The St. Louis Cardinals had a nice season last year. They came in with expectations of finishing with a sub .500 record, yet the Cards battled for the division the entire year. They finished 86-76, only 4 games behind the Brewers for the Wild Card. They were able to be so competitive because of many unexpected heroes. Just look at their outfield. Ryan Ludwick came out of nowhere to put up fantastic numbers. Albert Pujols finally started to get some protection. Rick Ankiel also had a very good year with the bat. All together, they were a good offensive unit with a lot of thump in it.
Despite many injuries to their starting staff, the rotation was O.K. Adam Wainwright had a very good year and pitched like an ace. Unfortunately, he was limited to only 132 innings because of injury. If he can stay healthy, the Cardinals will have a legitimate #1 sitting atop their rotation. After him, there are some question marks. Kyle Lohse had a career year for the Cards after signing for only 4.25 million the year before. Lohse pitched fantastic and so he got a huge 4 year contract just days after the season ended. Todd Wellemeyer also compiled a nice ERA and had a very good season. After you get past that trio, things get a little shaky. Joel Pineiro had a very poor showing in 2008, Chris Carpenter might not be healthy to start off the season, and there is a total lack of depth. This rotation 1-3 is solid, but once you get past them, there are a lot of question marks.
The bullpen is not very good at all. They have only one sure thing: Ryan Franklin. He is a solid relief pitcher, but I would prefer him in a set-up role instead of the closer. If they decide to go that route the closer’s job would probably belong to Chris Perez. This guy was a very good prospect, and definitely their closer of the future, but will he be able to realize his potential in his first full season at the big league level? If not, then manager Tony LaRussa will have to get creative with his ‘pen.
So, this Cardinal team has some good pieces. The middle of the lineup and the top 3 in the rotation are very good. The big problem with the Cards will be once the starter leaves the game. Will they be able to hold onto leads? Will Chris Perez excel in the closer’s role? Will Chris Carpenter regain his 2005-2006 form? How will the 4th and 5th starters perform? If these questions are answered positively, the Cardinals will be in the thick of the Wild Card race once again. They might even contend with the Cubs for the division. It’s tough to count out a team that has Albert Pujols on it.