Aside from Albert and Yadier, the one standard on recent St. Louis teams has been pop from the left side via the outfield. 2009 was shaping up to be no different, at least before the injury bug turned the Cardinals’ OF into a MASH unit.
August brought a completely revamped look to the outfield, as only Ryan Ludwick remained as an Opening Day starter. Rookie Colby Rasmus and newcomer Matt Holliday joined him to lead the Birds on the Bat to the postseason, but it was a wild ride to get there.
Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan provided glimpses of power to go with playing in pain but never could find the consistency to stay on the field. Tony La Russa stood by both long-time players until even he say the writing on the wall, but it was an injury in May and a trade in July that set the stage.
Ank amazed everyone with a tenacity to overcome obstacles every year, so it was a surprise that an early May crash with the wall opened the door for Rasmus. I fully expected the former pitcher and longest tenured Cardinal to bounce back well before the team said he would especially after Ludwick went down as well.
Then the June swoon took over and caused the first domino to fall as only Rasmus managed to hit over .250. This prompted the Mark DeRosa deal and left many wondering if anything else was to come. As the rookie’s struggles at the plate hit July, it was time for Ludwick to shine. Later we found out Rasmus experienced his own health concerns, adding to the laundry list of medical problems for St. Louis.
Duncan’s 1-for-27 stretch in July sealed his fate, and the Cardinals did the best thing for all parties and dealt him to Boston. The vacant spot in LF didn’t last long, however, as John Mozeliak gave TLR and Pujols XMas in July. The Holliday deal can be debated for hours and hours, but the bottom line is that the team needed a jolt in the worst way.
DeRosa failed to provide a lift after he also fell to the injury bug, but he was primarily brought in for third base. Ankiel seemed best suited for the bench by this point in the year so the only move left was to look outside the organization. Yes, I was against the trade for many reasons but looking back now I’m happy I was wrong. Holliday provided the best protection AP had seen in months if not years and winning returned like clockwork.
No one could have predicted the torrid pace Holliday set (.586 average with a nearly .900 slugging clip) in case anyone forgot the eight games to finish out July. Coming full circle as a unit, the St. Louis outfield ended the regular season in impressive fashion by proving what a little protection can do in the middle of a lineup.
As bitter a taste as the playoffs were, the stage was set in 2009 for the future of the Cardinals. Colby Rasmus scored high marks in many facets of the game and showed why a number of teams tried to pry him away over the years. Ryan Ludwickcontinued his breakout ways and became even more of a danger when moved out of the clean-up spot. Holliday did everything that could be asked of him as a Trade Deadline acquisition, and the postseason will be sweeter the second time around.
I almost stopped trying to figure out individual grades for the outfielders, mainly because the end result should mean something. But as in most things, the truth hurts and Lil’ Dunc and Ank are living proof of that. Both players end their St. Louis careers on down notes, scoring D’s along the way.
Ludwick and Rasmus both fall into the B/B- range with plenty of ammo to use going into 2010.
The star of this show saw only 63 games wearing the BOB, but it was enough to walk away with A+ marks. Holliday may never be able to repeat what we saw the last two months of 2009, but he will have every opportunity to etch his name among the Cardinal greats.