By Dan Di Sciullo, MLB Analyst (Sports Network)
2003 FINISH (85-77) - Third Place (NL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: 2B - Marlon Anderson, RP - Ray King, SP - Jason Marquis, OF - Reggie Sanders, SP - Jeff Suppan, RP - Julian Tavarez
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: INF - Miguel Cairo, RP - Mike DeJean, OF - J.D. Drew, RP - Jeff Fassero, SP - Sterling Hitchcock, OF - Eli Marrero, 1B - Tino Martinez, OF - Orlando Palmeiro, SP - Brett Tomko, 2B - Fernando Vina
PROJECTED LINEUP: Marlon Anderson (2B); Edgar Renteria (SS); Albert Pujols (1B); Jim Edmonds (CF); Scott Rolen (3B); Reggie Sanders (RF); Kerry Robinson (LF); Mike Matheny (C)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Matt Morris (RHP); Woody Williams (RHP); Jeff Suppan (RHP); Jason Marquis (RHP); Chris Carpenter (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Jason Isringhausen (RHP)
MANAGER: Tony La Russa
The St. Louis Cardinals had one of the best offenses in the National League last season, but were constantly being held back by an inconsistent pitching staff. The Cardinals scored 876 runs and had a team batting average of .279, but still managed to garner 12 less wins then they had during the 2002 campaign. St. Louis found itself out of the postseason and quickly discovered that it needed a more balanced team to rise to the top in the competitive NL Central Division.
The Cards made a few pitching acquisitions in the offseason, but failed to make the type of moves that aggressively addressed last year's problems. Righthanded starters Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis are not the clear-cut ace that St. Louis would've liked to sign over the winter months. On top of that, Matt Morris, the club's ace in previous seasons, is coming off an injury- plagued season that has some folks questioning his velocity. Also, there is no diversity in the rotation, as the team plans to go with all righthanders in their rotation once again.
That being said, the Cardinals' potent offense will at least keep them in the pennant race and could possibly propel them into the postseason for the fourth time in five years. With the likes of Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen swinging the bats it is hard to dismiss the Redbirds' chances.
It is the best of times and the worst of times for the Cardinals infield this season. The team possesses arguably the best left side of the infield in the entire National League, but the right side poses some major questions.
No one in their right mind would criticize Pujols' offensive abilities, but this season the slugger will be making the move from left field to first base. However, he is apparently most comfortable at first and his bat should overshadow any transitional problems Pujols has with the position. Last year, Pujols topped all major leaguers with a .359 batting average, had 43 homers and 124 RBI and finished second in the NL MVP balloting to Barry Bonds for the second straight season. The 24-year-old has hit over .300 with 100-plus RBI in his first three seasons, marking one of the most amazing starts to a career in major league history.
However, Fernando Vina's departure for Detroit leaves more sizable concerns at second base. The starting nod will likely go to the former Phillie and Devil Ray, Marlon Anderson. Anderson hit .270 with six homers and 67 RBI with Tampa Bay last season and gives St. Louis decent speed at the top of the order.
As stated, the left side of the Cards infield is the class of the National League. Rolen picked up his fourth straight Gold Glove at third last season, while Renteria, also a Gold Glove recipient, had one of the best offensive seasons for a shortstop in National League history.
Rolen had his typical season at the plate last year, hitting .286 with 28 homers, 104 RBI and 98 runs scored. The 28-year-old also looks like one of the all-time greats at the hot corner, making plays that few others can make.
Renteria posted career highs with his .330 batting average, 194 hits, 47 doubles and 100 RBI. He also stole 34 bases and struck out just 54 times in 587 at-bats, all while picking up his second straight Gold Glove. The 100 runs batted in are the most in franchise history for a shortstop and marked the first time that a NL shortstop reached that plateau since Hubie Brooks reached the century mark for Montreal in 1985.
Handling the catching is Mike Matheny, another Gold Glove winner last season. Matheny is considered one of the best in the business at blocking balls in the dirt and gets the most of the Cardinals' average pitching staff. Last season, Matheny also had a career year at the plate, hitting .252 with eight homers and 47 RBI.
