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Stepping into the Box to pinch hit today is poster Newton, who graciously submitted this preview of the St. Louis Cardinals 2007 season. Take it away, Newton...

Last season I predicted the Cardinals would cruise to a division title as the NLís safest bet to qualify for a post-season berth.

They proved to be a tremendous disappointment winning only 83 games.

Playing in baseballís weakest division, the NL Central, did however allow them to gain entry into the post-season tournament where they managed to win 11 additional games (giving them enough total wins to narrowly miss out on the AL wildcard) and bring home their first World Series title since the Wizardís first season in St.Louis.

Facing new divisional challenges from the improving Milwaukee Brewers and the free-spending Chicago Cubs the Cardinals set out to defend their World Series title in 2007 with substantially the same offensive lineup and a pitching staff featuring Chris Carpenter and myriad question marks:

Can Adam Wainwright and Brandon Looper successfully transition from relieving to starting at the big league level?

Can Mark Mulder, Jason Isringhausen, and Kip Wells return from injuries and become effective pitchers once again?

Can Anthony Reyes parlay his top prospect bona fides into reliable above average big league innings?

Such questions involving such interesting names donít lend themselves to a high degree of predictive accuracy but Iíll give it my best shot.

Incoming Cards: Adam Kennedy, Kip Wells, Ryan Franklin, Russ Springer

Outgoing Cards: Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, Ronnie Belliard

Projected Lineup:

SS David Eckstein R: A classic sparkplug Eckstein gets on base just enough to be a respectable lead-off man, expect his OBP to improve modestly in 2007.

LF Chris Duncan L: Never considered a top prospect Duncan exceeded all expectations when filling in for Pujols at first base. He settled in right field when Pujols returned where by all accounts he is a horrendous fielder. Duncan could bat 2nd or 6th for the Cards and has the potential to provide a fourth consecutive solid OPS bat in the heart of the Cards lineup even if his rate stats decline from 2006. Expect an OPS closer to .800 than .900 in 2007, a line more consistent with his minor league numbers.

1B Albert Pujols R: In 2006 Pujols was well on his way to an all-time great season before an oblique strain cost him roughly three weeks; 2007 could be historic.

3B Scott Rolen R: Point - Another year removed from shoulder surgery in 2005 and stating publicly this Spring that his shoulder feels great there is potential for a modest improvement as some of his 48 doubles in 2006 might now clear the fence. Counter Point - The fact that Rolen posted a dynamic .976 OPS in the 1st half of 2006 and slumped to a .781 OPS in the 2nd half could be a warning flag for the Cards.

CF Jim Edmonds L: Missing time with multiple injuries last season, including post-concussion syndrome, Edmonds should get more at bats and be more productive during those at bats in 2007. This is a good thing for the Cards. I have a hunch Edmonds has another 500 PA .900 range OPS season in him.

RF Juan Encarnacion R: A consistently mediocre right fielder over the past two seasons, expect more of the same from Juan in 2007.

2B Adam Kennedy L: Kennedy is to 2nd baseman what Eckstein is to shortstops - a solid player who provides respectable offence and defense at his position without much power. It is possible Kennedy will bat 2nd for the Cards. He should provide a nice upgrade from the performances the Cards received from their 2nd baseman last season.

C Yadier Molina R: Albert Pujols meet your offensive antithesis. Certain to prevent stolen bases with the best of them, Yadier is also certain to bat 8th with an OPS below .650. Yadier was perhaps the biggest offensive sinkhole in baseball last season but is bound to improve somewhat on his .274 OBP. If he doesnít improve perhaps the Cards will bat him 9th. This is one team that certainly could have used Rod Barajas.

Key Bench Players:

1b/3b Scott Spiezio S, OF So Taguchi R, OF John Rodriguez L, 2B/SS Aaron Miles S, C Gary Bennett R

Bottom Line: When Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds are producing the Cards could field an above average NL lineup even if replacement level players manned all other positions. Unfortunately this often isnít far from the case particularly when the Molina effect is taken into account. A prolonged absence of either Rolen or Edmonds could be fatal to the Cards playoff hopes this season.
Pitching:

SP RHP Chris Carpenter: One of baseballs most consistent top of the rotation starters. Expect more of the same from Carp in 2007.

SP RHP Adam Wainwright: Memorably struck out Carlos Beltran on 3 pitches during Game 7 of the NLCS with the culminating pitch being a knee buckling curve ball. As a minor league starting pitcher Wainwright was a staple on top prospect lists for the past several seasons and he continued to throw all 4 of his pitches in relief last season. Wainwright is a safe bet to be the Cards number two pitcher by the end of the season and to post better numbers, perhaps significantly better, than any of their departed starters: Suppan, Marquis, Weaver.

SP RHP Anthony Reyes: Another perennial top prospect who played a key role in the Cardinals World Series Championship Reyes should establish himself as a solid mid-rotation starter this season. As a flyball pitcher his ERA will always be higher than his stuff, strikeout, and walk rates suggest.

SP RHP Kip Wells: In 2002 and 2003 Wells appeared to be on his way to a promising MLB career. Since that time injuries and control issues have sidelined his career. Itís even money whether he can attain league average status at this point and very unlikely he will ever live up to the promise he showed in 2002/2003.

