The Cardinals look pretty good on paper. But there’s a reason they
actually play the games. Here are what I see as the top five questions
surrounding Cardinals at the start of spring training:
1) Is David Freese the real deal? Following a lost 2009 season thanks to an ankle injury, Freese raised
a lot of eyebrows by getting busted for drinking and driving. It seemed
like a lotof fans were ready and willing to write him off. But the
Redbirds say Freese is dedicated to making amends for his
transgressions -- and to getting in fantastic shape to playbaseball.
New hitting coach Mark McGwire has raved about Freese’s performance
in drills. But there is a big difference between hitting during batting
practice and facing off with a major league pitcher in a game.
2) Can the starting pitching hold up? The Cardinals starters have a chance to be the team’s best starting
fivesome since 2005 with a pair of guys (Adam Wainwright and Chris
Carpenter) who finished last season in the top three for the Cy Young
Award. They have Brad Penny who has the stuff to compete for the Cy
Young himself and Kyle Lohse could be the best fourth starter in the
National League if he pitches like he did in 2008.But those four have
all spent significant time on the disabled list at some point over the
last two seasons. Meanwhile, the top candidate for the fifth slot
in the rotation, Kyle McClellan, has had trouble getting worn down
late in the season -- and that was when he was in the bullpen.
If they can stay healthy, the Cardinals have a great rotation. If they
can’t there is little depth in the system to plug the holes.
3) Will Colby Rasmus suffer through a sophomore slump? Rasmus was streaky but generally impressive in his rookie season. He
struggled against lefties but says he is confident that it was a fluke and
that he can hit better against southpaws in the majors as he did
previously in the minors. I hope he can.But baseball is a game of
making adjustments and major league pitchers have had a year to
pick apart his swing. The Cardinals are counting on Rasmus to
provide cheap production in centerfield to help the team afford the
pricey contracts of Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols because there is no
other experienced centerfielder on the roster except for starting second
baseman Skip Schumaker.
4) What about the bullpen?I don’t want to waste more than one question on the pen men. But
this aspect of the Cardinals roster is capable of launching more than
its fair share of uncertainty. Closer Ryan Franklin was bulletproof
in the first half of 2009, but raised a lot of eyebrows late in the
season when he was hit hard an often. Will Franklin be able to
straighten himself out in 2010? If Kyle McClellan is in the rotation,
who will pitch in the eighth inning? Will Jason Motte graduate from
being a thrower into being a pitcher? Can Josh Kinney return to his
2006, pre-injury form?
5) Will Brendan Ryan hold onto his job as the starting
shortstop? After several seasons riding the Memphis Shuttle back
and forth to the minors, Ryan finally got a real chance to show
what he could do last season thanks to the KhalilGreene meltdown.
But it’s no secret the manic Ryan grates onmanager Tony La Russa.
It didn’t help that he waited to have his wrist fixed until right
before the start of spring training putting his availability for the
start of the season in question. If Ryan’s wrist prevents him from
being able to hit at a decent level, the Cardinals could be in some
big trouble in the middle of the infield. The Redbirds count on
tough defense up the middle and former shortstop Julio Lugo
doesn’t really have the range anymore to play short at a high