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2007 St. Louis Cardinals Team Preview

by Keith Glab,
March 2, 2007

2006 Record: 83-78 (First Place AL East Division)
2006 Runs Scored: 781
2006 Runs Allowed: 762
Pythagorean 2006 Record: 82-79

The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals will go down in history as the worst team to have ever won the World Series.  Between 83 wins and losing four-fifths of their starting rotation, the 2007 version is going to become a popular pick to collapse this year.  People are going to forget that this is still the National League's winningest team over the past three seasons, and that they have made the postseason in six of the past seven years.

People won't forget that the Cardinals have the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols, or that they have a bona fide ace in Chris Carpenter.  But after them and Rolen, the rest of the team won't be good enough to compete, they'll argue.  This won't be the first time people have made that argument, however.  Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan just have a knack for getting a lot out of average players.  There is no reason to think this should change in 2007.

2006 Starter -
Yadier Molina
Projected 2007 Starter -

Molina makes the same defensive contributions as Ivan Rodriguez did in his prime.  If only he could hit worth a lick.  The Cardinals need to find a better backup than Gary Bennett, who has no discernable value on either side of the ball.

First Base
2006 Starter -
Albert Pujols
Projected 2007 Starter -

You could make a convincing argument that Albert has been the second best hitter in baseball for four straight seasons now.  It's not terribly exciting to predict how good Pujols will be, but pools should start up on which player (gotta be from the NL) will have a better offensive season this year.  The Cardinals could see a significant improvement simply from having Pujols make a dozen more starts this season.

Second Base
2006 Starters -
Hector Luna, Aaron Miles, Rafael Belliard
Projected 2007 Starter -
Adam Kennedy

By my count, Adam Kennedy will become the 712th Cardinals second baseman since 2003.  He's standard fare: very good defensively, good enough offensively.  He does come equipped with a couple advantages over second basemen past.  In a right-hand dominated lineup, Kennedy's left handed bat is most welcome.  He should also have a prior chemistry with former teammate David Eckstein, which should help with things like covering second on stolen base attempts and feeds on double plays.

Third Base
2006 Starter -
Scott Rolen
Projected 2007 Starter -

Can you believe that after Rolen hit .421 with four extra base hits during the World Series, people are still talking about whether he and LaRussa are on good terms? Who cares?  Apparently, the clubhouse chemistry was good enough for Rolen to succeed and for that average team to win a World Series.

Anyway, Rolen should still have a few good offensive seasons left before he hits the third baseman's wall.  Defensively, he remains as good as it gets.      

2006 Starter -
David Eckstein
Projected 2007 Starter -

Eckstein appears to have lost a step, which could prove deadly to a player who relies so much on his hustle.  On the other hand, he had nagging injuries to his hamstring and oblique muscles which may have been responsible for the decline in speed.  If they weren't the culprits, the team might well lead off with Kennedy instead.  Eckstein's still solid on defense, even if he looks a little funky out there.

2006 -
Scott Spiezio, Luna
2007 -
Spiezio, Miles

Scott Speizio was one of the most valuable utility men in baseball last year.  As long as he keeps his Samsonian beard thing, expect that to continue.  Only two names are listed here, but a Tony LaRussa-led team will essentially feature Pujols, Rolen, Edmonds, and a dozen utility players.

2006 Starters -
Jim Edmonds, Juan Encarnacion, Chris Duncan, So Taguchi, John Rodriguez
Projected 2007 Starters -
Edmonds, Encarnacion, Duncan, Taguchi, Rodriguez, Preston Wilson

This is a classic example of quantity being favored over quality.  However, if there's a manager out there who can make that formula work, it's Tony LaRussa.  Chris Duncan really isn't that outstanding of a hitter, but he puts up great numbers because he is not asked to hit against southpaws (he hit .233 against them in 90 Triple-A at bats in '05).  So Taguchi isn't much of a hitter, but he gets brought in for defense regularly, and is useful in that capacity.  Juan Encarnacion and Preston Wilson... well, they're just not very good players.  John Rodriguez remains an excellent hitter who is underutilized, while Jim Edmonds remains a good player when healthy, but that's where the quantity becomes relevant again.

Top of the Rotation
2006 Starters -
Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis
Projected 2007 Starters -
Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kip Wells 

It's difficult to believe, but Carpenter, Suppan, and Marquis were the only three pitchers on the 2006 Cardinals who threw more than 100 innings.  The Redbirds could very well be the only World Series winner to have that distinction.  What's more, the ballclub would have undoubtedly been much better off had Marquis not pitched any of his 194.3 innings of 6.02 ERA-ball.

Kip Wells becomes Dave Duncan's special project of the year.  Last year, he failed with Sidney Ponson and had mixed success with Jeff Weaver, so he might be due for another Chris Carpenter-style success.  Speaking of Carpenter, he is now legitimately one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball after yet another dominant season. 

After putting together season after season of great years as a minor league starter, Adam Wainwright proved the most important reliever on the World Champion 2006 club.  Expect him to succeed once again as a starter. 

Bottom of the Rotation
2006 Cast -
Anthony Reyes, Mark Mulder, Jeff Weaver, Sidney Ponson
Possible 2007 Options -
Reyes, Braden Looper, Ryan Franklin, Chris Narveson, Josh Kinney

Anthony Reyes is poised for a breakout year; he had a few unhittable starts last year, and inconsistency is forgivable for a 24-year old rookie pitcher.  The race for 5th starter is one that the Cardinals will ultimately lose, but it's still hard to see the back end of the rotation look as bad as it did last season.  If Mulder comes back healthy and effective in July, he will provide a big boost.

2006 Mainstays -
Jason Isringhausen, Wainwright, Looper, Josh Hancock
Probable 2007 Bullpen -
Izzy, Russ Springer, Hancock, Ricardo Rincon

Naturally, the biggest problem with moving Wainwright and Looper into the rotation is that it weakens the bullpen.  But Springer can step in for Looper, and Rincon does give them a serious lefty specialist if he's healthy.  No one is going to surprise with the kind of season that Wainwright had, but it is also very hard to imagine Izzy blowing 10 saves again this year.

Final Word

The Cardinals should have a stronger rotation this year almost by default.  Their lineup will improve if Pujols and Edmonds remain healthy this time around.  The bullpen could be a hair worse, but that's an easy area to bolster at the trade deadline.  90 wins seems like a reasonable expectation for this squad.

Is that still enough to win the NL Central?  Probably so.  The most improved teams in the Midwest are the ones who fared the worst in 2006, so it's hard to imagine any other competitor winning more than 85 games.  I'm not happy about it, but the Cardinals will win the Central for the fourth year in a row. 

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