StrategyMarch 4, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: St. Louis Cardinals

By Tom Huffman

Today in “30 Teams in 30 Days,” we will be looking at the St. Louis Cardinals. It has been a quiet winter in St. Louis, with not that much changing from last year. The addition of Khalil Greene and the resigning of Kyle Lohse to a four-year deal did little to soothe the Redbirds fans who are upset about a fourth place finish and a perceived lack of spending.

The Cardinals are counting on Chris Carpenter coming back and taking his spot as the team’s ace. If you are looking for a gamble on draft day, Carpenter is your man. On the offensive side, Albert Pujols continues to put up Pujols-ian numbers every year and remains a first-round staple. There were some nice surprises last year with Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker, Lohse, and Todd Wellemeyer all setting career marks. They will need to repeat their performance and Adam Wainwright, Rick Ankiel, and Yadier Molina will need to continue to improve if the Cardinals want to win the NL Central.

For a closer look at the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of the NL Central, be sure to check out The Can of Corn NL Central Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Yadier Molina.304.349.392377560444 
1B Albert Pujols.357.462.653100371167524 
2B Brendan Ryan.244.307.289300107197 
3B Troy Glaus.270.372.4836927990544 
SS Khalil Greene.213.2603393010355389w/SD
LF Skip Schumaker.302.359.406878468540 
CF Rick Ankiel.264.337.5066525712413 
RF Ryan Ludwick.299.375.591104371134538 

Unsettled: The outfield. The Cardinals outfield has three returning starters along with Chris Duncan and prospect Colby Rasmus fighting for playing time. Ludwick is a lock to start after last year’s performance, but don’t be surprised if manager Tony La Russa rotates outfielders regularly to play matchups. The number of outfielders and the disappointment in Adam Kennedy led to Kennedy’s release and Skip Schumaker being given an opportunity to be the starter at second base. Schumaker was drafted as an infielder, so I’d keep an eye on this during spring training. He could be a nice sleeper at second. Third base is also up in the air since Troy Glaus had shoulder surgery in January and is expected to miss the first month of the season. David Freese is the favorite with Brian Barden, Joe Mather, and Brett Wallace as possible replacements.

Target: Ryan Ludwick. Hitting behind Albert Pujols has benefits, and Ludwick took full advantage of them last season. Ludwick, a former second-round draft pick, had been besieged with injuries in past years and finally managed to stay healthy in 2008. He is going around the seventh or eighth round in most fantasy drafts due to his history of injuries and lack of a track record. Last year’s numbers were phenomenal and to expect a repeat is overly optimistic. Jump on him in the sixth round and be happy you did.

The Rotation

Adam Wainwright (R)11-33.201.189134132.0
Kyle Loshe (R)15-63.781.3011949200.0
Todd Wellemeyer (R)13-93.711.2513462191.2
Joel Piniero (R)7-75.151.453581148.2
Chris Carpenter (R)0-11.761.307415.1

Unsettled: Joel Piniero. Piniero started 2008 relatively strong. Through his first 11 starts, he was 2-3 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. However, the wheels fell off against Kansas City at the end of June and his season never turned back. Manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan have always shown an affinity for veterans willing to adapt to their system, so Piniero should be their first nod at the start of spring training. His leash will likely be short though.

Target: Chris Carpenter. It really goes without saying that this rotation will be infinitely better if Carpenter can return even at 80% of his past production. The loss of Braden Looper stole depth from the starting group, and the ownership has not made any free agent acquisitions to fill the holes. They have not even attempted a “makeover” on a free agent, mid-30s injured starter (like they usually do). What that means is that they are banking heavily on Carpenter to return and stay healthy.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Ryan Franklin (L)173.551.47513178.2
Chris Perez (R)73.461.34422241.2
Jason Motte (R)10.820.7316311.0

Chasing Saves: The Achilles heel of the 2008 Cardinals was their bullpen. Mainstay Jason Isringhausen parted ways with the club, and the new season brings hopes for a new squad of talented rookies. On the surface, the Cardinals appear to have a good problem on their hands. Chris Perez, originally anointed the heir to Izzy’s mound, performed admirably in his test run late in the 2008 campaign. Additionally, fireballer Jason Motte – a converted catcher – appeared on the scene with a ferocious display of heat that caught the attention of many St. Louisans.

In a perfect world, either Perez or Motte closes while the other shares duty with veteran Ryan Franklin in the setup role. Unfortunately, Perez displayed a knack for giving up inopportune hits, and Motte ended the season a one-pitch reliever. If neither Perez nor Motte rises to the occasion, expect La Russa and Duncan to turn to Franklin to button down wins as they did last year.

Final Thoughts

The Cardinals surprised a lot of people last year and could do it again in 2009 if things go their way. The NL Central isn’t brimming with contenders, and the Cubs have a history of being the Cubs, so anything can happen. No matter what, it will be an exciting and enjoyable season to watch Albert Pujols hit, Yadier Molina gun down runners, and the youngsters Colby Rasmus and Chris Perez try to cement their spots on the 2009 Cardinals roster.

Yesterday, we previewed the Pittsburgh Pirates. Check back tomorrow for a look at the Arizona Diamondbacks in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

This article was written jointly by Tom Huffman and John Sherwood. You can find both posting in the Cafe's forums under the names of Pogotheostrich and JTWood/StlSluggers.
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