The Cardinals have three key missing ingredients from last year's surprising World Series championship club in manager Tony La Russa (retired), pitching coach Dave Duncan (leave of absence) and, perhaps most importantly, first baseman Albert Pujols. But new manager Mike Matheny appeared to grow more comfortable with his job as the spring went along and the Cardinals emerged from camp with a team they feel is strong enough to at least get to the playoffs again. Ace right-hander Chris Carpenter is out with a nerve issue affecting his shoulder and arm, but another ace right-hander, Adam Wainwright, is back after elbow surgery.
With Pujols gone, left fielder Matt Holliday becomes the centerpiece of the offense and will inherit Pujols' No. 3 spot in the order. Third baseman David Freese, the World Series hero, will hit higher in the lineup, batting fourth against left-handed pitching.
At the beginning of the season, the Cardinals will be short of not only Carpenter, whose return is very uncertain, but utilityman Skip Schumaker, who suffered a torn muscle in his right rib-cage and will be out at least until late April.
Outfielder Allen Craig, another star in the World Series, might be ready by opening day after off-season knee surgery although it might take him some time to reach full speed.
There is no real apparent weakness on the club, except perhaps punch off the bench. But there wasn't much punch on the bench last year either when the Cardinals went all the way.
Right-hander Jason Motte, a star in the postseason as the Cardinals' final closer of half dozen or so who were auditioned, will be given the task at the start of the season. But there is no real veteran setup man ahead of him.
In all the Cardinals should be good enough to win the Central Division.
OF Carlos Beltran, who hadn't played CF since 2010 because of knee problems, made his first start of the spring there on March 22—and didn't have a ball hit to him. If Beltran can play CF on a part-time basis it frees up manager Mike Matheny to use right-handed-hitting OF Allen Craig in right field against left-handed pitching and then have Beltran spell left-handed-hitting CF Jon Jay.
LHP Jaime Garcia fanned
nine in five innings, allowing only three hits, to
2B Tyler Greene was
handling the defensive part of his new position well and he had stolen four
bases in five tries. Though hitting .250, he had four doubles and a homer and
had lost four other homers, manager Mike Matheny estimated, because of the
LF Matt Holliday hit safely in 11 straight exhibition games, going 14 for 30 (.467). Holliday also was slugging .800 and seemed to be settling in well as the club's new No. 3 hitter.
The Cardinals, who stole just 57 bases last season, 16th in the league, swiped 21 in their first 27 tries this spring. New manager Mike Matheny is trusting his players' instincts and aggressiveness this spring but it remains to be seen how the green light will be administered in the regular season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 15 - SS Rafael Furcal will retain that number. OF Carlos Beltran, who has worn No. 15 in his career, has move to No. 3.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Having read them and having some time to reflect, I realized there wasn't any need to be quite that over the top."
- 1B Lance Berkman on his remarks saying the commissioner's office had "extorted" an agreement with new owner Jim Crane and his Houston Astros, Berkman's former team, to move to the American League.
The Cardinals' spring training for the second year was interrupted by an injury to a prominent pitcher. Last year, right-hander Adam Wainwright suffered a ligament elbow to his elbow that necessitated season-ending surgery. This year, right-hander Chris Carpenter missed considerable time because of a nerve issue which has weakened his right shoulder and he is likely to be out a couple of months.
On offense, the Cardinals will enter a season for the first time in 12 years without Albert Pujols, a three-time National League Most Valuable Player. The club would seem still to have a good attack spearheaded by left fielder Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, who has moved from right field to first base. But no offense really can overcome the loss of a Pujols.
1. RHP Kyle Lohse
2. LHP Jaime Garcia
3. RHP Adam Wainwright
4. RHP Jake Westbrook
5. RHP Lance Lynn
RHP Jason Motte (closer)
RHP Fernando Salas
RHP Kyle McClellan
RHP Eduardo Sanchez
LHP Marc Rzepczynski
LHP J.C. Romero
RHP Mitchell Boggs
Motte will have the closer's role at the start of the season, as opposed to last year when he had it from late August through the last out of the World Series. He had some control problems at times in the spring but appears comfortable with his secondary pitches behind his 98 mile an hour fastball. Boggs has developed a split-fingered pitch to give him a weapon against left-handed batters, who have hit .314 against him for his career. Salas, who led the club with 24 saves, figures as the eighth-inning man and occasional closer.
1. 2B Tyler Greene
2. RF Carlos Beltran
3. LF Matt Holliday
4. 1B Lance Berkman
5. 3B David Freese
6. CF Jon Jay
7. C Yadier Molina
8. SS Rafael Furcal
General manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny want Greene to make it, if possible, because the 28-year-old has power and speed and is out of options. He probably will lead off early in the season, at least against left-handed pitching, so that he can see better pitches than if he hits eighth. World Series hero David Freese will hit fourth against lefthanders and first baseman Lance Berkman fifth. Matt Holliday will hit third, where former first baseman Albert Pujols hit for the last 10 seasons.
INF Alex Cora
INF Daniel Descalso
OF/INF Allen Craig
OF Shane Robinson or Erik Komatsu
Right-handed-hitting Robinson, or left-handed-hitting Rule 5 choice Komatsu likely will be on the club for a while until INF/OF Skip Schumaker returns from a torn rib-cage muscle, presumably sometime in late April or early May. Craig wasn't expected to be ready after knee surgery in mid-November but he was on a fast track in spring training. Cruz provides some versatility at first base and third base, too.