The Cardinals have the best player in baseball in Albert Pujols, which means that they should be perennial contenders as long as they can surround him with a solid supporting cast. After winning at least 100 games in 2004 and 2005 and winning the World Series in 2006, the Cardinals have missed the play-offs the last two years. Daniel Paulling tells you if this will change in 2009.
Finish: 86-76, fourth in the NL Central, 11.5 GB
Busch Stadium has seen a World Series winner in its first year of existence.
Home Field: Busch Stadium
SP Matt Clement (Signed by Toronto Blue Jays) *
SS Khalil Greene (Traded from San Diego Padres)
RP Trever Miller (Signed from Tampa Bay Rays)
OF Dennys Reyes (Signed from Minnesota Twins)
RP Royce Ring (Signed from Atlanta Braves)
Flying the Coop
OF Juan Encarnacion (Unsigned free agent)
RP Randy Flores (Signed with Colorado Rockies) *
RP Jason Isringhausen (Signed with Tampa Bay Rays) *
SS Cesar Izturis (Signed with Baltimore Orioles)
OF Felipe Lopez (Signed with Arizona Diamondbacks)
SP Braden Looper (Signed with Milwaukee Brewers)
2B Aaron Miles (Signed with Chicago Cubs)
SP Mark Mulder (Unsigned free agent)
RP Ron Villone (Signed with New York Mets) *
RP Mark Worrell (Traded to San Diego Padres)
* - Signed minor league contract
Strength – Starting Pitching
Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer fronted the Cardinals rotation last season, putting together successful seasons. If one of them retains his form from last season, the Cardinals can match him with a healthy Chris Carpenter (we think) and Adam Wainwright. That combination, while not as good as the Chicago Cubs rotation, provides St. Louis with a reasonable amount of hope in 2009.
Joel Pineiro isn’t as bad of a pitcher as he was last season (7-7, 5.15 ERA) and should improve. There are concerns about how Wellemeyer’s arm will bounce back from last season’s huge increase in innings, but Dave Duncan is one of the best pitching coaches in the game. He’ll continue his amazing work with the arms.
Weakness – Injuries
Injuries, whether they are from last season or potentially this season, should keep Cardinals fans from expecting too much. Carpenter is returning from elbow issues, including Tommy John surgery and a surgery to move a nerve in his elbow. A double whammy like that is never good.
Wainwright is returning from a torn tendon in one of his fingers. This injury shouldn’t be considered too serious, but for someone who relies so heavily on his curveball, there will be questions for the time being.
Albert Pujols, as good as he has been and will be, has an elbow that’s bound to explode sometime. Just because he survived last season doesn’t mean 2009 will be any easier. Combine that with Troy Glaus missing the first month of the season because of shoulder surgery and Khalil Greene’s requisite DL stay, and this offense could dissipate quickly.
2B Skip Schumaker
LF Chris Duncan
1B Albert Pujols
RF Ryan Ludwick
3B Troy Glaus (out for the first month of the season)
CF Rick Ankiel
SS Khalil Greene
C Yadier Molina
CL Chris Perez
SU Ryan Franklin
SU Russ Springer
Can the Cardinals’ front two stay healthy? Carpenter and Wainwright combined for 23 starts in 2008. St. Louis needs them for 68 in 2009. Carpenter was recently one of the better starters in the National League, while the Cardinals fell out of the chance only after Wainwright went down with his injured tendon. If Tony La Russa can run these two consistently, it’ll give the Cardinals a fighting chance as the wild card team. If he can’t, you shouldn’t expect anything much different than 2008.
St. Louis should win 92-94 games, placing them solidly in contention for the NL Central division title all season long. Combine that with a weak NL West and it could slip into the playoffs as the wild card team. Once there, the Cardinals’ pair of aces could take them deep into the playoffs.