To keep with tradition, I will start my 2012 MLB team by team previews with the defending 2011 World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 2012 Cardinals will look a lot different from last year’s team, as the two biggest faces of the franchise are no longer there.
Getting a pitcher back, who in 2010 posted a 20-11 record, with a 2.42 ERA, striking out 213, with five complete games and two shutouts in just over 230 innings pitched is surely a HUGE boost.
Wainwright is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and at 30 years old is just entering what is considered to be his prime years.
Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were one of the best one-two pitching combos in all of baseball before the injury and I expect them to be that again.
It seriously still boggles my mind that the Cardinals let baseball’s best player, Albert Pujols, walk after winning the World Series.
Pujols was the face of the Cardinals, a leader and wanted to finish his career in St. Louis but the Cardinals didn’t want to pay the market price for a player of Pujols caliber.
I have spoken to some Cardinal fans and the sheer disappointment in losing Pujols. One even when as far as to say: “I would give back the 2011 WS to have Pujols for life.”
That seems a tad extreme, but Pujols was that kind of player.
So, does losing Pujols cripple the Cardinals heading in to 2012?
Well, the Cards will certainly look different, as Pujols’s star power is irreparable and so is his bat.
Luckily for St. Louis fans, the NL Central has lost a lot of its competitive edge across the board but is that enough to make up for losing Albert’s bat?
The Cardinals did sign Carlos Beltran but don’t hold your breath that he will ever be what he was back in 2004 or 2006, blame the Mets for overpaying him for his real worth. Beltran has been going downhill for a few too many seasons to expect a resurge at age 35.
Also, the Cardinals are without the other most familiar face skipper Tony LaRussa who retired after last season.
LaRussa was a mastermind in the postseason by mixing up of a so-so bullpen into a championship caliber group.
Hopefully the players can adjust without the man who has led them the last 16-seasons, but also remember that pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence for 2012 season to be with his ailing wife so that is another familiar face that will not be around.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
The Cardinals will be counting on Freese to step it up and play at that élite level for the entire regular season.
Is it a must if the Cardinals want to make the playoffs?
Not necessarily because the NL Central will be much less competitive this season, but once the team gets there without Freese from 2011 will pose an issue. And a player can’t just turn it on in the post season without a good regular season year after year.
So, question remains….will Freese, freeze under the pressure?
2) Any pitcher who is coming off Tommy John has to be watched just because when that much time is spent away from the mound and losing some command is pretty common.
So, keeping an eye on Adam Wainwright for the first few starts is a must but he shouldn’t have many issues, still you never know.
3) This is skipper Mike Matheny’s first season as a MLB manager, and he has some HUGE shoes to fill.
Also, it is not comforting to know that Matheny’s financial is quite dire. As reported by USA Today, Matheny, his wife and five children are currently living with his in-laws because their house is in foreclosure. He has a major lawsuit going on in Missouri Supreme Court, as Matheny owes the bank an upwards of $4 million bucks.
It certainly seems like the Cardinals brass might have chosen Matheny because they know he would come cheap, as ownership is paying him a mere $750k; and the announcement came as a shock to Cardinal fans.
So, was this the wisest place for ownership to reach into the bargain bin for when defending a championship and considering what else was lost?
Probably not, but to his credit Matheny was the Cardinals catcher from 2000-2004 under LaRussa, and has been a minor league instructor for St. Louis before accepting the role of manager. So, at least Matheny knows the organization but will he use those smarts and try to remember what the players are used too? Or try and be his own person?
You can expect an adjustment period here.
2012 TEAM PREDICTION:
Look for the defending champs to be back in the playoffs in 2012, as the NL Central is their division to lose.
The biggest divisional threat could be the Reds, who will either be serious contenders or not at all so that is a 50/50.
As for the Brewers, whose off-season was a mess, are without their Prince so the kingdom should stay in St. Louis.
Now, do I think the Cardinals will repeat at World Champions?
No I don’t only because the AL is that much better. Is it out of the question…. not as much as it was for the SF Giants coming into to last season but remember repeating is tough to do in general. And when you lose your best player it makes the task that much harder.
So overall the Cardinals are dealing with a personal transition for Matheny, along with a team adjusting to life after Albert, LaRussa and Duncan, while trying to defend a World Championship title.
Wow! That is a lot for any team to have on a plate, and don’t forget about the bull’s-eye every other team has on the Cardinals backs too.
- The 10 best things about being a Cardinals fan (sports.yahoo.com)
- Cardinals agree to terms Freese, Craig, 22 others (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- It’s time to spring forward with MLB intrigue (articles.nydailynews.com)
- St. Louis Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright is back – MLB News (blogs.bettor.com)
- Cliff Corcoran: Replacing Pujols won’t be as hard as it may seem for Cardinals (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- St. Louis Cardinals: 5 Reasons Team Will Succeed in 2012 (bleacherreport.com)
- You: St. Louis Cardinals: 4 Reasons Cards Win NL Central in 2012 (bleacherreport.com)