Any talk of support in the lineup must start with rightfielder Ryan Ludwick. He had a big year in 2008, hitting 37 home runs and being a consistent all-around threat. He slipped last year. LaRussa’s moved him up to the two-hole in the order in the hopes of getting him better pitches to hit. Extra help in getting on base needs to come from Skip Schumaker at the top of the order, and he’s coming off a nice .364 OBP last year. That needs to be repeated.
Yadier Molina had a good year in 2009, particularly in getting on base, but that was a career aberration and we shouldn’t assume a repeat, especially at his age. The best hope for additional help comes from rookie third baseman David Freese. Beyond that, shortstop Brendan Ryan isn’t much of a hitter and centerfielder Colby Rasmus pops the occasional dinger, but not a lot beyond that.
The 3-4-5 guys in the rotation are Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny and rookie Jaime Garcia. Lohse had a good year in ’08, winning 15 games, but he’s been mostly mediocre. Penny’s career has faltered since surgery after the ’07 campaign. Garcia will take the place of Joel Piniero, coming off a nice season and now in Anaheim.
For most of last year, closer Ryan Franklin was a genuine fifth star. But he started to lose it in September, struggled in the playoffs and has a 6.00 ERA after one week. In a position where the whims of confidence play such a large role, Franklin is reeling. The rest of the bullpen is mostly no-names, reliant on LaRussa to mix and match them to get through innings.
Prognosis: The offense looks in pretty good shape. It’s not an AL lineup by any stretch but they hit enough to win. The rotation depends on Penny’s recover and Garcia’s development. The bullpen is a real problem area. St. Louis is beatable, but whether a team like the Cubs can put enough together to do it remains another question.