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Today's Preview, the Cardinals, is a Pinch Hit. It was submitted by (and in fact, solicited from) frequent poster and notorious Durazo apologist Newton.

St. Louis: No Longer a Full House but Still a Winning Hand

Coming off an impressive 100 win season in 2005, the Cards' roster underwent significant turnover during the offseason. With three new positional regulars, a new member of the starting rotation, and a re-tooled bench and bullpen, can the Cards reach the century mark again in 2006? Let’s take a look, shall we.

Outgoing Cards: RHP Matt Morris, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Cal Eldred, LHP Ray King, OF Larry Walker, OF Reggie Sanders, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, UT John Mabry, IF Abraham Nunez, C Einar Diaz.

Incoming Cards: 2B Aaron Miles and OF Larry Bigbie (trade); C Gary Bennett, IF Deivi Cruz, LHP Ricardo Rincon, RHPs Braden Looper and Sidney Ponson and OF Juan Encarnacion (free agents); RHP Juan Mateo (Rule 5 Draft).

(The Cards move into new digs in 2006. I was unable to locate any definitive information relating to the dimensions of the new ball yard but given the ground ball propensities of their starting pitching and the power in the middle of their order, a park mildly conducive to power hitting should have been among the design objectives)

Projected Lineup

SS David Eckstein Bats R
The consummate bulldog, Eckstein admirably replaced Renteria in 2005 by matching a career best .358 OBP at the top of the lineup. Though his offensive production may decline in 2006 (expect an OBP in the .345 range), Eckstein shoulg remain a solid NL shortstop and a serviceable lead-off sparkplug.

2B Junior Spivey Bats R
Despite having only one full season of plate appearances on his resume Spivey has the inside track for the Cards starting job at second base and perhaps for the second spot in their lineup. Spivey has shown the offensive potential in the past to provide above average offence from second base and should match and potentially exceed the departed Grudzielanek’s .740 OPS of 2005. While Eckstein and Spivey are unlikely to be weaknesses relative to the production levels expected from middle infielders, it is likely that they will combine to provide production slightly below what one would expect from the top two spots in the batting order.

1B Albert Pujols Bats R
With both Barry Bonds’ hat size and plate appearances diminishing, Albert Pujols is a veritable lock to be the NL MVP in 2006. Here is a scary thought for NL Central also-rans: at some point in the next three seasons Albert Pujols will have his career season.

CF Jim Edmonds Bats L
Even at 35, Edmonds’ tremendous batting eye and reliable power make him the safest bet among all big league CF to post a .900 OPS. Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen constitute the best series of three hitters in any NL lineup and perhaps all of MLB (Rodriguez, Sheffield and Giambi/Matsui of the Yankees figure to be their only real competition).

3B Scott Rolen Bats R
If Rolen can return to historical form following the shoulder surgery that pre-empted his post-season, the Cards should enjoy a significant improvement at third base in 2006. The Cards essentially received a .700 range OPS at third in 2005: 1/3 of a season from a wounded, underachieving Rolen and 2/3 from the mediocre Abraham Nunez, who is now with the Phillies. While Rolen’s 2004 OPS of 1.004 will likely be his career best, a return to his career average production (.890 OPS) will go a long way toward mitigating the lost production from the outfield corners.

RF Juan Encarnacion Bats R
The Shea Hillenbrand of NL corner outfielders, Encarnacion is capable of providing league average offensive production at this position, barely. Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders, each of whom posted an OPS of .886 last season, will certainly be missed but the good news for the Cards is that Sanders and Walker only provided 700, or 60%, of the club’s corner outfield plate appearances last season. The drop off in regular season day-to-day production at these positions will not be as precipitous as it appears at first glance but it will be a factor. Once the playoffs arrive and the Cardinals won’t be able to rely on these two oft-banged-up veterans to play through their ailments du jour, however, the offensive loss will be more evident. LaRussa using below replacement level outfielders in the playoffs? Say it ain't So (Taguchi).

LF Larry Bigbie Bats L
Bigbie, a former first round pick of the Orioles, suffered through an achilles injury last season and posted horrendous stats in a half season’s worth of at bats. If he can return to his 2003/2004 form, in which he demonstrated a solid contact bat and decent eye, Bigbie has an outside shot at approaching an .800 OPS this season. If Bigbie falters Taguchi could see a significant share of at bats in this slot as he performed well as a replacement for each of Walker, Edmonds and Sanders at various points in 2005. Taguchi, however, has limited offensive upside.

