2007 N.L. Central Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Discussion of this preview at Viva El Birdos (a Cardinals blog)

2007 W-L: 83-78
Runs Scored: 781
Runs Allowed: 762
Pythagenport W-L: 82.3-78.7

IN

2B Adam Kennedy, SP Kip Wells, SP Ryan Franklin, RP Russ Springer

OUT

SP Jeff Suppan, SP Jason Marquis, SP Jeff Weaver, P Jorge Sosa

FREE AGENTS REMAINING

2B Ronnie Belliard, SS Jose Vizcaino

DEFENSE

C Yadier Molina
1B Albert Pujols
2B Adam Kennedy
SS David Eckstein
3B Scott Rolen
OF Chris Duncan
CF Jim Edmonds
OF Juan Encarnacion

ROTATION

RHP Chris Carpenter
RHP Kip Wells
RHP Anthony Reyes
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Braden Looper

HOW WAS THE OFFSEASON?

The Cards have mostly spent the last few months handing out new contracts to members of their 2006 World Championship team: one year for Gary Bennett, Preston Wilson, and So Taguchi; two for Scott Spiezio, Randy Flores and the injured Mark Mulder; and five for Chris Carpenter. In the meantime, they lost starter Jeff Suppan, who isn't great but who was a good fit for their fine defense, along with Jason Marquis and Jeff Weaver, so they had some holes to fill in their rotation. Evidently they'll fill them with Kip Wells, Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper, which bodes poorly for them. With Ron Belliard gone, the Cards grabbed Adam Kennedy to be their second baseman. Kennedy's a complete cipher who shouldn't improve the team or worsen it much, either. All in all, the Cards needed starting pitching and didn't get nearly enough of it, and they also didn't get anyone to help a solid but flagging offense that has scored progressively fewer runs in every season since 2003.

HOW'S THE OFFENSE?

Still pretty good, and it's hard not to like any lineup that features Albert Pujols, but the Cards could use some reinforcements. They only ranked sixth in the NL in runs scored last year, and it's tough to see how they'll be better next year. One could argue that the Cards will benefit from an entire year of Chris Duncan, but Duncan's minor-league stats show he's nowhere near as good as the .293/.363/.589 he put up in a half-season in 2006. St. Louis got a .778 OPS from their leftfielders (mostly So Taguchi, Duncan, John Rodriguez and Spiezio) in 2006; expect Duncan and company to be only a couple of ticks better than that in 2007. Elsewhere, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen will be another year older, Juan Encarnacion will still be well below average for his position, David Eckstein will still be pesky, and Yadier Molina will still be a complete embarrassment with the stick. Like the Astros, the Cards would've benefitted immensely if they'd grabbed a catcher this offseason who could hit a little. But they didn't. At least Molina's still pretty young - maybe there's a big league hitter in there somewhere. Overall, I think the Cards' offense will be about the same as last year, unless Pujols or Rolen gets injured, in which case they're in big trouble.

HOW'S THE PITCHING?

Shaky. Obviously, I love Chris Carpenter, and I can see how Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright could fit in well behind him. But I just can't see how Braden Looper is going to be a good starter. Brad Thompson might have gotten the job done (if only because he's reasonably young and might improve), but Looper just isn't going to, and the Cards have said they're probably going with him. I have as much irrational love for Kip Wells at just about anyone, and he made a great career move by matching up with a good pitching coach and defense, but time will tell whether he learns that he needs to throw a first-pitch strike at least once every couple weeks. The Cardinals' starting pitching was very weak behind Carpenter and Suppan last year, so it's likely that this bunch isn't going to be that much worse, but I don't see them being a whole lot better, either.

The bullpen, too, leaves something to be desired. The Cardinals hope that Jason Isringhausen will be ready to pitch by mid-March, but given his history, I wouldn't bet on that happening. After Isringhausen, the Cardinals have a bunch of guys whose track records aren't that inspiring. It's possible that Thompson, Tyler Johnson and Josh Kinney - all young-ish pitchers with some history of success in the high minors - will come through for them. The Cardinals should hope so, because I wouldn't trust Ricardo Rincon, Randy Flores, Russ Springer or Josh Hancock to be any more than back-end pitchers.

OUTLOOK

It's hard to be very critical of the World Champs, and equally hard to be critical of a team that features Pujols and Carpenter, but this looks to me to be a team that needs to hope that some things go right: that Reyes and Wainwright can be horses in the rotation, that Wells figures out what his problems are, that Mulder returns in mid-summer and pitches like the guy the Cards acquired from the A's, that Isringhausen is healthy, that Edmonds has something left, and so on. Of course it's possible they'll contend, but I think this looks like a .500 team, even in the weak NL Central. I predict they'll finish third. They aren't much better or worse than they were last year, but 83 wins probably isn't going to get the job done twice.

OTHER PREVIEWS:

4. Houston Astros
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Cincinnati Reds

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