I think the Cardinals have a very realistic shot at winning the World Series once again in 2012 but there are a lot of different variables that will come into play in order of that to happen.  The Cardinals are a completely different team than they were a year ago, a new manager, pitching coach, first baseman, middle infield, and bullpen which will all impact the Cardinals in positive ways in my opinion, but there is also a lot of risks. Matheny has never managed a professional sports game, most of the players have scary injury histories, and there are a few unproven players that could get everyday playing time. So it won’t be that easy to win it all again, but it can be done and here is how it has to be in order for the Cardinals to have success in 2012:

Staying healthy:

Photo Credit: Chris Lee St. Louis Post Dispatch

In what may be the biggest key of all to the Cardinals success, the players have to stay healthy. Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal, Lance Berkman, David Freese, and Allen Craig are all very injury proned and have struggled to stay in the lineup in the past few seasons.  Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Holliday also have dealt with injuries in the past few years and all of which will play a major role in the 2012 team. The Cardinals have a lot of money slated to Beltran, Furcal, Berkman, Carp, Waino, and Holliday and they cannot afford to lose any of these players for an extended amount of time. Craig and Freese are both entering their prime and both are coming off of HUGE post-seasons in which they made their names household. If they can stay healthy and stay in the line-up along with the veterans the Cardinals will have one of the greatest lineups in all of baseball.

Production from Veteran players:

Chris Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Rafael Furcal, Lance Berkman, and Carlos Beltran are all slated to be team leaders and all of them are out of their prime and nearing the end of their careers the exception being Matt Holliday who is only 32 and still has a few good years left. Beltran and Furcal both signed pretty heft deals with the Cardinals this off-season and I think that both of them if healthy will be big contributors to the team next year and we need that from them. Now I’m not expecting Beltran to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100, but I do expect somewhere in the range of 20-25 HR and 75-85 RBI while batting above .280.  As for Furcal I am hoping he can manage to hit over .270, hit 5-10 HR, and drive in somewhere between 40-50 RBI if not more.  Berkman is another question mark, he signed one of the best deals in franchise history last year only 8 million, as the Cardinals took a big risk on the aging player who many teams saw as just a DH who at best could hit 20 HR, but instead he proved everyone wrong and he hit .301, 31 HR, and 94 RBI and was the Cardinals MVP last year for the regular season. If he can have anywhere near that production the Cardinals will be fine with him at first, but if he hits like the Berkman of 2010 the Cardinals might be in some trouble. As for Carpenter and Holliday I think both will have monster years, I am expecting big production from both of them and I don’t think they will be much of a problem but Carpenter had a massive innings load last season and Holliday struggled to stay healthy all year battling strange ailments.

Young players playing to potential: 

Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, David Freese, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and Jaime Garcia will all have major roles on the Cardinals and all of them are still young in their MLB careers.  Freese and Craig immortalized themselves in the post season, Greene has became a master at AAA, Descalso and Jay are gritty players who instantly became fan favorites, and Jaime Garcia has amazing stuff  and potential and may very well be a future Ace. If these players can play like they are capable the Cardinals will run away with the Central, Freese has great hitting ability and opposite field power. Craig has tremendous power and hitting ability and Jay can be an above average fielder and a decent hitter. Descalso is a decent fielder who may be able to bat in the upper .200’s and drive in some runs. Tyler Greene is an athlete and if he can play like he did in the minors he will bat .300+ and have some pop as well. Jaime Garcia has 20 win game ability, he can pitch shutouts, and strikeout batters but his emotions have gotten the best of him and we saw a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performance from Garcia last season he threw two hitters, and let up 12 runs, if he can stay with his true potential Garcia could be an All Star or even a Cy young contender. Freese and Craig could be future All Stars and MVP’s for the Cardinals if they can stay healthy and play like they are capable of.

The Return of Adam Wainwright:

Photo Credit: Associated Press

If you were to have told me that the Cardinals would win the World Series without Adam Wainwright last season I would have laughed at you and called you crazy, but they did it. And now Wainwright will be back in the rotation, but there are still several unanswered questions that only time will tell. Will he be back to normal form in 2012? Will he be on short leash, or can he go full throttle? Will he still have his nasty curve? Will he have an innings cap? Well these questions will all be answered in due time, but it has been statistically proven that some players come back even stronger after Tommy John take a look at teammates Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia for instance, but on the other hand some players become total duds after the surgery look at team mate Jake Westbrook.  Either way the return of Wainwright makes the rotation that much stronger and the rotation was one of the biggest weaknesses in 2011 for the Cardinals.  With a healthy Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia, Lohse, and I guess Jake Westbrook the team will have a much stronger rotation and also the pressure that was on Carpenter and Garcia to perform will be gone which may make them stronger as well.

The bullpen staying strong:

Without the bullpen in the post season the Cardinals would have lost early on. The younger and more effective bullpen at the end of the season versus the opening day pen made all the difference in the teams eventual World Championship. With effective young players like Eduardo Sanchez, Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas, and Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen (all of which were not on the opening day roster last year) as well as veteran guys like Kyle McClellan, J.C. Romero, Scott Linebrink, and closer Jason Motte the Cardinals will be much better off than they were a year ago with guys like Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, Brian Tallet, Trever Miller, and Bryan Augenstein. Also, with Motte knowing his role on the team I think he will be even better than he was last season where he bounced around as set up guy, middle relief, and eventually the non closer ninth inning man.

Yadi leading the team and becoming the franchise player: 

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

With Albert and TLR gone it is time for a new player to take over as the franchise icon and I think it could very well be Yadier Molina. Molina is one of the best catchers in the game and one of the best defensive catchers in the history of the game, he is still pretty young, and he is coming off of his best offensive season to date. But he is also entering a contract year and the loss of his good friend Pujols has many fans raising their eyebrows in suspicion that Yadi may also leave the club. With Molina not going to the Winter Warmup for the second consecutive season and with him not being very verbal since the Cardinals won the World Series, this has me questioning his faith as well. I love Molina he is my favorite player and he will be as long as he is a Cardinal, I think in many ways he is more of a Cardinal than Pujols ever was, and I think it will hurt more to lose Molina. He is an All Star, a gold glover, and his offense keeps improving each year, which makes him one of the most valuable players in the game. He is also noted as being one of the best catchers at calling a game as well as fielding it, he is a smart player a lot like his new manager Mike Matheny and as long as he plays his heart out and plays like he is capable of the Cardinals will be fine.

 

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About The Author

I've loved the Cardinals for as long as I can remember, and always will.