St. Louis Cardinals: 10 Players Under the Most Pressure Heading into Season

Steven ConklinCorrespondent IIJanuary 30, 2012

St. Louis Cardinals: 10 Players Under the Most Pressure Heading into Season

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    The last four months have been a roller coaster for the St. Louis Cardinals.

    After winning their 11th World Series, the team is now without legendary manager Tony La Russa and superstar Albert Pujols. 

    It is a mystery how St. Louis will do in the 2012 campaign without the long-time faces of the franchise.

    There is no question it will take a total team effort if the club wants to return to the Promised Land. 

    Pujols was undoubtedly under the most pressure heading into 2011 with an expiring contract.

    Whose turn is it this year? 

    Here are the 10 Cardinals under the most pressure in 2012.

Adam Wainwright

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    Adam Wainwright is the team's biggest question mark going into the new season and with that comes a lot of pressure. 

    Before having Tommy John surgery on his elbow, the 30-year-old was one of the league's best aces. 

    The Cardinals can only hope he's able to retain that status this season. The club recently exercised their option on him for 2012 and 2013.

    If he is still the hurler the league's best hitters fear, the Cardinals will be in good shape and will enjoy the dynamic duo of Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. 

Lance Berkman

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    Signing Lance Berkman proved to be one of the best moves in baseball in 2011. Absolutely no one could have predicted (not even the Cardinals) the Big Puma would be as good as he was for St. Louis. 

    Berkman statistically had his best year since 2008 after many baseball fans believed he was no longer a superstar. 

    The 35-year-old played a big role in the Cardinals' title run and this season, he'll have to play an even bigger role for the club.

    Berkman will play first base in 2012, a position Pujols occupied for a decade. 

    There is no denying the pressure is on Berkman to duplicate his 2011 season, especially after getting a $12 million extension in the offseason. 

Shelby Miller

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    Shelby Miller has never taken the mound in a big league game but he probably will in 2012. 

    Named the organization's top minor-leaguer for the second year in a row, Miller is the top prospect for the Cardinals as well as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. 

    The young right-handed pitcher will feel the pressure of continuing his success on the mound and controlling himself off of it. 

    In August, Miller was suspended indefinitely by the club for violating team policy. 

    When he is playing, Miller must continue to show he is the future ace St. Louis will need when veteran Chris Carpenter's time is up. 

Jason Motte

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    The pressure Jason Motte will be feeling in 2012 comes by default. Every closer in the big leagues feels it all year long. 

    It doesn't help that for most of 2011, the Cardinals were plagued by closing situations and handed opportunities out like free candy. 

    After a dazzling playoff performance, the hard-throwing Motte needs to play well and prove to St. Louis he is the closer they need for the future. 

    It is clear based on his new contract (one-year, less than $2 million) that the Cardinals aren't too sure yet.

Skip Schumaker

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    Skip Schumaker may be the only Cardinal this season whose position is in jeopardy of being snatched by a teammate. 

    The versatile Daniel Descalso has been a great asset for St. Louis and looks like the kind of player the club would love to have for years to come. 

    Schumaker will probably be starting in front of him to start the year at second base, but don't expect Skip to see all of the time there. 

    Schumaker has seen his fair share of slumps and it is a mystery to anyone how new manager Mike Matheny will approach a situation like that.

    Not to mention Schumaker re-signed for less than he made in 2011.

Matt Holliday

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    Absolutely no one is under more pressure this season than Matt Holliday. No one. 

    After signing a seven-year, $120 million contract, expectations for the outfielder were very high in St. Louis.

    However, for the first time since his rookie year in 2004, Holliday hit under .300. He also hit less home runs in 2011 than any season since 2005.

    The 75 runs he drove in and his 124 games played were also numbers lower than any year since his rookie campaign.

    Besides disappointing numbers, Holliday also raised some eyebrows with silly mistakes in the outfield. 

    Holliday's contract hampered the Cardinals' ability to re-sign Albert Pujols. He must now produce and now show he can be the big hitter in St. Louis. 

Jake Westbrook

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    Jake Westbrook is the fifth guy in the St. Louis rotation and that comes with season-long uncertainty. 

    Since coming to the club, Westbrook is 16-13 and in 2011 he posted a 4.66 ERA. More should be expected of the last member of the rotation on a championship team. 

    Many believe pitching coach Dave Duncan was the reason Westbrook hasn't completely failed in St. Louis. Duncan is now gone and the long-time Indian must show he can do it all on his own. 

    With prospect Shelby Miller looking MLB-ready, the pressure will be on Westbrook to keep his spot in the rotation.

Carlos Beltran

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    Excluding the departure of Albert Pujols, the offseason has been fairly quiet for St. Louis. The 34-year-old Carlos Beltran was the Cardinals' biggest signing this winter. 

    Beltran's two-year, $26 million deal shows St. Louis expects a lot from the former All-Star. 

    2011 was Beltran's best year since 2008 as the injury-prone outfielder was able to stay healthy.  

    He will most likely play right field for the Redbirds and will need to build on last year to please Cardinal Nation, especially with utility outfielder Allen Craig coming off of knee surgery. 

Kyle Lohse

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    Since his arrival in 2008, Kyle Lohse has been a question mark for St. Louis. 

    He remains one in 2012.

    Which Kyle Lohse will show up this year?

    The Cardinals must hope it is the man from last year, in which he snagged 14 wins and a 3.39 ERA. 

    If it is the Kyle Lohse of 2009 and 2010 (10-18, 5.53 ERA), Cardinal fans might not see him for too much longer. 

    Like Westbrook, Lohse's spot in the rotation could be in question by the season's trade deadline. 

    The pressure is on Lohse to show St. Louis he is worth the nearly $12 million salary they're paying him in 2012. 

David Freese

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    David Freese is now the man in St. Louis. 

    After his playoff heroics, the hometown kid goes into 2012 on top of the world. And the pressure's on him to stay there. 

    His performance last October left a lot of Cardinal fans believing he is an All-Star in the making. This is his chance to prove them they're right. 

    Cardinal nation can only hope he picks up where he left off. 


    Steven Conklin is a contributing writer for the Bleacher Report and a student at the University of Central Missouri. He joined B/R in October 2011 and is currently a B/R intern. Any comments, questions or suggestions are more than welcome.