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Manager Tony La Russa, the third-winningest manager of all time, will be put to the test early this season. His club is short in the rotation until some of its injured arms come back, and he somehow will have to find a way to shield what was a mediocre defense for much of spring training.

The Cardinals finished second from the bottom in fielding percentage last season, and that was with longtime Gold Glovers Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds on the club. Third baseman Rolen has gone to Toronto and center fielder Edmonds to San Diego, replaced by Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel, respectively.

Glaus had a strong spring at bat and is expected to provide the home run power that Rolen's injured left shoulder didn't allow him to display last year. But neither he nor nearly anybody else is Rolen defensively.

Ankiel indicated he should be above average in center field, a position he didn't play much last year after coming up. Ankiel showed La Russa enough this spring that the manager probably will bat him cleanup.

This, in itself, is quite a statement for a player who was a pitcher for years and nearly quit the game in 2004 before being asked if he wanted to convert to the outfield.

Cesar Izturis, signed to replaced David Eckstein at shortstop, raised some red flags this spring when he committed seven errors at the same time he had only seven hits. Yet La Russa and his staff remain confident, outwardly at least, that Izturis can make the routine plays and more. Izturis began showing his old defensive flash late in spring training.

But, as with most teams, the Cardinals will be as good as their starting pitching, and that was a weighty question as camp ended. Right-hander Adam Wainwright, the ace who got a contract extension of at least four years, is in place after his 14-win season as a first-year starter. But, after that come right-hander Braden Looper, who was both good and bad in Grapefruit League action, and right-hander Kyle Lohse, who was signed midway through spring training.

Right-hander Anthony Reyes, a pitcher who has held considerable promise, was given another chance to win a job this spring but didn't seem to overwhelm La Russa or pitching coach Dave Duncan. His days as a Cardinal may be numbered.

The bullpen is deep from the right-handed side, headed by Jason Isringhausen, and the bench is adequate. But, with a shallow rotation-at least until injured pitchers Joel Pineiro, Matt Clement, Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter return-the Cardinals probably should be picked no higher than third this season.

Primed For A Big Season:   CF Rick Ankiel blasted 43 home runs (32 at Class AAA Memphis) last year, although he struck out a total of 131 times. His plate discipline seemed much improved this spring, and he'll have plenty of chances to drive in runs while hitting fourth behind Albert Pujols.

On The Decline:   OF Chris Duncan, who had hernia surgery last year, battled back problems this spring and hit under .100 for much of the exhibition season. His defense also is marginal at best.

Notes

• The Cardinals, for the moment, at least, have cut ties with Juan Gonzalez. The veteran outfielder, who played one game in the field (all nine innings) before being sidelined with a strained abdominal muscle, was placed on the temporary inactive list and will return to his home in Puerto Rico to heal.

• RHPs Cliff Politte, Chris Perez and Hugo Castellanos were returned to the minor league complex. Politte had knocked off five consecutive scoreless outings this spring, while the hard-throwing Perez had given up four runs and four walks in his last 3 2/3 innings.

• The Cardinals will have five pitchers on the disabled list at the start of the season-RHPs Chris Carpenter, Joel Pineiro, Matt Clement and Josh Kinney and LHP Mark Mulder. In addition, RF Juan Encarnacion, who won't play this season after suffering a serious eye injury last summer, also was placed on the DL.

• INF Brendan Ryan, who has soreness in his right ribcage area, will try to play either Friday or Saturday in a Cardinals exhibition at Class AA Springfield. If he is still not healthy, the Cardinals can backdate a disabled-list move to March 21 because the game is not a big-league exhibition. Ryan hasn't played since March 17. D'Angelo Jimenez, a non-roster player, will make the team if Ryan is unable to start the season.

• RHP Anthony Reyes pitched six innings of shutout ball against Washington on Tuesday, but he will not be in the rotation at the start of the season, and might even be at Class AAA Memphis. There is an outside shot he would be in the bullpen on Opening Day, but pitching coach Dave Duncan said, "there are too many things involved" for Reyes to be a reliever, referring, in part to the lengthy time it might take Reyes to get loose. Reyes and RHP Kelvin Jimenez, who performed as a reliever for the Cardinals last year, are vying for the last pitching spot on the club.

• The Cardinals, 8-2 winners over Baltimore on Wednesday, are unbeaten in their last nine games, winning eight of them, with one tie.

• LF Chris Duncan, not known for his defense, turned in one brilliant play and another good one Wednesday. He dived into foul ground to snag a first-inning liner and came in to snatch a low line drive in the third and turn it into a double play.

• OF Brian Barton was hit in the face by a curveball Wednesday, but the blow was a glancing one and he did not appear seriously injured. The Rule 5 draft pick will be the Cardinals' Opening Day roster after batting .351 this spring.

