St. Louis Cardinals: Why Matt Holliday Has More Pressure Than Anyone in 2011

Fred KroneContributor IJanuary 2, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Matt Holliday #7 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after striking out in the second inning during Game Four of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 23, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Matt Holliday is a great player.  After his first season in 2004, when he batted .290, he has failed to hit .300 only once, and that was last year at .296. His average stats over a 162 game season are .315 with 29 home runs and 110 RBI. He has been incredible consistent. He hit .319 with Colorado, and has hit .314 with St. Louis over the last three seasons.  Oh yeah, and he's a five time All-Star. Not bad.

Still, there's that whole Albert Pujols thing. The departed elephant in the room. The issue Cardinal fans are holding their breath to see how it gets resolved. This is kind of like trying to find a new front man for the Stones in the event Mick Jagger leaves the group. However, Holliday seems as good as any to fill in the third spot in the order where Pujols used to reside.

Again, if the Cardinals can get one of those patented .315/29/110 RBI seasons I don't think anyone will be too upset. Holliday was a perennial MVP caliber player with Colorado and typically batted third in their order among the likes to Todd Helton, Garrett Atkins and Troy Tulowitzki. After moving to St. Louis he played consistent, if not great, baseball but largely in Pujols' shadow.

So this year deems to be different for Holliday. He will now be playing in the key spot in the lineup for the defending World Series champions. St. Louis, which usually flies below the baseball radar, will be front-and-center in 2012 to see how they respond to Pujols' departure.

In the National League Central is shaping up for the Cardinals to take. The Brewers will be weakened, are about to part with Prince Fielder and will lose MVP Ryan Braun for 50 games.  Cincinnati looked like a rudderless ship last year. Houston and Pittsburgh are terrible, and Chicago is rebuilding.  A 2012 return to the postseason will surely ease St. Louis' collective minds about the future of the team. Which brings the conversation back to Matt Holliday. 

Cardinal fans pause a little when thinking about Holliday in a clutch situation.  There's the infamous dropped fly ball in left field in the 2009 playoffs. There's the pick-off play in Game 6 of the World Series. Neither of these require any further extrapolation. Also he was handcuffed last year by injuries. 

Still, those issues can be brushed aside when you consider that along with Holliday's strong numbers every year, he has also batted .278 in the postseason, with an .861 OPS. Simply put, he's a gamer. If the Cardinals had to lose Pujols, there aren't many players in baseball better suited to take a shot at his old spot in the lineup. Here's to hoping he just sits back, stays relaxed and does his thing.