St. Louis Cardinals: 2011 MLB Season Preview

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St. Louis Cardinals: 2011 MLB Season Preview
Marc Serota/Getty Images

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS 

Last Year: 86-76, Second in NL Central 

Manager: Tony La Russa 

PROJECTED LINEUP

C- Yadier Molina (R)

1B- Albert Pujols (R)

2B- Skip Schumaker (L) 

3B- David Freese (R)

SS- Ryan Theriot (R)

LF- Matt Holliday (R)

CF- Colby Rasmus (L)

RF- Lance Berkman (S)

The Cardinals might have the best hitter in baseball, but the lineup has some limitations.

Albert Pujols is the most dangerous hitter in baseball with his ability to hit for average, power and get on base. His most impressive feat is the fact he strikes out only 10-12 percent of his plate appearances. Expect another 40-plus HR season with a .325/.440/.630 line.

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Skip Schumaker is not a good leadoff hitter. He doesn't have any speed, doesn't hit for an exceptionally high average or doesn't have an above average ability to get on base.

Schumaker will put up numbers that would be a good fit at the bottom of the order, .280/.340/.360 and five HRs . Ryan Theriot is considered a lighter hitter than Schumaker. Expect a line around .275/.325/.340 line with three HRs and 20 stolen bases.

David Freese will bat in the sixth hole. While the power isn't there (four HRs in 272 ABs in 2010), .300/.360/.420 should help the club. 

Matt Holliday has been the perfect player to bat behind Albert Pujols. He is one of the most consistent hitters in baseball and someone who plays everyday.

Holliday is a sure bet to hit 26-30 HRs while hitting .315/.395/.540 and stealing 10 bases. Lance Berkman is not the same hitter he was a few years ago, but he can provide 20 HRs with a very good OBP.

He strikes out more than 20 percent of his plate appearances, but a line .270/.380/.460 isn't too bad for a hitter in the five hole.

Tony La Russa needs to work with Colby Rasmus because he may be the most important hitter in the lineup. He hit 23 HRs last year, but he has the potential to be a 30 HR hitter. He needs to cut down on strikeouts, but he has put up an impressive OBP last year. 

The Cardinals were the 19th ranked defense in UZR, and they should struggle more without Brendan Ryan at SS.

The infield is very weak even with the Pujols' solid glove at 1B. Ryan Theirot and David Freese below average at their positions, and Skip Schumaker is the worst defensive second baseman in baseball.

Yadier Molina handles a pitching staff better than anyone in baseball and has the best throwing arm at the position. The outfield defense will struggle especially with the addition of Lance Berkman in RF.

Berkman hasn't played in the outfield since 2007, and he was considered below average then. Colby Rasmus had a poor season in terms of UZR at negative 6.4, but I think he is a better outfielder than that number indicates. Matt Holliday is one of the better defensive left fielders in baseball. 

BENCH

IF- Tyler Greene (R)

IF- Daniel Descalso (L)

OF- John Jay (L) 

C- Gerald Laird (R)

CIF/OF- Allen Craig (R)

STARTING ROTATION 

RHP- Chris Carpenter

RHP- Jake Westbrook

LHP- Jaime Garcia 

RHP- Kyle Lohse  

RHP- Kyle McClellan 

The Cardinals rotation took a huge hit this spring with Adam Wainwright going down with Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for this season. Wainwright cannot be replaced, and his loss puts the Cardinals postseason hopes in jeopardy.

Chris Carpenter, who had Tommy John surgery in 2007, is still one of the top pitchers in the league. Carpenter's repertoire includes a good 91 MPH two-seam fastball, an above-average slider, very good curveball and an occasional change-up.

The strikeout rates aren't what they once were (6.83 K/9 in 2010), but he still relies on his movement to get a bunch of groundball outs. I expect another big year with a 3.00 ERA, 6.8 K/9, and 2 BB/9.

Jake Westbrook will slot in the No. 2 slot in the rotation, where the loss of Wainwright really becomes apparent. Westbrook is a good No. 3 or 4 type, but his 4.00 ERA, 5 K/9, and 3 BB/9 rates are not that impressive.

