Cheap Seats

The same, but different

The roster is very similar to the team that won the National League Central in 2009. But the subtle differences have resulted in big changes in the way manager Tony La Russa attacks games.

While the starting lineup is nearly identical to last season, the bench is populated with younger, less experienced players. And that has caused La Russa, known for getting his bench involved in games, to stick with his starting eight much more than he has in the past.

It was almost a surprise to see him go with the same starting lineup two days in a row. While this may change today with a day game following a night game, Joe Mather has had two at bats. Felipe Lopez has had only one plate appearance. Allen Craig and Nich Stavinoha have had none.

One of the reasons I was most surprised by the decision to dump Julio Lugo is that he is such a better option as a pinch hitter than Mather, Stavinoha or Craig. Those guys may eventually turn out to be fine major league hitters. But there is usually a learning process when it comes to young players learning how to hit against the best pitchers in the world. And it's really unlikely to be successful in learning how to hit when you're getting two or three at bats a week.

As the Cardinals go for the opening series sweep of Cincinnati they send Brad Penny to the hill against Bronson Arroyo. It wouldn't surprise me to see Lopez and Craig get a start. But we'll see how La Russa feels about things this early in the season.

It's pretty hard to justify rest for players who have been on the field for two games in the last four days.