The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates will enter Thursday’s season opener with contrasting objectives for the 2022 campaign.
The Cardinals want to take one more playoff ride with pitcher Adam Wainwright, 40, and catcher Yadier Molina, 39. Albert Pujols, 42, rejoined his old teammates for his farewell season and he wants more than just a nostalgic summer together.
“Walking out of this game with a championship, that’s what you play for,” Pujols said.
Meanwhile, the Pirates are still early in their long-haul rebuild. They went 61-101, 19-41 and 69-93 the last three seasons and more growing pain is expected this year.
They are building a young nucleus around third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, pitchers Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras, infielder/outfielder Cole Tucker and shortstop/outfield prospect Oneil Cruz.
“The one thing that we’ve looked at as a group is how we can get better and what forces us to get better,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “The fact we’ve had to adapt and adjust … We have looked at that as a total package of we need to figure out how we are going to facilitate this, how are we going to get better every day.”
The Opening Day starters for each team reflect their standing. The Cardinals tabbed Wainwright, who has 184 career victories. This will be his sixth Opening Day start and his seventh home opener.
“My approach never changes,” said Wainwright, who was 17-7 with a 3.05 ERA last season. “Even if I thought we were going to lose 120 games, I’d still be pitching with that intensity, but I expect this team to do great things and win a World Series.”
The Pirates will counter with JT Brubaker, who has six career victories. He was 5-13 with a 5.36 ERA in 24 starts last season.
He is looking forward to a festive afternoon at Busch Stadium with Wainwright, Molina and Pujols taking their bows.
“It’s awesome, because I think I was still in high school when all three of those guys were playing together. Not to date them by any means,” Brubaker said. “I grew up watching those guys play together. It was fun to watch. To actually start against them with them in the lineup, it’s an awesome moment. I’m honored to be in that type of presence between those three.”
The Cardinals opted to return with essentially the same offense this season, powered by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (31 homers, 99 RBIs last season), third baseman Nolan Arenado (34 homers, 105 RBIs) and outfielder Tyler O’Neill (34 homers, 80 RBIs).
St. Louis added Pujols and Corey Dickerson as potential designated hitters and passed on free-agent shortstops to give Paul DeJong another chance after he hit just .197 last season.
Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty and 2021 closer Alex Reyes reported to spring training with shoulder injuries that could sideline them well into the season. On the other hand, starting pitcher Dakota Hudson and former closer Jordan Hicks returned from arm injuries and starter Steven Matz signed as a free agent.
The Pirates see offensive upside in Hayes (.280 batting average in 120 career games) and Tucker (.308 in the last 16 games last season). The 6-foot-7 Cruz, who will start the season at Triple-A after going 5-for-15 with two homers in exhibition play.
If Pittsburgh seeks additional trades for prospects this season, center fielder Bryan Reynolds will draw heavy interest. He posted a .912 on-base plus slugging percentage last season while driving in 90 runs.
–Field Level Media