2011 Preview: St. Louis Cardinals


We come to the final installment of BRM’s previews of the teams within the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals. All the latest involving the Cards has been the unsuccessful attempt to sign Pujols to a contract extension. While he does bring HOF numbers to the table, he’s not the only player on the roster. They are a formidable team to say the least.

It’s also no secret that there is now no love loss between the Cards and the Reds. Could that have an effect on how we view the Cards? We’ll see.

Alex is batting leadoff.

The signing of Lance Berkman was a questionable move for a team that already lost their best defensive player in the offseason (Brendan Ryan). The Cardinals who committed 27 more errors in 2010 than the Reds will now have a tougher time defending in 2011. However, Berkman, Pujols, and Holliday will give the pitching staff a few breaks with good offensive position.

Adam Wainwright may have deserved the Cy Young in 2010, but due to lack of offense, Wainwright totaled 11 losses while Carpenter totaled 9. Such a stat is a red flag that the Cardinals offense was not good enough in 2010. There were also noticeable chemistry problems in 2010. Rasmus wanted out of St. Louis at one point, and Christ Carpenter has his teammates walking on eggshells. Pujols last season in St. Louis or not, the Cardinals will take a step back in 2011.

John Bell, your opinion of the 2011 Cards…

With a few key off-season changes made, the one change that needs to be made the most, re-signing Albert Pujols before the start of spring training, is the most significant. If the contract negotiation is not complete before spring training, look for this situation to be a huge distraction in the clubhouse. Pujols says that he won’t discuss contracts during the season, but come on, everyone else in the world will be talking about it, I doubt that he’ll be able to go a single day all season without someone mentioning it. Look for that to weigh the team down and ultimately out of playoff contention.

Key players include Dan Lozano (Pujols’ agent), Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus and Yadier Molina. All have the ability to make or break the team with their presence on the field and in the clubhouse.

Look for Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia to carry the starting rotation this year although Garcia is actually listed as their 4th starter in the rotation. Ryan Franklin will continue to close games at an extremely efficient pace (29 for 29 last season), but look for his save opportunities to diminish to less than 25 this year.

As for me…

Call me optimistic if you will on this. Some will and I don’t care. I’m standing firm on this one. The Cards have the best 1-2-3 starting pitching punch in the division with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. And I like the experience factor with Wainwright and Carpenter as well. They’ve been through a few grinds in their days. That experience will pay off in a poetential division title.

I am still a bit mystified by the signing of Lance Berkman and inserted him into right field. I completely understand the potential of his bat. It’s the glove, range and arm that concern me. I do like Ryan Theriot as the shortstop. People will talk about the defensive falloff at the position. Maybe, but not as much as we’re hearing.

When third baseman David Freese went down last season, that opened a hole in the Cards lineup that was never filled. How many different people did Tony LaRussa try there? It really didn’t matter because the hole was so huge. A lot bigger hole than it had thought to be. Freese will be back in 2011 and look for him to make a big impact for the Cards.

And you always have #5. I’m not overly concerned about the lack of an extension. Pujols will be productive. That is a given. We’re talking about the best player in the game here. He will not let his team down no matter the contract status. What we will have to do is sit back and watch the potential media circus that could surround this. Will that alone distract this club? It could actually grind on them. I’m not the least bit worried about Pujols. It’s the others.

That alone can’t keep the Cards from reclaiming the divisional title, could it?

And Justin bats cleanup.

The Cards have interchanged a few pieces on offense in a effort to try to surround Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday with a bit more pop after a season where their team offense was ranked middle of the pack in most all offense categories. The upgrades include dumping the Chris Carpenter berated Brendan Ryan to the Mariners and trading for Ryan Theriot from the Cubs to take his place. Theriot provides a marginal increase in offensive numbers (.270/.321/.312 to .223/.279/.294 in 2010) and a good bit of speed (41 SB the last two years).

Also, the Cardinals added Lance Berkman to a one year deal in the hopes of playing him in right field. Berkman playing in right field for the whole year might be a bit optimistic but he can most definitely add some more offense to the outfield and also provide a good backup to Big Albert at first base.

Player to Watch

Albert Pujols, 1B

When it comes to the Cardinals, I think Pujols has been the player to watch in perpetuity since 2001 given his career yearly averages of 42 homers and 128 RBIs.

But all eyes will be on Pujols for a different reason this season. The “will he, won’t he” saga of Pujols staying with the Cardinals will be must see TV for ESPN to the point of not wanting to see anything else about it ever. Pujols has a highly publicized deadline of the start of spring training set for the Cardinals to offer a long term deal or he will test the free agency waters after the season.

Pujols is absolutely cemented as a top 5 player in the majors and with his rock solid consistency, no one quite like The Machine has ever hit free agency. He could command as much as $30 million a year. It will be quite interesting to see how things work out between the Cardinals and Pujols going forward.
One thing is for sure, the Pujols “circus” will not go away no matter how the team attempts to diffuse it. It’s out there now and it’s not leaving town. And, lo and behold, we only had to wait a day to see the first atricle on possible places for Pujols in 2012.

Yes, it’s big news. Major news, but let’s play 2011 first.

Tomorrow, I’ll wrapup our previews and show you our predictions for the NL Central. Some will shock you. Others may not. You know we won’t all agree. That’s not only a promise, it’s a guarantee.

One last thing. Beginning February 28, BRM begins it season preview of the Reds. Don’t miss it!