The Baseball Notebook

March 20, 2010 2:00 PM

St. Louis Cardinals Preview

The offseason was defined by the Cards ultimately successful effort to retain Matt Holliday after he tested the free agent market. They paid a big price to ink him to a seven-year deal and heightened the urgency to win now, before Albert Pujols hits the open market. Either the Cards will lose Pujols or have two contracts so huge they won’t be able to take on anything else.

That’s the dim news. The good news is that the possibilities are very bright. The pitching staff has two stars to match the twin power in the everyday lineup. Chris Carpenter made it back from elbow surgery in a big way, with 17 wins and a 2.24 ERA. It was a heartening development for a pitcher whose career seemed to be all but over. Adam Wainwright became a genuine ace in his own right, winning spinning his sweeping curveball for 19 wins and 2.63 ERA.

Around those core four, two in the lineup, two in the rotation, the Cards have two more that have to step up. Rightfielder Ryan Ludwick slipped badly after last year after posting very strong numbers in both OBP and slugging in 2007-08 and needs to have a comeback year. In the bullpen, closer Ryan Franklin has to have more questions than anyone coming off a 38-save 1.92 ERA year could possibly have. But he hit a big snag in September and he blew a save in Game 2 of the LDS against the Dodgers. Granted, he got an assist from Holliday, who lost the game-ending out in the lights and saw it bounce off his chest. But Franklin was barely surviving to that point and it’s the kind of slump and blown save that can have a carryover effect in a job where mental approach is so important.

As we look into the role players, Felipe Lopez at second base is the best of the lot. He delivered a .383 on-base percentage and is the best hope Tony LaRussa has for putting baserunners on ahead of Pujols and Holliday. The team is also ready to commit to rookie David Freese at third base, who had a nice cup of coffee last year and could give the lineup a big boost.

The remainder of the pitching staff isn’t great, but it’s functionable, given just how outstanding the top two are. Kyle Lohse slots in at #3 and the Cards are going to go with old vets at the bottom in Brad Penny and Rich Hill. If even one of them survives, St. Louis will be okay. The setup team could use some help. Trever Miller is very reliable as a lefty, but beyond that things are a little thin. Kyle McClellan could help from the right side, but he may also be pressed into duty as a starter if the vets don’t pan out.

All in all, there are problems and possibilities under the Arch, as the Cards are loaded for bear. The team’s window of opportunity is narrow and LaRussa’s starting to hint more strongly at retirement in recent years, especially after the last one. This could be the last hurrah.

Up Next: LA Angels on Monday
Final NL Central Picks & Preview: March 30

The second round of the NCAAs is underway and the topic of the day over at The College Basketball Notebook.

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