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Springtime Storylines: Is Albert Pujols' supporting cast good enough to help him win it all?

Mar 31, 2010, 4:15 PM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Cardinals


The
big question: Is Albert Pujols’ supporting cast good enough to help him win it all?

This isn’t exactly a “big” question as much as it is the question that has been asked every single year of Pujols’ career and must be asked until he retires and joins baseball Valhalla.  That’s just the way it goes with this guy on your roster: you don’t obsess on the piece-by-piece of it all. You start with the assumption that the team is a strong contender because of Pujols and ask how strong. Cardinals fans probably have a better grasp of the nuances of this annual parlor game than I do, but from where I’m sitting it seems like a strong enough supporting cast to easily give them the division and to make a bit more noise in the postseason than they did last year.

I love the addition of Felipe Lopez. I was lukewarm on the Brad Penny signing when it happened, but smarter people than me convinced me that I was being a too pessimistic. He beats John Smoltz at any rate and will help take some of the sting away from the loss of Joel Pinero. None of the departures apart from Joel Piniero are huge losses and many (e.g. Rick Ankiel, Todd Wellemeyer) represent addition by subtraction.  Several of the returning guys — Yadier Molina, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Ludwick and Brendan Ryan — can reasonably expect to be better in 2010 than they were in 2009.

The Cardinals weren’t terribly busy this winter as most of their time was spent re-signing Matt Holliday, but no other NL Central team did much to improve itself.  Between that, the strong rotation and Mr. Pujols anchoring things, the Cardinals are the closest thing to a lock there is to win their division in all of baseball.

So what
else is
going on?

  • He never fully answered all of the questions about his bad judgment, nor did he truly answer for it. His influence and example will clearly make it difficult for parents in St. Louis to explain things to their kids. He doesn’t play for the team, but his presence will create a distraction. The question is: can the Cardinals get past the fact that their manager was arrested for DUI?  Oh, you thought I was talking about the McGwire business? Jeez, that shouldn’t matter at all. It’s not like McGwire’s behavior in the 90s could have killed innocent people like La Russa could have in 2007. And he’s only the hitting coach for cryin’ out loud. This is a non-issue.
  • Above optimism notwithstanding, the rotation will take a step back. Carpenter and Wainwright are great and all, but not too many pitchers are that good year-in, year-out, so some falloff should be expected. Kyle Lohse should be a bit better. Whatever happens, I think the Cards have enough pitching.   

  • The contract. Negotiations for the Pujols extension are on hold until next fall, but the notion that the Cardinals aren’t going to eventually extend Pujols seems ludicrous to me. Prediction: the only people who make a lot of fuss over it this season will be visiting writers who are told that they must by their editors. Now, if we get to this time in 2011 and it’s still unresolved, OK, maybe it will be time to panic.
  • The bullpen should be sturdy and workmanlike. Ryan Franklin was kinda ugly late in the season and in the playoffs, but he leads a balanced bullpen with guys like Mitchell Boggs, Kyle McClellan and Blake Hawksworth, all of whom should be reliable even if they’re not spectacular. 

So
how
are they gonna do?

With Albert Pujols, a couple of Cy Young candidates, Matt Holliday and the best defensive catcher in the National League, the job of the pen, the bench and the role players is not to to shine. It’s to provide simple competence and the ability to rise to the occasion from time to time. This group seems capable of that, with nary a black hole on the roster. La Russa is still about the best manager in the game and he’ll usually get the best out of otherwise ordinary players. Between that and the fact that none of the other NL Central teams look at all like contenders, the division should easily win the division.

Prediction: First place NL Central. The real challenge starts when they meet the Phillies, Braves and either the Dodgers or the Rockies (I haven’t decided yet) in the playoffs.

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  1. YankeesfanLen - Mar 31, 2010 at 5:39 PM

    If you need to watch NL baseball, you might as well do it in one of the NL Central Cities. Cards are Midwest Yankees, but you know, somehow that doesn’t quite work.
    Captcha: cruller friends- how bucolic

  2. Fast Eddy - Mar 31, 2010 at 5:39 PM

    Craig, not so fast. I think lately, the Reds have had some problems. However, I don’t think the birds pitching is that good. I look for Carp. to fall off a lot, and who knows if Wainwright can repeat last year. Also, injuries to the two big guys in the lineup could be trouble all season. Do not count out the Reds or Cubs, as sweet Lou is plenty good to get a lot out of his players. And it looks like Lee and Rameriz are in good shape this year, unlike last. I think the Astros are folding even now, and Milwaukee is still building for their future big year. Pgh. is certainly not in position to challenge now. If we can get our Cuban defector to pitch this year, and Volquez can come back by July, our pitching can be in good shape. Hitting is a little light even with Voto and Bruce, but we need less help hitting if the staff comes around as planned.

  3. carlos - Mar 31, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    They gotta get outa the first round of the playoffs to impress this year.

  4. dj - Mar 31, 2010 at 9:34 PM

    Good Points all. DREAM ON FEDDY!

  5. GBSimons - Apr 1, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    I imagine this first-name relationship with Rob Neyer (https://relocationext.prudential.com/external.aspx?W080S604714000771906322964E24103180) would be akin to Charlie Brown having the little red-haired girl sit down next to him at lunch and after school watch him pitch his team to…okay, that last bit falls apart, but Rob’s calling you Craig and citing your work frequently, so congratulations.

  6. Fast Eddy - Apr 1, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    Who is dreaming now? You aren’t burning up the Grapefruit now are you? Wait until Monday, we will see who is going to rule

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