Edmonds, yet another Gold Glover for the Cards in 2003, will be back in centerfield this season for St. Louis. Despite battling shoulder problems throughout the second part of the season, Edmonds still managed to put up excellent numbers, hitting .275 with 39 homers and 89 runs batted in. The 33- year-old did have surgery on the shoulder in the offseason and expects to be 100%.
The Cards traded oft-injured outfielder J.D. Drew to the Braves over the winter and replaced him with journeyman Reggie Sanders. The 36-year-old Sanders, who is expected to start in right, is heading to his seventh team in seven years. Last season with Pittsburgh, Sanders hit .285 with 31 homers and 87 RBI.
The question mark in the outfield is leftfielder Kerry Robinson, who has mainly been used off the bench by manager Tony La Russa. Last year, seeing action primarily as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement for Pujols, Robinson hit .250, while spreading 208 at-bats over 116 games.
Morris will once again be called on to be the staff's ace, a tough task considering the injuries he battled last season. Shoulder troubles took some heat out of Morris' fastball and may have caused him to struggle with control. In 27 starts last season, Morris an 11-8 record with a 3.76 ERA, which wouldn't have that been bad if he hadn't posted a combined record of 39-17 over the previous two seasons.
Woody Williams had the best season of his career in 2003, going 18-9 with a 3.88 earned run average. He was second in the NL in wins and fifth in the league in innings pitched (220 2/3). The 37-year-old Williams, who is also an excellent hitting pitcher, has mastered the art of the cut fastball, getting batters out with the precise pitch.
Suppan was signed as a free agent in the offseason in an attempt to add depth to the struggling rotation. Last season, the 29-year-old split time with Pittsburgh and Boston and posted a 13-11 record with a 4.19 ERA in 204 innings of work.
Marquis, meanwhile, was acquired from Atlanta in the Drew trade and the Cardinals hope he can fulfill his potential. The 25-year-old pitched his way into Atlanta's rotation with the help of a mid-90s fastball, but suffered from tendinitis in his right elbow and saw little action as a starter. In 21 outings -- two starts -- Marquis posted a 0-0 record with a 5.53 ERA.
Chris Carpenter has the inside track to the Cardinals' No. 5 slot in the rotation, assuming he can stay healthy. Carpenter was the Opening Day starter for Toronto in 2002, but after just 13 outings needed shoulder surgery, which caused him to miss the rest of the that season, as well as the entire 2003 campaign.
Jason Isringhausen missed the first 63 games of last season after having shoulder surgery, leaving the Cards without a reliable closer for the first- half of the year. He did return in June and wound up converting 22-of-25 save opportunities for St. Louis. Isringhausen figures to be healthy this season and fill a large void in the Cardinals' bullpen.
Setting the table for Isringhausen will be lefthanders Ray King and Steve Kline and righty Cal Eldred. King was acquired in the offseason trade with Atlanta, where he posted a 3-4 mark and 3.51 ERA in 80 appearances in 2003. Kline managed a 3.82 ERA in 78 outings, while Eldred led the team with eight saves in Isringhausen's absence.
The Cardinals signed righthander Julian Tavarez away from the Pirates in the winter and he will probably be used in a long relief role. Last year in Pittsburgh, Tavarez posted a 3-3 mark with a 3.66 ERA and 11 saves in 64 games.
Bo Hart played a great deal of second base for St. Louis last season while Vina was sidelined due to injury and did a serviceable job. He hit .277 with four homers and 28 RBI in 77 games, but this season Hart will most likely come off the bench. Japan native So Taguchi could see some action in the outfield this season, as could veteran outfielder Ray Lankford, who did not play in 2003. Tony Womack, who was acquired from the Red Sox during spring training, can also be an asset off the bench.
The Cardinals' offense seems primed for another big season in 2004, but the team's lack of pitching leaves them a step behind Houston and Chicago in the NL Central. Unless Morris, Williams and co. exceed expectations, St. Louis fans will probably be facing their second straight year without a postseason.