Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: St. Louis Cardinals

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-Digger's Daily-

Baseball's 2006 World Series champs were dealt a tremendous early season blow. 2010 Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright was officially declared out for the season this morning due to Monday's right elbow injury. Manager LaRussa is an expert at getting the most from his players. An improved lineup will be counted on to make up for a rotation now lacking depth.

Cardinals 2011 rotation competition is a new ball game with Wainwright out. Second year starter Jamie Garcia needs to mature in a hurry as he now takes over the 2nd slot in the rotation behind Chris Carpenter. Health is always a question mark for #3 hurler Jake Westbrook. No clear cut winners to round out the rotation. Cards may now find themselves talking trade for pitching help. Ryan Franklin must improve from last season's disappointments. He's the key to hold down the fort in the 9th.

Lance Berkman (RF) and Ryan Thierot (SS) are the two big new additions on offense. Berkman had a rigorous off season conditioning program in an attempt to rebound from a career worst 2010. If he's fit and can regain batting prowess, then Berkman's signing can provide huge dividends with plenty of RBI potential batting behind Pujols and Holliday.

Will not re-signing Albert Pujols become a season long distraction? Pujols is one of baseball's greatest ever players. A future first ballot Hall of Famer and without question the player of the decade is without a contract beyond 2011. He's driven in over 100 runs in every single season of his 10 year career. Scored 100 all but one (scored 99 in '07). 10 year batting averages ranging between .312 and .359 compiling a .331 career average. Pujols and Cards management had been trying to work out a contract extension which failed to get completed before Pujols self-imposed pre-spring training deadline.

Keys to success rely squarely on Cardinals pitchers. Barring injuries, the offense should produce. Question is whether or not starting pitchers can effectively shut down division rivals. NL Central is very competitive. No single team stands above the rest. No imposing starting rotations. Plenty of hitters parks. Cards ability to win one run games may be the difference. 37 year old closer Ryan Franklin faces the biggest challenge of his career. Blown saves will not be tolerated.

Hard to handicap Cards before their final rotation is announced. A healthy team will compete for 162 and should be considered division front runners.


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