Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hot Stove League Gets an Early Start

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hot Stove League Gets an Early Start

Article excerpt

The Mark McGwire signing has us wanting to push the fast-forward button to 1998. Can we start next year's schedule now, and begin to erase all that went wrong in '97?

"Not yet," manager Tony La Russa said. "Not with our pitching staff being in such bad shape, healthwise. But I understand the enthusiasm about next season. You can look at the nucleus we'll have and get excited."

That's one of the soothing aspects of the McGwire deal. Instead of mewling over the negatives from the lost summer of '97, Cardinal Nation can concentrate more on the promise of '98. Not that La Russa is about to issue any guarantees . . . "I think I learned my lesson," he said. Still, look at this potential everyday lineup for next year (and feel free to tinker): DeShields, Clayton, Jordan, McGwire, Lankford, Gant, Marrero and either Bell/Mabry/Gaetti. There's firepower, horsepower and instant offense. Perfect? Heck, no. The Cardinals still lack the ideal No. 2 hitter, and there's uncertainty at third base. But the offense should become a strength in 1998. "A lot of managers would be thrilled to start out with a lineup like that," La Russa said. "And mentally, I think we'll be a hungry ballclub. Not that you can count on everything going the way you hope it will." We saw that this season. The Cardinals suffered from a toxic trickle-down effect. Brian Jordan's injury was a factor in Ron Gant's slump. Gant didn't respond well to the pressure of trying to replace Jordan's presence and production. And John Mabry's swoon - his RBI total will be down 50 percent from last year's healthy total of 75 - wasn't alleviated by the low-impact bat of rookie Dmitri Young. Once a lineup starts to go bad, other hitters begin to press, strain and try to do too much on each swing. And then there's La Russa. This intense competitor tried so hard to jump-start the offense that he was guilty of overmanaging. The Cardinals were like rats in a maze. They got off to an 0-6 start and never found a steady course. …

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