A new feature for On The Rox this season will be discussions with reporters who cover the Rockies' opponents. For an inside look at the defending NL Champs' season opening series against the Cardinals, we turned to our sister station in St. Louis, KSDK. Frank Cusumano writes the sports blog Let's Be Frank for KSDK, covering the Cardinals, Rams and Blues, among others.
The Rockies come off a season with one of the greatest late-season runs in baseball history, only to be swept in four games by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The Cardinals, the defending World Champs a year ago, come off a tough season in which they failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Boniface: The Rockies will send Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez to the hill in the three game set. Francis comes off a 17-win season and the veteran Cook should both be solid, but I'll be interested in seeing how Jimenez (who has had trouble this spring) starts off the season.
Cusumano: Should be Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer, subject to change, for the Cardinals. In the old days, it was Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris and Mark Mulder. How the mighty have fallen.
Boniface: I think the Rockies come into the 2008 season an improved ballclub in all areas, except for possibly the back end of their rotation. The lineup should have more power with Troy Tulowitzki moved up to the No. 2 spot, plus rookie Jayson Nix has more pop than Kaz Matsui. However, the team's overall speed has decreased without Kaz. The best defense in the history of baseball a year ago, the Rockies looked like an improved club with Nix. The bullpen looks as formidable as ever. If the Rockies stay healthy, they should be in the playoff hunt again.
Cusumano: I don't think the Cardinals have improved. Their starting staff has a chance to be decent, but are mostly unproven. Their shortstop, Cesar Izturis, is a mess offensively. Their outfield has potential, but they have no proven All-Stars there. If they win the division, I'll buy you a dinner at the most expensive Italian Restaurant in St. Louis. (My family owns it: Kemolls. Call 314-421-0555 for reservations.)
Boniface: Sounds good. Rocky Mountain oysters are on me when the Cardinals meet the Rockies in the playoffs at Coors Field.
Boniface: The Rockies start off the season with Jason Hirsh on the 15-day DL. He was scheduled to be their No. 4 starter. He'll probably have to earn his way back onto the staff. But, I'm more interested in knowing how the Cardinals big stars, Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter are doing, a season after dealing with injury problems.
Cusumano: Albert has been marvelous in the spring. His elbow will need Tommy John one day, but he has been great at dealing with injuries. I'd say 40 homers and 120 RBIs. Chris Carpenter won't pitch until after the All-Star break. He has been throwing pain-free. However, the man has been cut on more than Joan Rivers.
Boniface: The one signing the Rockies made this offseason that I really didn't agree with (or even understand) was that of former Cardinals pitcher, Kip Wells. He lost 17 games for the Cardinals in 2007 and was somehow worth $3.1 million - money I would have preferred to see go to the Dragon Slayer Josh Fogg - in a perfect world. Why did the Rockies sign Kip Wells?
Cusumano: Maybe their video machines broke and they actually didn't see tape of Kip pitching last season. Nice fella, but closer to Bob Sykes than Bob Gibson.
Boniface: What's your take on outfielder Rick Ankiel? He burst back onto the scene with a power surge last season. What are your thoughts?
Cususmano: Ankiel has a chance to be awesome - breathtaking ability, but I wonder how he will handle adversity. The wild pitches ended his pitching career, the HGH story ruined the final part of his season last year. I am betting he will be special though - 25 homers, .270 average, 85 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.
Opening Series Predictions
Boniface: I'm an optimist, especially when it comes to the Rockies. I say the Blake Street Sweepers bring the brooms, and the bats, to St. Louis and sweep the Cardinals to start of the season. What do you think?
Cusumano: The Rockies take two of three. Don't let my town know I wrote this.
Boniface: I won't say anything, but let's just hope none of them Google your name.
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