It was a bittersweet offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals.
On the one hand, the players, coaches, organization and fans had all winter to bask in the warm, satisfying glow of another World Series Championship. This baseball-crazed city still has fresh memories of the Cardinals’ incredible comeback win over Texas in last October’s thrilling seven-game series, and they get to enjoy the fact that their side came out on top.
But reality slammed them in the face – hard – just two months later when Albert Pujols walked away and took his ample talents to California for $240 million. Pujols was the sun around which the rest of the Cardinals team revolved. He can’t be replaced but St. Louis will soldier on.
St. Louis has thrived over the last decade despite roster turnover. And that includes star player turnover. From McGwire to Edmonds to Rolen to Pujols, the Cardinals have always managed to recreate themselves.
The difference this year is that the Cardinals will have to try to rebuild without the rock on which all of those teams had been built: Manager Tony LaRussa. LaRussa retired after 16 seasons and two championships with the Cardinals and now St. Louis will turn to rookie headman Mike Matheny to guide them in defense of their crown.
Here is Doc’s Sports 2012 St. Louis Cardinals predictions and MLB odds to win NL Central:
2011 Record: 90-72
2012 Wins Over/Under: 83.5
Odds To Win 2012 NL Central: 2.5/1
Odds To Win 2012 NL Pennant: 15/1
2012 St. Louis Cardinals Odds To Win World Series: 35/1
St. Louis won the World Series primarily on the strength of its outstanding pitching. Chris Carpenter is an old warhorse and was a beast in the postseason. He is followed by slick lefty Jaime Garcia, who has won 26 games over the last two years while posting an ERA around 3.00. But the biggest news for the Cardinals is the return of Adam Wainwright, a Cy Young candidate in 2009 and 2010 who missed all of last year with a torn ligament. Veterans Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook round out the rotation.
The St. Louis bullpen has been a circus over the past few years. Somehow LaRussa’s mad scientist approach worked in the postseason. But I am not expecting that magic to carry over into this regular season. But a lot will rest on whether or not young Jason Motte can replicate his success last October this year as a full-time closer.
Also, one of the biggest and probably most unappreciated losses this team suffered this offseason was that of Pitching Coach Dave Duncan. He is one of the best in the business and it was announced in January that he would be on a leave of absence from the organization.
Pujols can’t be replaced. But St. Louis will still start the year with a middle-of-the-order comprised of Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday. Hey, things could be a lot worse. Two keys will be how Beltran bounces back from injury as well as whether or not Berkman comes into this year as motivated as he was last year. If he is the out-of-shape slob that he was in 2010 the Cards are in trouble.
St. Louis still has the rest of the cast that helped them win it all last fall. They will obviously need more from guys like Skip Schumaker and David Freese. And newly re-signed Yadir Molina will continue to be one of the best clutch batters in the N.L. But even with Pujols leading the way the Cardinals only finished in the Top 12 in runs scored one time over the previous six seasons – and that was last year.
Also, it will be interesting to see if Matheny tries to mimic LaRussa’s style of constantly altering his lineup. LaRussa was continuously platooning players, shifting lineup slots, and shuffling the deck with his players and bullpen. We will see if Matheny applies that formula or if he sticks with a bit tighter lineup.
2012 St. Louis Cardinals Predictions
I think that St. Louis will actually be better than people think. Yes, they had built their entire team around Pujols in the middle of their lineup. But everything is relative. And relative to the rest of the division the Cardinals didn’t lose anything less than, say, Milwaukee or Chicago did. Their lineup will still score runs and if Wainwright can come back and be what he was in 2010 then it is as if the Cardinals traded a perennial MVP at first base for a perennial Cy Young candidate at the front of the rotation.
The Central is a cesspool right now. And I know that the Reds are getting a lot of love as the favorites. But I think that the defending champions are going to be in the divisional race the entire season and I think the Cards can make it back to the postseason.
2012 St. Louis Cardinals MLB Season Win Totals Predictions
Take ‘over’ 83.5.
This is a little bit of a tricky line. But the Cardinals are one of the best franchises in baseball. And they have won 84 or more games in 10 of the last 12 years. The Cardinals have turned over their lineup before and they have won the Central title six times in the last dozen years. And even in the two years when the Cards fell back to third place in the division they still won 78 and 85 games.
I think the Cards are going to be in a battle with Cincinnati for the divisional crown. And I can see them both ending up around 85-88 wins this year. I have a little lean on the over here.
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