What can everybody expect from the St. Louis Cardinals at the dish in 2009? After missing the playoffs last season, the Rebirds are determined to fight tooth and nail (and wing) to return to their rightful place atop the NL Central.
The Cardinals are perennially a solid offensive team. They owe the thanks for that largely to the man looming in the three hole. The man that sends chills down every pitchers' spine. Butterflies in every pitchers' stomach. The most intimidating hitter in the game today:
Pujols' 2009 should be no different from his 2007...or 2006...or 2005. You get the picture. His production in the Cardinals lineup is nothing short of a guarantee. But how will the rest of the team fare in the batters' box?
Schumaker and Ludwick both had career years in 2008. Schumaker hit .300 from the leadoff spot and Ludwick mashed 37 taters (no pun intended) to tie for the team lead with none other than Albert Pujols. Both Schumaker and Ludwick are returning for more in 2009.
Ludwick and Schumaker's counterpart, Rick Ankiel, is more than just an OK hitter in his own right. With every home run and run driven in, another page is added to his story book career. I'll produce the movie.
Moving to the infield, the lineup looks a little less set in stone. Troy Glaus is the starter at third. But with his recent surgery, he leaves the Cards scrambling to find a replacement for the first part of the season. Rookies David Freese and Brett Wallace tore up minor league pitching last year and are favorites going into spring training.
Shortstop Khalil Greene was the Cards key offseason acquisition. (It's even more depressing to type that.) He will start and adds some power to the lineup when he's on his game.
His double-play mate will be decided during spring training with the decision to release Adam Kennedy. Several young players will be looked at including Brendan Ryan, Joe Thorton, and Brian Barden.
First base is manned by 'El Hombre', Albert Pujols. No question there. What you see is what you get.
And behind the plate catching will be Yadier Molina. Up until last season, Molina was primarily a defensive catcher. But after taking some hitting instructions from the previously mentioned Pujols, Molina had a break out 2008 and looks to continue where he left of in 2009.
One definite strength the Cards have is power. They have at least four starters capable of 30-home-run seasons.
On the flip side, a huge Achilles heel of the Birds is their lack of speed. The most steals from any returning Cardinal is eight.
I see our opening day lineup looking something like this:
- Skip Schumaker - LF
- David Freese - 3B
- Albert Pujols - 1B
- Ryan Ludwick - RF
- Rick Ankiel - CF
- Yadier Molina - C
- Khalil Greene - SS
- Pitcher Spot
- Brendan Ryan - 2B
Not a bad looking lineup. And it will only get better with the addition of Glaus when he has recovered.
With the exception of Pujols, everyone in this lineup has something to prove in 2009.
Schumaker, Ludwick and Molina are trying to prove that their great '08 seasons were not just a fluke. On the contrary, Greene will be trying to show that his poor numbers from last year were just that—a fluke.
Ankiel is still trying to prove that a pitcher-turned-outfielder can start everyday for a major league team.
And the younger guys Ryan and Freese will be trying to convince management that they rightfully deserve their spot at the major league level.
Overall 2009 is looking bright for the Cardinals in the NL Central. They have a solid lineup and it should reflect in the standings. It should be a fun season full of excitement, drama, and hopefully an eleventh World Series Championship.