2012 MLB Season Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

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Mike Matheny replaces La Russa, who announced his retirement 3 days after the World Series concluded. Derek Lilliquist takes over the pitching coach duties from Dave Duncan who is on an indefinite leave of absence to care for his ailing wife. Matheny’s and Lilliquist’s managing and coaching is going to be different than their predecessors, but they have much of the same nucleus to work with.

The pitching staff is already down one man. Chris Carpenter has been shut down indefinitely due to neck issues which is also causing pain in his shoulder and arm. Doctors have determined this is nerve related. Carpenter has dealt with this same issue three separate times and each time has had its own timetable. Right now the best case scenario for his return is two months, but that is very optimistic. The Cards are going to try using in-house measures at the beginning of the season and see how they can weather the loss.

Adam Wainwright, who missed 2011 due to Tommy John surgery, has looked better each time out this spring. He resumes his role as the team’s ace with the loss of Carpenter. But due to the timing of the injury, Kyle Lohse will now get the Opening Day start. Wainwright will be in line to start the home opener at Busch Stadium. Jake Westbrook looks to be in great physical shape and is throwing groundballs at a high rate. Jaime Garcia continues to be an enigma. His ability to pitch deep into games has to change as Lohse and Westbrook do not provide length in their starts. Lance Lynn, who is filling in for Carpenter, has looked more than capable of being a spot starter for short and long periods of time. Now it will be a minimum of two months.

The pen features Jason Motte, who will be the closer to start the season. He’s backed by players also capable of closing such as Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez. Marc Rzepczynski is the lefty specialist and the team has to decide if they want another lefty in J.C. Romero. Kyle McClellan will be in the bullpen this season. Mitchell Boggs is being outperformed by veteran wild card Scott Linebrink. If Matheny wants the veteran don’t be shocked if he takes the last spot instead of Boggs.

March 12, 2012; Melbourne, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese (23) is congratulated by

The Cardinals’ lineup has the ability to be as potent as last season without Albert Pujols provided there is balanced to production. The Redbirds will need Rafael Furcal, who signed a two-year/$14 million contract, to revert back to the player he was a few years ago as the table-setter for the team. Carlos Beltran, who inked a two-year/$26 million deal, could get many starts in the number two hole and Matt Holliday will be the number-three hitter. David Freese and Lance Berkman will flip flop the four and five spot depending on the pitching match-up. Yadier Molina, who signed a five-year extension in the offseason, will look to build upon a successful offensive 2011 season combined. Jon Jay will likely hit seventh and play centerfield, though Matheny is going to give Beltran some time in center when there is a lefty on the mound. The winner of the second base competition, Daniel Descalso or Tyler Greene will round out the lineup. There may be a new style of manufacturing runs through the running game, but the team still has plenty of power. The team has a few players who can carry a team if needed. The loss of Pujols will be felt, but is not detrimental.

On the bench will be the loser of the second base starter’s role and possibly one other infielder. The backup catcher will be either Tony Cruz or Bryan Anderson. With Skip Schumaker sidelined and Allen Craig’s availability unknown there are several players still looking at the chance to make the team as of this writing. Matt Carpenter, Mark Hamilton, Erik Komatsu, Adron Chambers, and Shane Robinson are all expected to receive consideration for bench roles due to their versatility and production this spring. The bench is going to be important this season in order to rest regulars on occasion in an effort to keep them fresh.

Had this preview been written two weeks ago the final few paragraphs would probably read much differently. Losing Carpenter is not going to be easy for this club. They have five guys very capable to pick up the slack. However, when it counts, no one would want any of them on the mound, besides maybe Wainwright, instead of Carpenter. He is a big game pitcher.

Best case scenario has Carpenter back and strong by mid-season and the Cardinals holding their own in the NL Central race. Provided there are no other significant injuries on either side of the ball, the Cards should be able to stay very competitive. The lineup is strong top to bottom and the bench is deep. They can outhit many teams in the National League and could compensate for any pitching woes.

Worst case scenario has Carpenter missing the season. The plus, if there is one, is that the Cards did not break the bank this winter. They have the necessary resources to sign a player like Roy Oswalt or make a trade for a rental player for the stretch run.

If health stays on their side from here onward, the Cards still have a good shot of making the playoffs. The better part of the roster has experience getting by without a top pitcher along with other injuries. Remembering that will aid them this season. Should they reach the postseason the Cardinals could do something very special in 2012. They would have the chance to repeat as World Series Champions. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it Cardinals’ fans?

Find your team’s 2012 season preview or when it will be published here.

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