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MLB preview: St. Louis Cardinals

The losses of Albert Pujols and (to a lesser but still relevant extent) Tony La Russa should really hurt the Cardinals, who were just barely a playoff team, despite their run to the World Series.

2011 record: 90-72 (2nd in NL Central). Projected 2012 finish: 88-74 (2nd in NL Central).

Projected starters: C Yadier Molina, 1B Lance Berkman, 2B Tyler Greene, SS Rafael Furcal, 3B David Freese, LF Matt Holliday, CF Jon Jay, RF Carlos Beltran, SP Adam Wainwright, SP Chris Carpenter, SP Jaime Garcia, SP Jake Westbrook, SP Kyle Loshe, CL Jason Motte, RP Fernando Salas, RP Kyle McClellan.

Half-full outlook: Wainwright-Carpenter-Garcia is what I would consider the biggest strength of the team, provided everyone is healthy (and "if healthy' caveats have to be applied to a lot of the team). Wainwright and Carpenter are certainly proven, and while Garcia's ERA rose from 2.70 to 3.56 last season, his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved from 132-64 to 156-50. It was more a case of him getting less lucky than it was regression. Offensively it's possible that Beltran can approach the production of Pujolos, or at least the 2011 version of Pujols. And it's very realistic that a Beltran and Wainwright will match or eclipse the value of the 2011 Pujols and the starter Wainwright replaces.

Half-empty outlook: A team with Berkman, Beltran, Hollliday and Furcal would be expected to score a ton of runs ... five years ago. Today, the Cardinals certainly could have a good offense with those four, Molina, Freese and Allen Craig ... or injuries, age and/or disappointment from the younger players could become a problem in a hurry. I hate to keep coming back to the health concerns, but if I'm going to call the top of the rotation the strength of the team, I have to mention that Carpenter is already gimpy in spring training and that Wainwright is coming off of Tommy John surgery. And I don't know what manager Mike Matheny will be, but he's 5,097 wins behind La Russa, and it's possible that going from one of the most successful managers of all time to a rookie will cost the Cardinals a game or two.

Halfway between the two outlook: Again, if you want to say that trading in Pujols and La Russa for Beltran and a healthy Wainwright is a wash, I wouldn't argue too much. But can Berkman and Carpenter really be expected to contribue 5.0 WAR each again this season? Will Molina match his .305/.349/.465 slash line and play defense at the insanely high level we've come to expect? Is Green really the answer at second base? Bottom line is, the Cardinals had a lot go right for them to barely make the playoffs last season. They'll be pretty good, but I think they have too many question marks to pick them for another playoff berth.


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