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2006 St Louis Cardinals Baseball Preview

St Louis Cardinals Predictions – NL CENTRAL

OVERVIEW:

The cards should be the team to beat in the NL Central. They’re solid on the mound and at the plate; plus they still have Tony LaRussa.

PITCHING:

The staff had the lowest ERA (3.49) in the league but allowed hitters a .257 batting average, sixth in the NL. Four of the club’s starting five had double digit win seasons. Chris Carpenter (21-5, 2.83 ERA) has the handle on a great fast ball and throws a sharp curve that freezes hitters.

Lefty Mark Mulder (16-8, 3.64 ERA) and righty Jeff Suppan (16-10, 3.57 ERA) are both solid starters, while Jason Marquis (13-14, 4.13 ERA) needs to keep his control in check to have a better win-loss ratio.

Sidney Ponson, the former troubled Oriole, can be a great fifth starter if he can get his act together.

Closer Jason Isringhausen (39 SV, 2.14 ERA) is a seasoned competitor who can fall prey to injury. The Cards need this big game guy to stay healthy.

HITTING:

Albert Pujols-- doesn’t that just say it all? Last season he hit .330, scoring 129 runs, knocking 41 homers and driving in 117 runs. This premiere player also earned 97 walks while striking out 65 times.

He’s supported by leadoff man David Eckstein (.294 BA) and Juan Encarnacion (.287 BA). Jim Edmunds provides home run punch for the Cards; he put 29 balls over the fence in 2005.

Bigbie, Rolen and Spivey will need to contribute this year.

DEFENSE:

Although St. Louis is a middle of the road team when it comes to fielding (.984 FP, 100 errors), they certainly have some sound players. Of course, Pujols is more than sound; the first baseman is perhaps the best at his position. At short, Eckstein has made improvements in his throwing.

Scott Rolen plays a mean third but Junior Spivey is inconsistent at second.

In the outfield, Edmonds, an eight-time Gold Glover, is simply one of the best.

MANAGER AND FRONT OFFICE:

* Tony LaRussa-- 2,214 wins and counting.
* GM Walt Jocketty had a tight budget in the off-season but did well filling gaps.
* Expert pitching coach Dave Duncan is La Russa’s longtime shadow-- which is good for all concerned.

INTANGIBLES AND/OR OTHER STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES:

* New guys Bigbie and Encarnacion must replace offense of Larry Walker and Reggie sanders.
* The offense lives and dies by Pujols-- that can be a problem.
* New Bush Stadium equals greater than usual expectations.

CONCLUSION:

If the cards don’t win their division, it will astound just about everyone. They’ve got a fine pitching staff and a hands on, intelligent manager. The one concern should be putting so much on superstar Pujols. With him on the field and in the lineup, they are extraordinary; without him they are a bit over average.

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