Westbrook's  repertoire, which includes his sinker (avg 90.6 MPH), cutter, good slider and average change, allows him to record good groundball rates, but he is a weak No. 2 starter on a club with playoff aspirations.

Jaime Garcia impressed during his rookie season with the Cardinals last season, and he will need to duplicate that performance in more innings if the Cardinals want to make the playoffs.

Garcia throws four above average pitches: a good moving fastball (avg. 90.3 MPH) with a great cutter/slider, curveball and changeup. Garcia relied on a good K rate at 7.27 per nine innings, and recorded 55 percent of his outs via the groundball.

He doesn't have the best control, but I think he will pitch at an ERA in the 3.50 range. Kyle Lohse will pitch in the No. 4 spot in the rotation and will try to rebound after a terrible 2010 season.

Lohse's 6.55 ERA was influenced by an abnormally low left on base percentage at 56 percent and an extremely high BABIP at .364. I expect Lohse to pitch at a 4.30-4.60 range, but injury concerns are bound to arise. Kyle McClellan will fill out the rotation, and I have spotlighted him later in the preview. 

BULLPEN

RHP- Ryan Franklin (Closer)

RHP- Jason Motte  

RHP- Mitchell Boggs

LHP- Trevor Miller 

RHP- Fernando Salas 

LHP- Brian Tallet 

RHP- Miguel Batista

The bullpen was a sore spot for the Cardinals in 2010, and it looks like it will struggle without any major additions in 2011.

Ryan Franklin will remain the closer despite his less than dominant stuff. Franklin will record decent save numbers, but he doesn't have the strikeout numbers a team needs from a closer. He has a repertoire of a starter but not a dominant fastball and secondary pitch which will get him into trouble against the tougher parts of lineups.

A perfect example is Game 2 of the NLDS against the Dodgers where Franklin was let down by his defense and couldn't get out of trouble with a strikeout like most closers can.

Jason Motte could be a candidate to close with his dominant fastball (avg 95.8 MPH) and good cutter. Mitchell Boggs will be the other key right-handed setup man for the club. Boggs, a former starter, whose former 93 MPH fastball increased to 96 MPH with the shift to the bullpen.

Trevor Miller figures to see a lot of work with Tony La Russa's aggressive pitching changes. He is tough on left-handed hitter because of his good slider, but La Russa shouldn't let him face many important right-handed hitters.

Fernando Salas pitched well in limited time for the club in 2010. Salas has posted decent strikeout numbers, but I would worry about his HR and BB rate. Lefty Brian Tallet usually pitches long relief, but La Russa is sure to use him occasionally as a lefty specialist given his struggles against right-handed hitters last season.

Miguel Batista will fill the last spot in the bullpen as a long reliever. 

NOTABLE NON ROSTER INVITEES 

RHP- Miguel Batista

LHP- Raul Valdes 

IF- Ramon Vasquez (L)

OF- Nick Stavinoha (R) 

BREAKOUT PLAYER- Kyle McClellan 

Former setup man, McClellan, will take the spot left in the rotation left by Adam Wainwright. McClellan has pitched well in his three seasons out of the Cardinals bullpen, and I think he will have a very good season for the club.

Pitching coach Dave Duncan knows how to bring a reliever into the rotation the following year. Adam Wainwright and Matt Morris both had very successful season in the rotation after relieving the previous year.

McClellan uses a low 90's fastball with cutter, change, and excellent curveball. Watch for McClellan to post an ERA in the 3.60 range with a 7 K/9 rate. 

PROSPECT TO WATCH- RHP Lance Lynn 

The 23 year-old Lynn, a supplemental pick in the 2008 draft, will start start this season in AAA. Lynn didn't dominate in AAA last season, but he had a decent strikeout rate at 7.74 K/9.

He figures to be the first callup in case a starter gets hurt, which should come at some point with Lohse in the rotation. He throws a sinking fastball averaging 90 MPH with a good slider, change and show me curveball. 

PROJECTED FINISH- Third in NL Central

The Cardinals were a strong contender for the NL Central crown, and my pick to win the division before the start of spring training. I think losing Adam Wainwright for the entire season is too much to overcome to win the division.

They could make a run at the Wild Card, but the bullpen and defense will hold them back. 

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