C Yadier Sutter... errr Molina Bats R
Yadier, at 23 years old, is the youngest of the big league “Squatting Molina’s” and the possessor of perhaps the world’s largest collection of hand me down husky slacks. A fine defensive catcher, some project that Yadier will develop into the best of the Molina brothers. Given his age, Yadier should improve on his 2005 offensive numbers but expecting anything more than .260/.310/.380 in 2006 would be pushing it.


In addition to Taguchi, a versatile 4th OF capable of playing each OF position and providing decent offence, the Cardinals bench includes:

Victor Luna and Deivi Cruz, two right handed hitting utility infielders with decent pop and poor plate discipline;

Aaron Miles, a former Rockies prospect who is competing for the starting 2B base job and who bats left-handed (a scarce commodity in the Cards starting lineup);

Brian Daubach, the veteran left handed hitting 1b/OF and ostensible replacement for John Mabry. Daubach put up great numbers in AAA last year;

John Rodriguez, a left handed hitting OF who showed power and plate discipline at AAA last season and who posted an .818 OPS in 168 big league plate appearances; and

Gary Bennett, the projected backup catcher, represents an offensive black hole (but only slightly more so than the departed Einar Diaz). Catcher Michel Hernandez has an intriguing bat and might crack the lineup at some point this season. The vacancies left by Mabry, Nunez, and Diaz have all been filled by the Cards who can expect versatile production from their bench again this season.

Offence Summary

The top end production level of the Cards lineup has taken a significant hit with the loss of Walker and Sanders. Scott Rolen’s health will determine the extent to which the Cardinals offensive numbers decline in 2005 and an overall improvement is very unlikely. Despite the lost offensive depth the Cardinals, owing to the strength of their core sluggers, might very well remain the top overall offence in the NL next season once park effect (not that we know what that will be in the new park) is taken into account.

Starting Pitching

SP Chris Carpenter RHP
It pained me as a Jays fan to see Carpenter consistently dominate last season as he firmly established himself as a true ace with his 200 plus strikeouts and 4:1 K-BB ratio. As Carpenter tired towards the end of last season and as injury concerns will continue to surround him until he posts consecutive full seasons the Cards cannot expect a full duplication of 2005 but they can expect bona fide staff ace production when Carpenter is on the hill.

SP Mark Mulder LHP
Mulder’s strikeout rate declined in 2006 and he has yet to regain the command that made him one of the A’s exalted big three. If he does not soon show signs of returning to his 2001-2003 form, then what we have seen from 2004 to date is likely what the Cards can expect from Mulder going forward. That said, I am predicting a modest improvement in Mulder’s strikeout rate in 2006.

SP Jason Marquis RHP
While Marquis, 27, is still young his strikeout rate took a step back last season and he appears to have settled in as a solid number three or four hurler who will provide 200 IP, 120 K’s, a 4.00 range ERA and a WHIP of 1.30-1.40 year in, year out. Expect Marquis to recover some K’s in 2006 but to perform at approximately the same overall level as he did in 2005.

SP Jeff Suppan RHP
Suppan and Marquis are very similar with Suppan possessing a longer track record of proven serviceability. Suppan is a solid veteran who most big league clubs would be pleased to have as the fourth man in their respective rotations.

SP Anthony Reyes RHP and Sidney Ponson RHP
Reyes, 24, has done everything but throw some ribs on the barbeque to get the Cards salivating about his potential contributions in 2006: he struck out more than a batter per inning with a superb 4-1 K:BB ratio over 128.3 innings in AAA last season. He has demonstrable stuff (mid 90's heater, plus curve, plus change-up) consistent with his performance level, and he performed well in 13.3 big league innings toward the end of last season. Expect Reyes to provide the occasional gem and to be the Cardinals third best starting pitcher overall when he breaks into the rotation. Replacing Morris, who essentially falls into the Suppan/Marquis class of starting pitcher, with Reyes will not constitute a drop off and may result in an unexpected gain for the Cards. Ponson was an astute insurance pickup for the Cards and he should benefit from pitching in the NL.


The only certainty in the Cardinals bullpen is that Jason Isringhausen will be get the ball in the ninth inning and do a fine job.

