The Redbird Report 02/10

The Cardinals' strength is that they have the best hitter in baseball in Albert Pujols, who has had as good a first six years as any player in history. Pujols, a recently minted United States citizen, has an even 250 home runs, a career .332 average and 758 RBIs.

Beyond that, the Cardinals probably have one of the top one or two starters in the league in 2005 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter, who has 51 wins over the past three seasons. The Cardinals bullpen, assuming closer Jason Isringhausen has recovered from September hip surgery, also should be a strength. Even with Adam Wainwright probably going to the rotation if Isringhausen is sound, the Cardinals have ample right-handed setup strength in Josh Kinney, a rookie who was impressive in postseason play last year; Braden Looper, if he doesn't go into the rotation; Josh Hancock, Ryan Franklin and Brad Thompson.

The left-handed side of the bullpen, already very capable with Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson, will be augmented by the return of Ricardo Rincon, who had elbow surgery early last season.

Most of the decision-making this spring will center around who will be the four starters behind Carpenter. Free agent Kip Wells, Wainwright and Anthony Reyes should be the next three in line.

But Wainwright, a postseason star as a reliever, never has started a game in the majors, and Reyes won just five games in the regular season last year.

Wells won only two last year as he recovered from a blood clot in his arm and a broken foot.

It wouldn't be out of the question before the spring is over for general manager Walt Jocketty to seek another starter through trade.

Early on, hands-on manager Tony La Russa will try to impart the difficulty of repeating a division or league title, let alone a World Series championship. He'll stress that the players mustn't forget how hard they had to work last season to get to the prize.

WHERE, WHEN: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. First exhibition game is Feb. 28 against the Marlins.

THESTLCARDINALS.com will be making daily reports from Jupiter Florida "from the first pitch, 'til the last out" of spring training.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: C Yadier Molina. After a .216 regular season, Molina was one of the top Cardinals hitters in postseason play last year. If he can display the same patience he did then, he should be able to hit .250 of .260 and drive in 65 to 70 runs while hitting seventh.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: CF Jim Edmonds. Maybe the injuries have taken their toll, but until he had a good postseason, Edmonds was not the same productive hitter he had been for his first six seasons with the Cardinals.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: With his first World Series title as Cardinals manager, Tony La Russa has reached the pinnacle of his popularity in a city relatively slow to adopt him. La Russa has proven his worth, with 2,297 wins over 28 seasons as a big-league manager. Over the years, he has mellowed from a man perceived in some circles as humorless and unyielding. But, make no mistake, he still is very much in charge.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--LF Chris Duncan, a converted first baseman, will be working hard defensively this spring to overcome the image of a klutz that he seemed to project during last year's postseason.

--RHP Braden Looper is looking forward to trying to be a starter after 572 consecutive relief appearances in the major leagues.

--INF Aaron Miles, normally a second baseman who played shortstop when David Eckstein was hurt last season, figures to be the only middle infield reserve this season, although Scott Spiezio has played some at second base.

--RHP Blake Hawksworth, who has made a rapid ascent after recovering from arm problems, will be in his first big-league camp and figures to open the season at Triple-A Memphis.

--RHP Chris Carpenter, though he is the staff ace, was one of the first pitchers to show up for workouts this spring.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Number of new position players likely to be on the Cardinals' bench.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The doctor said this could give me another four years." -- RHP Jason Isringhausen, talking about his left hip surgery last September.


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