Cardinals fans are confident that their team has the potential to successfully defend its 11th World Series championship in the rapidly approaching season.
But that doesn't mean the team is without uncertainty. The Redbirds must find the answers to the following 12 questions if they hope to make it 12 trophies in 2012:
1) Will Chris Carpenter's pitching arm hold up? Carpenter, who has a history of arm troubles, threw a ton of innings last year through the regular season and three rounds of playoffs. The Cardinals are taking it easy on him this spring, so they obviously think it is a concern. This team can't afford to lose its ace if it expects to compete.
2) Will David Freese finally make it through a season without a significant injury? He's averaged a little more than 60 games played a year in his three major league seasons. A broken hand limited Freese to 97 games last year. But the Cardinals need him to be the guy he was in the post-season, not the guy who has spent the majority of the last three years on the disabled list.
3) Does Lance Berkman have another All-Star type year left in the tank? Last season was his best in four years and the former Astros star isn't getting any younger... He seemed to fade as the year wore on. With Albert Pujols gone, Berkman is no longer expected to be a complimentary piece -- he is needed to be a top contributor.
4) How will the loss of Pujols -- not to mention his massive new contract -- effect Yadier Molina's play? Molina has never been a big money guy up to now. Hopefully he won't relax now that he's hit the baseball lotto. Fortunately, reports out of Camp Cardinals indicate that he's working as hard as ever to be in top form for the upcoming season. But sometimes money has a way of changing guys.
5) Is Jason Motte really the closer? Former manager Tony La Russa was reluctant to bestow the title of closer of Motte because he was afraid it would mess with his head. While Motte was very successful in the 2011 post season, he's never made it through the rigors of a long season before with that kind of pressure on his shoulders. In the past Motte has seemed to easily lose his confidence after a bad outing. He has to be more mentally tough than that this year or the St. Louis bullpen could find itself in chaos.
6) Will Adam Wainwright's surgically repaired elbow hold him back? Early reports are that Wainwright looks and feels great exactly one year after Tommy John surgery. But it is often the case that guys who have Tommy John struggle to regain their control. And, if all else goes well, they tend to wear down as the season goes on because their bodies aren't used to pitching 200 innings a year.
7) Will Carlos Beltran's knees let him be Carlos Beltran? Cardinals fans remember Beltran for two things -- being struck out by Wainwright to give the Redbirds a trip to the 2006 World Series and for becoming a one man wrecking crew in the 2004 playoffs against the Astros with a .435 batting average and eight homers against the Braves and Birds. Hopefully he'll be well enough to play every day and make St. Louis fans remember him for effectively replacing a large part of Pujols' lost production.
8) Has Tyler Greene finally arrived? This may be the 2005 first round draft choice's last choice's last chance to prove he isn't a bust. If he can hit well enough to justify a spot in the regular line-up, he would offer the team an element of speed it hasn't had in years. Plus he would offer the best potential as a glovesman. But he's shrunk too many times before to write his name into the batting order in pen.
9) How much does Rafael Furcal have left in the tank? Once one of the most exciting shortstops and lead-off men in the game, Furcal has had a hard time lately staying healthy and producing at the level to which he was accustomed. Hopefully he's put those problems behind him and he is ready to prove that it's the injuries and not his age that were responsible for the decline.
10) Who's the boss? With the loss of Pujols, former manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, the Cardinals could have a leadership vacuum in the clubhouse. Who will police the players and make sure that all the horses are pulling in the same direction? While this is a potential problem, it is also a potential opportunity. Pujols cast a long and foreboding shadow over the locker room. Maybe the team will benefit from creating some new room at the top.
11) How will Mike Matheny handle the transition from retired player to major league skipper? We know that the players and other coaches like Matheny. But do they really respect him? Only time will tell. Major league players respect results more than anything else. So here's to hoping he gets off to a good start.
12) How well will fans support the team after the loss of Pujols? It's easy to type in anonymous comments on the sports chat pages about how glad you are that the Cardinals didn't re-sign their best player in the last 50 years. But the team is most concerned about the fans that vote with their pocketbook. It's the tickets sold that drive major league teams. And the Cardinals' ability to add needed parts here and there will largely depend on how well people support the product.