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The five biggest Cardinals questions of 2012

Cardinals biggest questions for 2012:

5) Will Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran be the core of the Cardinals lineup that the club is counting on them to be? When the Birds inked Matt Holliday two off-seasons ago to a seven-year deal it was to be best supporting actor. Now, with Albert Pujols moving to Anaheim for something other than the money, like it or not, Holliday is the foundation of the Cardinals. The question is how will he handle it? Holliday has never been the top banana before. He's always had Pujols or Todd Helton -- except when he was in Oakland which was the biggest struggle of his career -- to do the heavy lifting. Holliday has shown flashes of brilliance. But he's been unable to put it together for a full season since he signed with the Cardinals. St. Louis needs him to be that .320-hitting, 25-homer guy he was before he got the big contract. Berkman had a career renaissance in 2011 when it seemed like a lot of people thought he was done. Not only do the Redbirds need him to do it again. They need Beltran to turn in a similar performance. I'm not sure what the odds are that all three will have great seasons. But two of them better or the Cardinals could be in big trouble.

4) Will the starting rotation hold up? The Cardinals have what appears to be a pretty darn good rotation -- at least on paper. But it doesn't exactly have the best health history. Adam Wainwright is coming off Tommy John surgery. Chris Carpenter threw a ton of innings in 2011 -- and rumors cropped up during the playoffs that his elbow was giving him trouble. Kyle Lohse has pitched one healthy season in the last three. Even if his arm is sound I wonder if he's going to be able to bounce back from the first season in which his arm was heavily taxed since 2008.

3) Who is Allen Craig? It seemed at the end of the post season that some people didn't think the Cardinals needed to worry about re-signing Pujols because Craig was going to drop right in the three hole of the batting order and hit .325 with 40 homers. Nevermind that he has about half a season worth of at bats over two years of MLB play. It bothers me that Craig was unable to stick in the big leagues before now. While everyone in Cardinals Nation drooled over Brett Wallace -- who put up similar numbers to Craig in the minors -- no one seemed to think of Wallace as much more than a bench bat before now. I love how one minute people on the chat boards mock people who suggested another team would give the Redbirds a broken down reliever for Craig -- then the next the guy is the next Babe Ruth. I'm glad the Cardinals signed Berkman so Craig can have a chance to prove what he can do -- without being relied on to be a major contributor.

2) How quick will Mike Matheny learn on the job? One of the reasons I cringed when the Cardinals named Matheny mangager was that he is such an unknown quantity as a tactician. Matheny is a super guy. Loyal, honest, hard working. I get it. But can he outwit the skippers of other MLB teams that would like to take away the Birds' shiny trophy? Can he bring the locker room together and command respect as a leader? I'm not saying he can't. But he hasn't done it before. And if things start off bad I am afraid the questions will start to fly.

1) Is there any chance that David Freese will make it through a season healthy? I hear a lot of people talk about the St. Louis third baseman as if he flipped a switch and became a sure-fire hall of famer during the playoffs last year. But -- while it's not his fault -- Freese hasn't been able to play more than half a season in any of his three years in the majors. If he's not in the game, how can he be counted on as a key contributor? And even if Freese is healthy, has he suddenly found his power stroke or were the dramatic homers he hit last October flukes? He hasn't put up the sort of power one might usually expect from a corner infielder. It would be nice to see that he's got the pop to hit . 285 or better with 20 or more homers to provide some thump in the lower part of the batting order. Then the Birds wouldn't have to count on the big guns in the middle so much.