As long as Albert Pujols is in the lineup – healthy or not – the Cardinals have a chance to win the NL Central.
That said, it’s not been much of an off season for St. Louis, a team that finished 10 games above .500 last season, but also 11.5 games behind Chicago.
Then again, maybe the winter doesn’t need to be a huge splash for St. Louis to win the NL Central?
Despite an injury plagued 2008 and an overall young roster, the Cards battled for more runs scored than allowed, found a hidden gem in OF Ryan Ludwick (37 HR, 113 RBIs) and managed to stay in the post season race until late in the season.
Besides, outside the Cubs, no team in the division has made a dramatic move this winter to merit itself contenders against mighty Chicago, which, leaves the door open again for St. Louis in 2009.
To this point the Cards’ big addition was trading for Kahlil Greene, a needed defensive hand at SS and above average hitter. Other than that, all’s quite on the Mid-Western front.
Yet, as with so many other clubs, the main question mark in St. Louis is its pitching.
Mark Mulder appears all but done and who knows what might happen with Chris Carpenter: return as a starter, return as a closer or return retired???
While the starting rotation is sufficient with Lohse, Looper and Wellemeyer, the bullpen is largely a group of unknowns: Chirs Perez, Royce Ring, Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte, Charlie Manning, Matt Scherer and Ian Ostlund…who???
And not surprisingly, no team blew more save opportunities than the Cardinals last season, not a good sign in this day-and-age of baseball where a strong bullpen is essential to winning.
With Albert all things are possible, but more realistically, if the Cards are thinking about catching the Cubs they’d better find a way to turn a schoty bunch of unknown hurlers into a group of house hold names.