National League Central Previews: Cardinals

Today’s Focus: St. Louis Cardinals

2010 Record: 86-76, 2nd Place NL Central

This will more than likely be the Cardinals last season without the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols. After the 2011 season, his 11th as a cardinal, Mr. Pujols will be a free agent and is apparently seeking a $300 million dollar, 10 year deal.  The Cards were not able to work out a deal before spring training, so all negotiations will be off until the season ends.  If Pujols leaves, so will the Cards chances of competing in this division in the years to come.

The Cardinals have stacked team that features Pujols and fellow slugger Matt Holliday.  Colby Rasmus played well in his second season and David Freese was off to a good start before ankle injuries derailed his first full season.  The addition of Ryan Theriot adds some speed at short stop and Lance Berkman could provide a boost in left field, but he’s also a bit of risk.  The 35 year old hasn’t played in the outfield regularly since 2007.  The Cards pitching staff was one if it’s strengths, but with Adam Wainwright missing the season to recover from Tommy John surgery, it’s become the weak link.  Chris Carpenter is an excellent pitcher and Jaime Garcia is coming off a great rookie season, but the rest of the rotation is just ho hum.

Notable Losses: Brendan Ryan, Dennys Reyes, Blake Hawksworth, Brad Penny, Jeff Suppan, Randy Winn, Aaron Miles
Notable Pickups:  Gerald Laird, Lance Berkman, Brian Tallet, Ryan Theriot, Miguel Batista, Ian Snell, Nick Punto.

When I originally started writing this article a couple of weeks ago, I thought the Cardinals would be contenders in the NL Central but Wainwright’s injury is a huge loss.  Without him, the rotation doesn’t have the depth to compete with Milwaukee and Cincinnati, even if their bats are just as fierce.  If Pujol’s impending free agency doesn’t become a distraction and if Tony LaRussa can get some of his pitchers to step it up this year, the Cards might have a shot at competing in 2011.

Prediction:  82-80,  3rd Place NL Central

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