Entering spring training as defending World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals face the intriguing obstacle of replacing one of the best bats in the game—Albert Pujols.
Matt Holliday seems to have taken the reigns as the team's offensive leader during spring training, batting .383 with three home runs and 11 runs batted in.
Carlos Beltran has been a pleasant surprise—picking up where he left off in 2011—batting .340 with two homers and reaching base 40 percent of the time.
Adam Wainwright is showing signs of returning back to his Cy Young production, with 18 innings pitched, two wins and a 1.45 ERA.
On the other end of the spectrum, who are the Cardinals who have disappointed the masses during spring training?
Certainly, spring training is only a diluted sampling of what production will be during the regular season—but it is also a pivotal bench mark for players expected to bounce back from down seasons or young stars expected to rise to the top of the depth chart.
Approaching closer and closer to Opening Day, the St. Louis Cardinals' ace will not be on the mound as previously slated, due to an injury. In fact, Chris Carpenter has not pitched a single inning in Grapefruit League play.
This is a major set back for the Cardinals, who were hopeful that Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright would join each other in the pitching rotation once again.
The nerve-related injury plaguing Carpenter appears to be very similar to the injuries that ended the pitcher's seasons in 2004 and 2008.
When asked by Joe Strauss of Stltoday.com if there were any heightened concerns regarding Carpenter, St. Louis GM John Mozeliak responded with:
"Yes, in the sense that he was still going to be able to start the season with us. I think the probability of that is unlikely. No, in the sense that he's had this in the past as he has been able to pitch eventually. So whether it's rest or some sort of treatment program that we've done in the past to get him back, it does not appear to be...anything surgical or we know that if we have to take that next step, he's done for the year. None of that is on the table."
Although Mozeliak leaves some room for hope in an early return for Carpenter, he does not seem too confident that this injury is not serious.
The overall absence of an injury time table—along with missing all Grapefruit League play—leaves Cardinals fans worried and disappointed in their ace's injury situation so early in the year.
At the start of spring training, St. Louis fans were deeply hoping that Rafael Furcal could return to old form and fill the void at the front of the batting order.
Unfortunately, hope was not enough.
In 15 spring training at-bats, Furcal is hitting only .180 with a .212 on-base percentage—far from expectations.
Although, these numbers should be of no surprise, since in 2010 and 2011 Furcal failed to eclipse .240 in average and .300 in on-base percentage.
Cardinals fans are surely now half-heartedly expecting much of the same in the 2012 campaign.
To add the the dismal percentages, Rafael Furcal is now 34 years of age and will be running on the often injured and tired legs that lack the speed they once had.
With Daniel Descalso owning one of the team's top on-base percentages this spring, he will most likely take over the leadoff role in the batting order—pushing the $14 million newly signed Furcal to the back end of the order, if he is in the order at all.
In the 2011 postseason, David Freese performed at the high end of his potential—on route to earning both the National League Championship Series and World Series MVP.
As spring training comes to an end, Freese has shown streaks of power but has lacked the ability to contact the ball with consistency.
With a .200 batting average and 15 strikeouts in 45 at-bats, he has created concern that his power will succumb him to a lackluster average and on-base percentage.
In the last seven games of spring training, Freese has hit just 2-for-20, with no runs batted in or runs scored.
Enduring a slump of this caliber towards the beginning of the season cannot be considered anything but troublesome.
This young star has high expectations after his breakout playoff performance, and he must start contacting the ball to relieve the disappointments.
Jon Jay is an important rising star for the St. Louis Cardinals—hitting his stride midseason of 2011.
After hitting 10 long balls, scoring 57 runs, driving in 36 runs and hitting .297 before the playoffs began, Jay had St. Louis fans excited.
Then the playoff slump began.
The slump has carried over into spring training of 2012, as Jay leads qualifying hitters with 60 at-bats—with mediocre production to include 14 strikeouts, a .267 average and a slugging percentage of .367.
Currently, Jay is slated atop the depth chart in center field and is expected to perform at the level he showed during 2011—until late September when his slump began.
Replacing Colby Rasmus, Jay is still an upgrade.However, in order to be considered a success, he must produce at a higher level than he has during spring training.