I EXPECTED TONY LARUSSA TO HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY FOLLOWING DAVE DUNCAN'S DECLARATION REGARDING HIS FIVE STARTERS. Duncan shocked me by naming his rotation on the first day of camp. It's great to have confidence in guys but it seemed premature. Larussa has since said it's an open competition. Obviously, Chris Carpenter is locked in and Kip Wells seems a sure bet. Beyond that, Anthony Reyes is the most likely starter. I'm curious to see how Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper respond to the move to the rotation. Curious but admittedly a little skeptical. My dark horse is Brad Thompson. He doesn't have overpowering stuff but he throws strikes and has good location when he misses. He'll never be a power pitcher but he could be an innings eater. He certainly has shown the ability to pitch well in long relief.
I commend Jason Isrignhausen for how he handled a difficult 2006. After each of his blown saves, he stood at his locker and answered the questions. As a guy who is just a few years away from hip replacement surgery myself, I can't imagine how tough it must have been to try to push off the mound and pitch with a hip that needed surgery. I never heard him use the hip as an excuse. Commendable. But I have to wonder if he's really going to be 100 percent by the start of the season. I would think he's going to have a setback or two in camp. The Cardinals are fortunate that Wainwright has such a good attitude and is open to any role. He's certainly no Sidney Ponson.
My two biggest curiosities regarding the 2007 season: can Chris Duncan handle left field on a daily basis and will Yadier Molina continue to hit the way he did in the post season? Duncan has the potential to be a 40 homer 100 RBI guy. A real difference maker in the line up. But his defense was so bad in the playoffs you wonder if he can handle it day to day. To his credit, he's been working on it for months. Molina was almost an automatic out at times in the regular season but was a tough out in the playoffs. He hit the ball hard and to all fields. Will we see more of that?. Molina is so good defensively that I don't need to see a lot of offense from him. But, any improvement he can make is a major bonus.
I'm told the Rams brass expects to lose wide receiver Kevin Curtis in free agency. The price tag will be too high for the Rams to match. And, yes, expect the Lions to make the offer. Mike Martz wants Curtis to be one of his starters opposite Roy Williams. But, he'll use a lot of three wide receiver sets meaning Mike Furrey will be used extensively as well. So, if the Rams can address one or two defensive needs(defensive end, nose tackle or linebacker) in free agency, don't be surprised to see the club take a wide receiver in the first couple of rounds. They not only need to replace Curtis as the number three receiver, they need to groom one or more successors to Issac Bruce and Torry Holt who are both in the their 30's now. Dominique Byrd will likely play a larger role as third or fourth receiver next season but the Rams will need to replace Curtis' speed. He was the only guy who could consistently outrun corners down the field. My dark horse in the receiver mix is Dominique Thompson, a guy who has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the practice squad. He's got good size, has good hands and has some explosiveness. I hope the Rams give him a shot in camp. I also wouldn't mind seeing Dane Looker get some balls thrown his way. He caught 47 passes back in 2003. Again, not an explosive guy but very smart and reliable and has good hands to go with route running ability. And--I can't emphasize this enough--- I'd rather see Dane returning punts than Sean McDonald. Sean may not be back anyway. But, he spent too much time dancing and not getting upfield. Dane gets what he can on every return. He's not a threat to go the distance but he can consistently improve field position. And, how often do the Rams return kicks for touchdowns? (insert your Halley's Comet reference here).