NL Central Preview: Cardinals
Next game: Wednesday, April 8th at San Francisco
St. Louis Cardinals
2008: 86-76, fourth place.
Manager: Tony La Russa (14th season).
He's Here: SS Khalil Greene, LHP Trever Miller, LHP Dennys Reyes, OF Colby Rasmus.
He's Outta Here: RHP Braden Looper, LHP Mark Mulder, RHP Jason Isringhausen, LHP Randy Flores, LHP Ron Villone, INF Felipe Lopez, SS Cesar Izturis, INF Aaron Miles.
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Rotation: RH Adam Wainwright (11-3, 3.20, limited to 20 starts by finger injury), RH Kyle Lohse (15-6, 3.78), RH Todd Wellemeyer (13-9, 3.71), RH Chris Carpenter (0-1, 1.76 in 15 1-3 innings due to elbow, shoulder injuries), RH Joel Pineiro (7-7, 5.15).
Key Relievers: RH Jason Motte (0-0, 0.82 in 11 games, 110 Ks in 66 2-3 innings at Triple-A Memphis), RH Ryan Franklin (6-6, 3.55, 17/24 saves), LH Trever Miller (2-0, 4.15 for Rays), LH Dennys Reyes (3-0, 2.33, 75 games for Twins).
Hot Spots: Third base, outfield and closer. 3B Troy Glaus (.270, 27, 99) had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in January and is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season following a setback in his rehabilitation. That leaves a hole in the lineup that Cardinals will attempt to fill with Freese, acquired from Padres in a deal for Jim Edmonds, and utilityman Mather. Four with starting credentials will rotate in the outfield, with 2005 first-round pick Rasmus set to make debut and power bat Duncan recovered from neck surgery that ended 2008 season in July. Ludwick was an All-Star and enjoyed breakout year at age 30, while Ankiel was limited to 120 games by sports hernia. Motte, with fastball in upper 90s (mph), will get a chance to close games. Fellow hard-throwing prospect Chris Perez is set to start season at Triple-A.
Stat Sheet: Pujols has begun his career with seven 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons, more than any player in history. He lacked one run for a seventh straight 100-run season and one walk to hit the century mark in that category for the first time. Ludwick is one of only three players to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs while totaling 750 or fewer at-bats in prior seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Bottom Line: After two so-so years following their improbable 2006 World Series triumph, the Cardinals have the look of a contender again with one big if -- the oft-injured Carpenter must prove he can rebound over the long haul from injuries that have cost him most of the last two seasons. The right-hander was a combined 51-18 from 2004-06, winning the NL Cy Young Award in '05, but totaled 21 innings in '07 and '08 after reconstructive elbow surgery and related shoulder woes. The Cardinals don't have Carpenter making his first start until the fourth game of the season due to uncertainty about his health. They prepared reliever Kyle McClellan to start in spring training just in case. Carpenter has had a dominant spring, giving the Cardinals reason for optimism in a rotation that could be one of the NL's best. St. Louis must tread water until Glaus gets back from surgery delayed until January while doctors exhausted rehab options, and hope for a rebound year from Greene, acquired from the Padres after a career-worst season that ended early with a broken left hand after he punched a wall near the dugout.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)