420 on-base percentage in his 11 years as a Cardinal. Pujols may no longer be with the team, but the Cardinals showed Wednesday night in their season opener in Miami that they still know that the name of the game is getting on base and avoiding outs.
The National League OBP leader last year, the Cardinals picked up where they left off, reaching base safely 16 times in 41 plate appearances, including 12 of 28 against Josh Johnson, one of the best pitchers in the league. They scored without the aid of the home run, though they didn’t exactly only slap hit, knocking three doubles. The key to extending their on-base excellence this year will be their top two hitters compensating for Pujols’s absence. Rafael Furcal (three times) and Carlos Beltran (two) showed Wednesday that they’re a decent bet to reach as often as Pujols and Ryan Theriot, last-year’s main leadoff man, did in 2011 (a combined .347 OBP).
And we suppose that even such a successful evening won’t be able to restrain those knuckle-dragging fans and observers from lamenting the team’s two double plays. Let them whine all the way to game 162 as the team grounds into 324 DPs (their pace after tonight) — and leads the league again in OBP and scoring.
Speaking of restraining and reaching base, Kyle Lohse kept the bases clear of Marlins, who showed little restraint with their déclassé pregame latin-showgirl player escorts and the antipathetic Muhammad Ali. The metathetically-named Cardinal righty posted a game FIP of 1.49 by using the Marlins capacious new park and by taking his chances with his defense (a defense-efficiency ratio of .833). And what matters he couldn’t take into his own hands, the bullpen did into theirs, as Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte struck out three of the 7 batters they faced in relief (as many as Lohse did in 24 batters).
In his debut, Mike Matheny didn’t display anything but safely in-the-box managing, stewarding the team through a straightforward game. He showed himself to be more of the late-era, conventional Tony La Russa, as he saved his best reliever for an unmeaningful part of the game (he opted for Salas to relief Lohse with a runner on in the eighth). As for the spring-inspired running game, results were not promising, as the team went 1-for-2 in stolen-base attempts. Hopefully Matheny will nip this idea in the bud, lest the team undermine its hard work reaching base and avoiding outs.
The Cardinals’ first through third batters may look a bit different from last year, but the results — as in on-base percentage — are the same. Albert who?