SP RHP Brandon Looper: Possessing a terrible K-rate as a reliever over the past couple seasons (between 4 and 5 per 9) Looper will need to rely on getting ground-ball outs to succeed as a starter. Looper does keep the ball in the yard as he allowed only 3 HR in 70 plus innings in 2006 and has the potential to become a poor-mans Derek Lowe if he can develop the stamina to go 6-7 innings each time out.

Closer: RHP Jason Isringhausen: Coming off hip-surgery Isringhausen is yet to throw in a spring training game but is currently expected to start the season as the Cardinals closer. Donít expect many 8th inning appearances from Izzy or for him to post a K rate of better than 8 per 9 but do expect consistent competence from the veteran.

Key Bullpen Arms:

RHP Brad Thompson, RHP Russ Springer, RHP, Ryan Franklin, RHP Josh Hancock, RHP Josh Kinney, LHP Ricardo Rincon, LHP Randy Flores, LHP Tyler Johnson

Bottom Line: Given the current free agent market for mid-level starting pitching, the Cards mid-level payroll, the presence of two talented, cheap, playoff tested young starters, and perhaps most significantly the weak division they play in the Cards decisions to pass on Suppan, Marquis, and Weaver were astute baseball decisions. If Reyes and Wainwright continue to develop and if LHP Mark Mulder, slated to return at mid-season and the only left-hander of the bunch, can return to his 2005 form the starting rotation could become a real strength. Given the inexperience and uncertainty surrounding many of their projected starting pitchers RHP Ryan Franklin is likely to see 10-15 starts acting as a swingman out of the pen. The Bullpen is deep and dependable but is lacking in potential closing candidates which may require Wainwright to move out of the rotation should Isringhausen falter.

Fearless Prediction:

The Cardinals will win 86-90 ball games in 2007 by fielding substantially the same offensive lineup and rolling the dice with young starters and reclamation projects in their rotation. They will qualify for the post-season as NL Central Champions.

Thanks for the pinch hit, Newton
St. Louis Cardinals 2007 Preview: If It Ainít Broke | 7 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Thursday, March 08 2007 @ 02:33 PM EST (#164182) #
The Cards' stock-in-trade was good defence.  This year is likely to be one of slippage, as good defenders age.  Eckstein, Kennedy, Rolen, Edmonds.  What this means is that the club is dependent on Wainwright, Reyes, and Carpenter helping out on the three true outcome front.  My money is that Reyes will, Wainwright won't, and Carpenter will spend a significant period on the DL.  When combined with a mediocre bullpen, it adds up to an 80 win season.  Even in the NL Central, that shouldn't be enough!
Newton - Thursday, March 08 2007 @ 06:01 PM EST (#164193) #

Mike D, I didn't really get into defence as the lineup is fundamentally the same as last season with an arguable upgrade at 2nd base.  I agree however that the older players, in particular Edmonds, might begin to diminish in value defensively at a faster annual rate than in previous years.

Is your prediction that Carp will go down the result of pent-up frustration at the Jays letting him slip through their fingers?  My coping strategy is to try and forget that he was ever a Jay. 

I just can't see this club, or any club with Pujols, being below .500 in the NL Central.

Pujols is to the NL Central in the mid part of this decade what Bonds was to the NL West in the early part of this decade; put either on any club in the division and that club likely wins the division (at the very least it contends).

Newton - Thursday, March 08 2007 @ 06:02 PM EST (#164194) #

Sorry Mike Green. 

Magpie - Friday, March 09 2007 @ 01:12 AM EST (#164202) #
Good work, Newton. And let me especially congratulate you on so thoroughly getting into the spirit of This Year's Batch of Previews ("I think these guys are going to win the division.")

We suspect that living up to that expectation is what's really delaying Bruce Wrigley, as he toils away on the Pirates....

But to the point - isn't it the same with everybody this spring? If the starting pitching works out, they'll be fine? For some reason, I simply don't remember this being the over-riding question with every single team the last few years. (Maybe it's just me.)

Dave Duncan has long had a reputation of being able to help veteran pitchers take a step forward, or develop something new that saves their career or takes them to a new level. (His record isn't nearly as impressive with young pitchers, of course.) And you have to figure that by not giving any starts at all to Marquis, the Cards have improved themselves, regardless of how Wainwright or Reyes or Looper actually pitch.

Mike Green - Friday, March 09 2007 @ 11:12 AM EST (#164204) #
Newton, my feeling about Carpenter is simply that he's had 3 seasons of good health and with his injury history, there's no reason to believe that he will be especially healthy.

I say the same thing about Halladay and Burnett.  It's unlikely that both will be healthy all season.  If they get 220 innings from one and 160 from the other, they will have done well.


Newton - Friday, March 09 2007 @ 12:31 PM EST (#164206) #

Hopefully the cumulative effect of the numerous optimistic projections will be several down to the wire divisional races.  I'll cross my fingers and hope the AL EAST is one of them.

The overall weakness of the NL Central and NL West, the divisions recently previewed, allow for plausible arguments to be made for many  individual teams to win their divisions.

Ah Springtime.  I've nearly perfected my wood repelling elixer and am booking my flight to FLA.  If I don't make it with this stuff I'll just sell it to Kenny Rogers.

 

Newton - Wednesday, April 11 2007 @ 02:35 PM EDT (#165568) #

Mike Green:  looks like your hunch was correct as Carp will miss the first few weeks with elbow related difficulties.  The Cards other starters have looked good so far but a season without Carpenter will make it very difficult for them to reach the post-season.

St. Louis Cardinals 2007 Preview: If It Ainít Broke | 7 comments | Create New Account
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