By The Numbers:  5 ---- Homers 1B Albert Pujols had in spring training with a week to go.

Roster Report

The Cardinals left spring training with a pitching staff that will look much different six weeks from now. RHPs Joel Pineiro, Matt Clement and Chris Carpenter and LHP Mark Mulder, all starters, will come off the disabled list in either April, May or June. With the injuries and recoveries from surgery, the Cardinals had to go outside the organization to augment the rotation, and they signed RHP Kyle Lohse to a one-year deal.

Rotation:  

1. RHP Adam Wainwright

2. RHP Braden Looper

3. RHP Kyle Lohse

4. RHP Todd Wellemeyer

5. RHP Brad Thompson

Only staff ace Wainwright and Looper were in this rotation all of last season. There won't be any left-hander until Mark Mulder returns in May after his second shoulder surgery last September.

At the lower end of the rotation, Wellemeyer and Thompson are converted relievers, although Thompson started a lot in the minors.

Bullpen:  

RHP Jason Isringhausen (closer)

RHP Russ Springer

RHP Ryan Franklin

LHP Randy Flores

LHP Ron Villone

RHP Kyle McClellan

RHP Kelvin Jimenez or RHP Anthony Reyes

The bullpen is one of the strengths of the team, but the uncertainty of the rotation suggests the possibility that the bullpen, with several aged arms, could be overworked early in the season. With LHP Tyler Johnson out due to a shoulder problem, southpaw help may be sought. Ideally, Springer will handle the seventh, Franklin the eighth and Isringhausen the ninth, with the left-handers spotted as necessary.

Lineup:  

1. RF Skip Schumaker

2. LF Chris Duncan

3. 1B Albert Pujols

4. CF Rick Ankiel

5. 3B Troy Glaus

6. C Yadier Molina

7. 2B Adam Kennedy

8. Pitcher

9. SS Cesar Izturis

The keys to the success this lineup will be if Schumaker, getting his first shot at being a regular, can provide an impetus from the leadoff spot and whether 1B Albert Pujols will get enough protection batting third. CF Rick Ankiel, a pitcher a few years ago, will be the cleanup man against right-handed pitchers, while 3B Troy Glaus will bat fourth against left-handers. Both will have to be good for Pujols not to be walked 130 times.

Reserves:  

C Jason LaRue

INF Aaron Miles

INF D'Angelo Jimenez

OF Ryan Ludwick

OF Brian Barton

LaRue, who threw well in the spring, is expected to give the Cardinals their best backup to C Yadier Molina in several years. Miles, who hit .290 last year, will contend for the second base job if Adam Kennedy falters. Ludwick, a right-handed hitter, will platoon at any of the three outfield positions with the three starting left-handed hitters. Barton, a Rule 5 draftee, showed speed and extra-base punch this spring.

Rookie Watch:   OFs Colby Rasmus and Joe Mather made the biggest impressions as position players this spring. Rasmus, a first-round draft pick in 2005, may well be the Cardinals' center fielder midway through the season. Mather showed power and uncommon speed for a big man this spring, and he demonstrated he could play both outfield and first base. The most impressive of the young pitchers was RHP Kyle McClellan, a St. Louisan who will be the long reliever.

Medical Watch:  

RHP Joel Pineiro (right shoulder inflammation) pitched one big-league game in spring training before being shut down. He went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He should be ready in mid-April.

OF Juan Gonzalez (left abdominal strain) played only one game this spring. He was placed on the temporary inactive list March 26.

RHP Matt Clement (shoulder surgery in September 2006) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He was pitching in minor league games in late March, and he could be ready by the end of April.

LHP Mark Mulder (shoulder surgery in September 2007) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He was throwing bullpen sessions in late March, and he might be ready by mid- to late May.

RHP Chris Carpenter (Tommy John surgery in July 2007) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He was throwing bullpen sessions in late March, and he expects to be ready by late June or early July.

RHP Josh Kinney (broken right elbow in August 2007) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He will remain in Florida on rehab, although was throwing bullpen sessions in late March.

LHP Tyler Johnson (left shoulder tendinitis) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He received a cortisone shot, but surgery is possible.

INF Brendan Ryan (right ribcage irritation) hasn't played since March 17. He will play against Class AA Springfield on March 28 or March 29, after which time the team will determine if he needs to open the season on the disabled list.

RF Juan Encarnacion (fractured eye socket in August 2007) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He won't play this year.

 

With all this in mind, it should be a very interesting season and I cant wait until Monday to see how we do against the NL Champion Rockies. We can only wait and see.

Projection:
80-82 (3rd in NL Central)

 

 

- Jay (StLDieHard)

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