Hard to believe, as many of us watch the snow fall outside, that the Boys of Summer are almost back. But it’s true; teams have reported to 2010 Major League Baseball training camps and it’s time to start our team-by-team baseball gambling previews for the year.
2009 was just another day (or year) at the office for the St. Louis Cardinals, who won their seventh division title of the decade. Led by Albert Pujols and a stellar pitching staff, the Cards triumphed in what was supposed to be the Cubs` year. Arguably, the prognosis for 2010 is even more positive for St. Louis this season. Whereas they were in the thick of the race a year ago, they may be head and shoulders above the division now.
We all know how big Albert Pujols` impact on the lineup is; he gets on base like no one else, smashes 45-plus homers in his sleep and walks almost twice as often as he strikes out. He`ll anchor the Cards` offense as usual. St. Louis could be even more dangerous than normal this year now that the Cardinals wisely retained Matt Holliday`s services.
Holliday, a .318 career hitter, hit .353 with 55 RBI and a 1.023 OPS in 63 games after arriving in St. Louis via trade last season. He gives Pujols his best protection since Scott Rolen`s prime. Underappreciated Ryan Ludwick gives St. Louis another 30-homer bat and Colby Rasmus, who hit 16 bombs as a rookie, may become the next Jim Edmonds if the scouts are right. Reliable Yadier Molina is known more for his defense behind the plate but has quietly .293 or better over his last two seasons.
Though losing Joel Pineiro stings, the Cardinals` rotation should be a force again in 2010. Chris Carpenter finally had another healthy season and proved just as dominant as his 2005 Cy Young-winning self. Adam Wainwright took a massive leap into stardom last season, winning 19 games and striking out 212 over 233 innings. Assuming Carpenter avoids an extended infirmary stay, St. Louis` dynamite tandem should win 35 games.
The Cards hope pitching coach Dave Duncan can work his magic with the rest of the staff, and I wouldn`t put it past him to do it. Brad Penny flopped in the American League but always gives efficient, quality innings in the NL; he should bounce back in 2010. Only time will tell if Duncan can turn Kyle Lohse into an effective pitcher for a second time; same goes for Rich Hill, a former budding star who lost his control.
St. Louis` bullpen was a strength last season and that trend should continue in 2010. Ryan Franklin is anything but a prototypical closer; he`s a converted starter who doesn`t blow batters away, having only whiffed 44 over 61 innings last season. He allowed just two homers all year and seems firmly entrenched in ninth-inning duties again this year.
While the Cardinals may not be the deepest team in their division, they have all the pillars needed for continued success; superstar hitters, a dominant top of their pitching rotation and a sturdy bullpen. I can`t help but think they`ll win the Central in a walk. For bettors picking divisional futures, there are few safer bets than St. Louis in 2010.
Cardinals Prediction: First, National League Central
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