Well folks, it's finally here. Major League Baseball's opening week.
The start of promise for teams all around the league to dream of playoffs and championships. The time where really anything can happen.
The resounding sound of bats cracking during batting practice, the smells of hot dogs and nachos exuding through bleachers. If you're a baseball fan, this is why you endured the long winter months.
It truly is a great time to be a Redbird's faithful.
To no one's surprise, the St. Louis Cardinals are once again the favorites to win the NL Central. However, being projected to win a division is far from certain, as St. Louis still will have question marks about living up to those expectations.
These are just some of the big questions that will need to be answered as the season gets underway.
Can Chris Carpenter once again put together a great season as well as stay healthy?
Well all know the track record. Carpenter won a Cy Young in 2005 and pitched a solid 15-8 record during his '06 campaign only to be ravaged with injuries the next two seasons.
While his strikeouts were down considerably in 2009 posting only 144, his ERA was an incredible 2.24. A half run lower than his memorable '05 performance. However, if we go solely by the numbers, Carpenter's innings pitched in 2009 compared to 2005 was down nearly 50 innings.
Chalk that up to an improved bullpen or an older pitcher, but I still think St. Louis' own "CC" will push past the 200 IP mark once again in 2010.
Carpenter still managed to pitch three complete games in 2009, as well as a shutout after those devastating injuries. In addition to walking only 38 batters during that season, it is actually down from his Cy Young winning year of 2005.
That means he is quick and efficient on the mound. The trademarks you want in an ace.
Will Matt Holliday continue to provide protection for slugger Albert Pujols?
Hitting in the airport that was Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for the first part of the season in 2009 with the Oakland Athletics, Matt Holliday's average took a serious hit compared to his second half campaign with St. Louis.
Hitting nearly 70 points lower, but still managing 11 home runs, 23 doubles, 54 RBIs and nearly 100 hits, Holliday obviously benefited from joining the Cardinals.
With nearly 100 less at-bats, he produced 55 RBIs, 13 home runs, 83 hits and a .353 batting average. All while cutting down his strikeouts by 15.
Batting behind El Hombre certainly did wonders for Holliday's offensive output.
The numbers don't lie, and while he has recently been battling injuries in spring training, I see Holliday continuing his protection in 2010.
Can closer Ryan Franklin come back from a miserable end in 2009?
It has been a huge liability for the Cardinals in recent years as to whether he would nail the door shut in the ninth inning. Time after time, St. Louis fans saw blowups and implosions from the bullpen, especially in 2008.
The Cardinals earned the dubious honor of being one of the worst bullpens in the league with having the most amount of blown saves. Not the way you want to go out.
Enter Ryan Franklin in 2009.
After gaining the full time closing role, Franklin wasted little time in establishing himself as a reliable closer. For the first five months of the season he only gave up a total of six earned runs while saving 35 games for St. Louis. He only produced two blown saves in all that time.
September was a different story for Franklin as he managed to blow three games in nine appearances while surrendering 13 hits and eight walks. He finished the month with an ERA of 7.56.
Contribute it towards it being the end of the season, but Franklin had an outstanding 2009 campaign. While he only pitched 61 innings last year, he made the most of it.
Giving up only two home runs all year and having as many strikeouts as he did in 2007 with nearly 20 fewer innings pitched than in 2009.
All signs point to a productive year for Franklin, but I wouldn't expect such a low ERA as he does post a career 4.07 ERA.
So as spring training comes to a close and the regular season begins, those are just some of the questions surrounding the Cardinals. With the Milwaukee Brewers in hot pursuit of battling for the NL Central crown and the Chicago Cubs still making noise of their own, more than likely it will be a three horse race for the title.
The NL Central crown may not be as easy as people think, as sluggers like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano look to be poised for big years and comebacks.
Yovani Gallardo looks to be in the discussion as one of the top 10 pitchers in the National League as well.
Oh, how I enjoy the start of the regular season.