You'd be smiling if you signed a deal worth $75 million for 5 years.. (Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE)

2012 NL Central Sneak Peek: St. Louis Cardinals

There is no question that the mere mention of the St. Louis Cardinals brings about the curdling of blood within the Reds fanbase. From the brawl which was sparked by misplaced adjectives to the accusations of not properly rubbing up the baseballs to the misconstrued singing of a former Red, the Cards-Reds rivalry has emerged as baseball’s hottest. This will continue into the 2012 season as the Cards are the defending World Series champs.

I bet that last sentence sent a wave a shivers…

For the Cards sneak peek, Redbird Rants Editor Chris Carelli was kind enough to answer a trio of questions for me. The first one may not provide a popular answer either…

BRM: With Albert Pujols now in LA, who takes over as “the face of the franchise”?

CC: A week ago this question was a toss up. Now with word that Yadier Molina is set to receive a five-year contract extension, it becomes his team. He’ll have 13 seasons under his belt with the team by that time (assuming he isn’t traded), longer than Mr. Pujols was in town.

The length of this contract may shock some, but as far as a new face, there is no question that it should be Molina.

BRM: With Adam Wainwright back from missing all of 2011, what are realistic expectations for him?

CC: Expectations from the team are that he’ll make 28-30 starts and throw between 180-200 innings. I think these are realistic numbers, but would hedge closer to the 185 mark for the regular season, so that he has enough in the tank for a potential post-season run.

One interesting thought could be the old “what if” as in what if the Cards make the 2012 postseason and Wainwright is “all tapped out” on his innings count. That would certainly provide for some interesting juggling of the staff.

BRM: Is there a feeling that the Cards bullpen can re-live their 2011 postseason magic?

CC: Some fans are not enamored with closer Jason Motte just yet, though manager Mike Matheny wasted no time naming him the closer. The bullpen is going to be competitive this season (there are a couple arms who may not make the team who were on the MLB roster last season), but each of the members is young so performance is hard to predict. I’d say it is a deep bullpen with upside.

I’ve never been one that has completely been sold on “upside”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice asset. It gives us hope that a player will eventually perform, but how will he perform surfaces as a bigger question. As Chris says, it’s hard to predict and it’s unreliable. Cross your fingers and hope?

I questioned Chris about one key position player and one key pitcher. We are in complete agreement on this.

Key position player: Matt Holliday – all eyes will be on Carlos Beltran, but Holliday is the key to the offense in my opinion.

Key pitcher: Jaime Garcia – it is time for Garcia to take it to the next level and he’ll be needed more so this season to go deep in games with Chris Carpenter coming off a heavy workload in 2011 and Wainwright returning from Tommy John surgery.

Here’s how Chris sees the NL Central looking come the end of the season…

1. Cardinals
2. Brewers
3. Reds
4. Pirates
5. Cubs
6. Astros

A sneak peek into the fantasy baseball world again as Ryan Lester of Lester’s Legends supplies us with a top position player, a top pitcher and one sleeper. We always like fantasy sleepers.

Top Position Player: Matt Holliday is the new answer to this question now that Albert Pujols has moved on. There is a big void in the lineup, but that should not hinder Holliday’s production too dramatically.

Top Pitcher: Adam Wainwright is back, but since you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get from him, Chris Carpenter is probably the top option. Of course, he’ll be 37 in April so it’s really a toss-up.

Fantasy Sleeper: Jon Jay had a .297-56-10-37-6 in 455 at bats. He is projected to be an everyday player so he should be able to build on those numbers

I like all three of Ryan’s picks here. There’s something about Jay that I like, but I’m unable to define one thing. A hunch?

Tomorrow will be the Pittsburgh Pirates sneak peek.

One last thing…don’t forget about the contest for FREE Opening Day tickets. You can go here and read about it!


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Tags: 2012 National League Central Adam Wainwright Baseball Chris Carpenter Jaime Garcia Jason Motte Jon Jay MLB National League Preview St Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina

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