Two key contributors from last years pen, RHP Julian Tavarez and LHP Ray King, have departed and are being replaced by RHP Brandon Looper and LHP Ricardo Rincon respectively. RHP Cal Eldred has retired from baseball.

Looper was just plain bad for the Mets in 2005, walking nearly as many as his struck out. He had the AC joint in his pitching shoulder cleaned out in October and the Cards are banking on a return to his 2003/04 form; if Looper does return to form he will still constitute a slight drop off from Tavarez and if he does not the loss of Tavarez will make the seventh and eigth innings much more interesting for Cards fans.

Randy Flores should be the teams top lefty out of the pen as he looks to build on an excellent 2005 and rebound from October elbow surgery. He struck out a batter per inning and posted a 1.21 WHIP last season over 41.3 IP and should be called upon more often this season with King’s departure. Rincon has essentially become a pure lefty specialist and cannot be relied upon versus righties.

If Reyes earns a spot in the starting rotation expect to see RHP Sidney Ponson utilized as a set up man, adding much needed depth to the Cards pen. Ponson should be able to fulfill a Cal Eldred type roll for the Cards as a power arm out of the pen.

RHP Brad Thompson pitched well for the Cardinals in 2005, inducing many ground balls and possessing solid control.

RHP Juan Mateo, a rule 5 draft pickup, has posted excellent strikeout rates and fine K:BB ratios in the low minors but should not be counted on for consistent work out of the pen this season.

Pitching Summary
Assuming the relative health of their starters the Cards can expect to continue receiving excellent starting pitching in 2006. Any decline from Carpenter should be offset by an improved Mulder and Reyes/Ponson should match and potentially better the contribution made by Morris last season.

The bullpen has lost 3 significant contributors and barring the re-emergence of Brandon Looper and the transformation of Sidney Ponson from enigmatic starter to dominant setup man the Cardinals bullpen will not remain among the NL’s elite. A regression toward the mean is probable.


As the offence and bullpen have both lost quality depth this team will experience a four to eight win decline. Given that the Astros are likely to regress from their 89 wins in 2005 the Cards remain the team most likely to win their division in all of Major League Baseball. The 2006 manifestation of the Cards are perhaps baseball’s safest playoff bet, but I would not bet on them breaking through and winning a World Series with this lineup.

PREDICTION: 94 Wins, first place in the NL Central.

St. Louis Cardinals 2006 Preview | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Friday, March 03 2006 @ 01:35 PM EST (#141822) #
Nicely done, Newton. Thanks.

If you accept the lineup construction suggested in "The Book", Edmonds, Rolen and Pujols should bat in the #1, #2, and #4 slots in the order, with the pitcher batting eighth (except for Jason Marquis who hits well enough to bat ninth!). MGL is rumoured to consult for the Cards, but I somehow doubt that they'll be trying this any time soon.

Juan Encarnacion's defensive statistics last year were vile. I do not know if they are accurate; problems have routinely been seen with rightfielders across many different systems for reasons that I do not understand.

I agree that the Cards should win more than 90 again, and are the clear favourite in the division, and in fact, to make another trip to the World Series to face a stronger opponent again.
Glevin - Friday, March 03 2006 @ 10:40 PM EST (#141837) #
I have a bad feeling about the Cardinals this year mostly because their lineup is horrible. They have three great (two of whom are injury-prone) hitters and a weak lineup around that. I don't think they are a particalarly great team, but they could still win if other teams in the division have problems. (Clemens not returning, Prior being hurt, etc...)
Cristian - Friday, March 03 2006 @ 11:15 PM EST (#141838) #
That's an underwhelming outfield. Just imagine how bad it'll be if Father Time catches up with Jim Edmonds. Most pundits have the Cardinals as the clear leaders in this division but I'm not so sure. I know Milwaukee is a trendy pick for 2007 but I like them this year if Sheets can stay healthy. I also don't think the Astros, Reds, or Pirates (yes, the Pirates) should be discounted. The Cubs suck though.
eeleye - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 01:47 AM EST (#141849) #
Predictions (you'll go back to these when season is over and see I was dead right on every division he he he):

1. St. Louis (92-70)
2. Miluakee (86-76) - wild card will go to NL East
3. Houston (85-77)
4. Cubs (82-80)
5. Pirates (73-89)
6. Cincinatti (67-95)
Gerry - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 09:37 AM EST (#141854) #
Good job, Newton.
St. Louis Cardinals 2006 Preview | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.