2009 ST. LOUIS CARDINALS PREVIEW
The Cards had a pretty successful 2008 season, finishing with 86 wins. While Cardinal fans expect their team to be competitive every year, last year was an achievement considering the injury troubles that the Cards ran into and the relative youth of much of their team.
The Cardinals return most of last year’s team and expectations are high entering this season. The addition of former Padre Khalil Greene should bolster the infield and the return to health of 2005 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter could vault the Cardinals right into the thick of the Division Title chase. There are plenty of reasons for optimism along the Mississippi River.
The Cardinals have a very good rotation. Adam Wainright (11-3, 3.20 ERA, 20 starts last year) suffered some injury problems last year but proved to be a very effective starter while healthy. A full year of health for him this season would be huge for the Cardinals. Kyle Lohse (15-6, 3.78 ERA, 33 starts, 200 IP) was excellent and should continue with his solid numbers in 2009. Todd Wellemeyer (13-9, 3.71 ERA, 32 starts, 191 IP) also had a great season and will be counted on again this year. Joel Piniero (7-7, 5.15 ERA, 25 starts) struggled at times last season but will give the Cardinals the chance to win plenty of games. He will be an effective 5 th starter. The final member of the rotation is Carpenter, who has only started 4 games in the past two seasons. However, he returned late last season and has gone through his normal offseason preparation. If the Cardinals can get anything close to his pre-injury form, the Cardinals could have a fantastic rotation.
Bring up the Cardinals’ closing situation in St. Louis and the usual reaction that you’ll get is angst. Lots and lots of angst. After running former closer Jason Isringhausen out of town due to ineffectiveness, Cardinal fans aren’t happy about the prospect of incumbent Ryan Franklin (6-6, 3.55 ERA, 17 SV in 25 SVO, 74 Gm) taking on the role for a second season. Franklin was effective last year but he will be challenged by youngsters Chris Perez (3.46 ERA, 7 SV in 11 SVO, 41 Gm, 32 K) and Jason Motte (0.82 ERA, 12 Gm, 1 SV, 16 K). Josh Kinney, who didn’t allow a run in 7 September games last season, will also get a shot. While the closer situation is up in the air, the fact that there are so many solid candidates means that the Cardinals should have a solid bullpen this year if one of the four can effective close out games.
The Cardinals also have a solid infield. First baseman Albert Pujols (.357, 37 HR, 116 RBI, .462 OBP) was the National League MVP last season and is the best first baseman in all of baseball. Catcher Yadier Molina (.304, 7 HR, 56 RBI, .349 OBP) is also excellent both in the field and behind the plate. Third baseman Troy Glaus (.270, 27 HR, 99 RBI, .372 OBP) had offseason surgery and is expected to miss most of April while rehabbing. In his place, Brendan Ryan (.244, 0 HR, 10 RBI, .307 OBP in 80 Gm), Brian Barden (.222 in 9 Gm) and Joe Thurston (4 Gm last year) will compete to fill the vacancy until Glaus returns. In addition, the three will also compete for the second base position. This has to be a concern for St. Louis as the three barely logged any major league games last season and could prompt a position change in the Cardinals’ talented but crowded outfield. Shortstop Greene (.213, 10 HR, 35 RBI, .260 OBP) had the worst season of his career in 2008 but should have a great rebound season hitting in a much more potent lineup. When Glaus returns, this is a very solid infield and Pujols is perhaps the most dangerous hitter in baseball.
The Cardinals’ outfield will be very interesting to watch during Spring Training. All-Star Ryan Ludwick (.299, 37 HR, 113 RBI, .375 OBP) is entrenched in right field while Rick Ankiel (.264, 25 HR, 71 RBI, .337 OBP) and Skip Schumaker (.302, 8 HR, 46 RBI, .359 OBP) were very effective in their roles last season. However, Chris Duncan (.248, 6 HR, 27 RBI, .348 OBP) will challenge for playing time along with Brian Barton (.268, 2 HR, 13 RBI in 82 Gm). Further muddling the situation is the presence of St. Louis’ number one prospect, Colby Rasmus. Rasmus nearly made the team out of Spring Training last fall and is one of the best prospects in all of baseball. The Cardinals could find themselves either trading or changing positions with Ankiel or Schumaker to make space for Rasmus if he earns a spot. Regardless of which players end up starting, the Cardinals’ outfield should be very productive this season.
The Cardinals bring back the core of a good team from last season. However, things look even better this season for two reasons. One is Carpenter’s return to health. If he finds his form, he is one of the National League’s best pitchers and will provide a huge boost to the team. The other reason is the extra development of many of their younger players. The Cardinals have a few players who should produce much better seasons than a year ago and that alone could propel St. Louis forward.
Overall, the Cardinals have a very good team and definitely look like a playoff contender. Unfortunately, they still appear to lag a little bit behind the Cubs in the National League Central. However, the Cardinals look very capable of challenging the Cubs all season and competing for a Wild Card berth. Expect the Cardinals to win 90 games this season and finish as the runner up in the NL Central.
By Matt Baxendell
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