Sunday, March 11, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days:St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals – 2012 team preview

Key Additions: Carlos Beltran (RF – 2 yr $26M), J.C. Romero (RP – 1 yr $0.75M)

Subtractions: Albert Pujols (1B), Edwin Jackson (SP), Octavio Dotel (RP), Corey Patterson (OF), Nick Punto (INF), Ryan Theriot (INF), Gerald Laird (C)

2011 Record: 90-72

2011 Highlights:  St. Louis surprised everyone in baseball by finishing 23-9 over their final 32 games, erasing a 10.5 game gap between them and Atlanta.  Lance Berkman had 31 home runs (the more he's had since 2007), and won NL comeback player of the year.  Their entire starting five pitchers end the year with at least 11 wins.  Both Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia pitched a 2 hit complete game shutout.  Tony La Russa coached his 5,000th game, becoming the 2nd coach or manager to do so in American sports.

Offseason Moves: One year ago, Albert Pujols put a personal deadline to agree on a contract with the Cardinals, but failed to re-sign.  Well the nightmare came true.  Albert cashed in and went west with his talents to Los Angeles.   Carlos Beltran replaces Colby Rasmus who got traded mid-season to the Blue Jays for bullpen help.  J.C. Romero replaces Octavio Dotel.  So losing Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Nick Punto and Ryan Theriot adds up to a pretty quiet offseason and could be a tough 2012 season.

2011 Rewind - By the end of August were 10 games back of the division leader Milwaukee and 10.5 behind Atlanta.  Their odds of making the playoffs at the end of August were 1.3%.  The Cardinals won the NL wild card on one of the most exciting days in MLB playoff history and carried that success into the playoffs.  Two times the Cardinals were one strike away from losing game 6; both times David Freese became the hero.  Albert Pujols joined Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth (not bad company), as the only players to hit 3 home runs in a world series game. 

After Adam Wainwright won 20 games in 2010 and placed 2nd in CY Young voting, he had Tommy John surgery February 28th 2011.  He missed the entire season and should be ready for opening day 2012.  Closer Ryan Franklin blew 4 of his first 5 save opportunities, to begin the season.  This was a sign of things to come.  As 10 pitchers would all blow saves in 2011, having the second most team blown saves overall.  Albert Pujols began the season going 105 at-bats without a home run and for the first time in his career, failed to hit over 100 RBI’s in a season. 

2012 Outlook – The 2011 Cardinals should have only won 85 games or so.  Winning 23 of their final 32 games, only to squeak into the playoffs.  It was then they never looked back.  Their offseason didn’t get much better as they lost Albert Pujols to the Angels (who will go down as the greatest player in this generation if not a top 10 of all time). 

However they did get great pitching in 2011, and will only get better with a healthy Adam Wainwright.  With Wainwright back, ace Chris Carpenter and 25 year old Jaime Garcia, the three of them could win over 40 games by themselves. 

The Cardinals are set at the corners for 2012.  Lance Berkman at first, Freese at 3rd, Beltran in Right and Holliday in left.  David Freese needs to carry over his postseason success (21 RBI’s and a .397 batting average), into 2012.  Jason Motte shut down teams in the postseason with 5 saves and teams hitting only .119 against him.    Matt Adams (1B in double -A), their heir apparent to Albert Pujols, hit 32 home runs and needs to do the same in triple-A this year.

Question Marks: Their bullpen in 2011 nearly cost the Cardinals their season; blowing 26 saves.  Can Motte improve on his 2011 numbers in 2012 (9 saves and 4 blown saves)?  Can David Freese breakout and become the player we saw in the playoffs?  What will Rafael Furcal and Daniel Descalso do up the middle in the infield?  Jon Jay needs to double his RBI’s from 2011 to have an impact after hitting under .200 in the playoffs.   

With all things considered, what are the chances the Cardinals will repeat as World Series champs?  If Beltran and Berkman numbers tail off at all then their offense will really struggle with Pujols gone.  Holliday and Freese should put up great numbers, at LF and 3rd.  But the Cardinals will go as far as their pitching carries them.  They can probably win 50 games one run games with their staff.  Pitching prospect Shelby Miller looks to join the team and could win 8 as well.  How will their bullpen treat them in 2012 is a huge question mark. 

*Latest from Spring Training – as of March 10, 2012, Chris Carpenter is questionable for opening day.  According to Joe Strauss – Carpenter has a “bulging cervical disc” and it is undecided when he will throw next.  Losing Carpenter will greatly impact the Cardinals in 2012.

Projected Lineup –Here’s how I see the Cardinals batting order;
  1. Rafael Furcal (SS)
  2. Jon Jay (CF)
  3. Matt Holliday (LF)
  4. Lance Berkman (1B)
  5. Carlos Beltran (RF)
  6. David Freese (3B)
  7. Yadier Molina (C)
  8. Daniel Descalso (2B)
The St. Louis Cardinals take a whole lot of gumption and perseverance into 2012.  From August on, they were on a mission, and ended up winning the World Series.  However I am not sure any World Series winner as ever came into the spring as quietly as the 2012 Cardinals. We here at BlueJaysPlus, picked the Cardinals to pull through with a tight race for the NL Central.    

The Final Count: *87-75 - 1st in NL Central.
*Again, win totals in NL Central were assessed prior to the Ryan Braun appealed suspension.  The Cardinals will likely win around 78-82 games.  They will need a run like 2011 to make the playoffs in 2012, but we shall see. 

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