Craig's running through big questions for each team, and here's the Cardinals:
- The big question: Is Albert Pujols' supporting cast good enough to help him win it all?
This isn't exactly a "big" question as much as it is the question that has been asked every single year of Pujols' career and must be asked until he retires and joins baseball Valhalla. That's just the way it goes with this guy on your roster: you don't obsess on the piece-by-piece of it all. You start with the assumption that the team is a strong contender because of Pujols and ask how strong. Cardinals fans probably have a better grasp of the nuances of this annual parlor game than I do, but from where I'm sitting it seems like a strong enough supporting cast to easily give them the division and to make a bit more noise in the postseason than they did last year.
I love the addition of Felipe Lopez. I was lukewarm on the Brad Penny signing when it happened, but smarter people than me convinced me that I was being a too pessimistic. He beats John Smoltz at any rate and will help take some of the sting away from the loss of Joel Pinero. None of the departures apart from Joel Piniero are huge losses and many (e.g. Rick Ankiel, Todd Wellemeyer) represent addition by subtraction. Several of the returning guys -- Yadier Molina, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Ludwick and Brendan Ryan -- can reasonably expect to be better in 2010 than they were in 2009.
The Cardinals weren't terribly busy this winter as most of their time was spent re-signing Matt Holliday, but no other NL Central team did much to improve itself. Between that, the strong rotation and Mr. Pujols anchoring things, the Cardinals are the closest thing to a lock there is to win their division in all of baseball.
That's dead right. The Phillies might still be the best team in the National League, but the Cardinals have the easiest path to the postseason. I haven't quite finished my projected standings, but right now I've got St. Louis finishing with a seven- or eight-game lead, with nobody else doing better than three or four (Phillies over the Braves).
Yes, everything blows up in August. Well, many things. The Cardinals might win 84 games and finish two behind the Reds (or whoever). But the Cardinals are one of those teams -- and there are a bunch of them -- about whom the models agree: they're going to win roughly 90 games, and nobody else in the division is a good bet to finish much above .500.