Listen to our latest Fantasy Baseball Podcast!
As late as Aug. 13 last year, the Cardinals were in sole possession of first place, but a 21-27 record down the stretch spoiled an otherwise promising season.
Starting pitching, which had been a strength for most of the season, was unreliable over the final weeks, as even aces Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter went through rough stretches. The lineup, featuring fearsome Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday in the middle of the order, held up its end of the bargain throughout the year. Pujols didn't quite meet his usual standards of production, but he still finished second in the National League in OPS with a 1.011 mark, just behind Joey Votto. Holliday, in his first full season in St. Louis, chipped in with a .312 batting average, 28 home runs and 103 RBI.
With the signing of Lance Berkman to handle right field as the team's major offseason move, the Cardinals are hoping that the squad that finished five games off the Reds' pace in the NL Central last year can get them back into the postseason in 2011. They do get a minor offensive upgrade at shortstop, replacing Brendan Ryan with Ryan Theriot, but otherwise, the Cardinals will rely on improved health and statistical rebounds to work their way back to a playoff berth. The team will look to have third baseman David Freese and fifth starter Kyle Lohse around for a full season as they recover from injuries. Skip Schumaker will try to jump start the offense from the top of the order, attempting to bounce back from a down year, and Yadier Molina will also hope to rebound from a low on-base percentage (.329).
Perhaps the X-factor for the Cardinals is 24-year-old Colby Rasmus, who improved vastly over his 2009 rookie season, but suffered from inconsistency and a tumultuous relationship with manager Tony LaRussa. With another step forward, Rasmus could give the Cardinals a formidable bat to further protect Pujols and Holliday in the batting order.
One thing LaRussa won't have to worry about is his bullpen. Closer Ryan Franklin has been a steady ninth-inning presence over the last three seasons but should he falter, they have good fallback options in Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan and Mitchell Boggs.
With Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright and Carpenter, the Cardinals don't lack for high-end Fantasy talent, but they have plenty of good complementary pieces, too. The ability of players like Berkman, Molina and Rasmus to play to their potential is critical to St. Louis' success this season, and it could be for many Fantasy owners as well.
Sleeper ... Jaime Garcia, SP
After sneaking his way into the fifth starter's spot in spring training last year, no one could have been more of a sleeper than Rookie of the Year candidate Garcia. This year he is more of a known quantity, but the lefty could still surprise many owners. Pitching coach Dave Duncan loves ground ball pitchers, and Garcia is a good one. He not only avoids the long ball, but he is a better bat-misser than other groundballers like Tim Hudson and Trevor Cahill. Garcia finished sixth in the majors in ERA (2.70) last season, but contrary to the perception of many, Garcia could have many more ERA leaderboard appearances in his future. He could perform like a No. 3 Fantasy starter in mixed leagues, but because more than a few owners will expect a serious dropoff, you can draft him later.
Get the latest news and analysis from the most informed Fantasy staff in the industry by following us on Twitter and Facebook.
Breakout ... David Freese, 3B
With just four homers in 240 at-bats, Freese's rookie season power output was a disappointment. After all, this was the same player who knocked 26 taters in his first season at Triple-A after having been skipped over Double-A. Last year he had surgery on both ankles, which have bothered him over the past two seasons. He is expected to be ready for the start of the season, and he still has the potential to deliver around 20 home runs with a batting average near last season's .296. That's solid mixed-league production, but he is likely to be available in the late rounds.
Bust ... Ryan Theriot, SS
That whistling noise you hear is the sound of Theriot's on-base percentage falling off a cliff. After completing the 2008 season with a .387 mark, he has finished the last two years at .343 and .321. His batting average has dropped along with his line drive rate, and he has also become less patient, drawing fewer walks. In spite of making fewer visits to the basepaths, Theriot has maintained his status as a 20-steal threat, but without a better batting average and on-base percentage, that isn't enough to make him rosterable in standard mixed leagues, even in Rotisserie formats.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Skip Schumaker||2B||1||Adam Wainwright||RH|
|2||Ryan Theriot||SS||2||Chris Carpenter||RH|
|3||Albert Pujols||1B||3||Jaime Garcia||LH|
|4||Matt Holliday||LF||4||Jake Westbrook||RH|
|5||Colby Rasmus||CF||5||Kyle Lohse||RH|
|6||Lance Berkman||RF||Alt||Miguel Batista||RH|
|7||Yadier Molina||C|| |
|8||David Freese||3B||CL||Ryan Franklin||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Jason Motte||RH|
|R||Allen Craig||OF||RP||Kyle McClellan||RH|
|R||Jim Edmonds||OF||RP||Trever Miller||LH|
|R||Nick Punto||3B/SS||RP||Mitchell Boggs||RH|
|1||Shelby Miller||20||SP||Class A||Double-A|
|Zipped through the Midwest League with few problems, but won't get to St. Louis until next year at the earliest.|
|2|| ||21||3B||Rookie||Class A|
|2010 first-rounder held his own in the Arizona Fall League. Gets his first real minor league test this year.|
|Struggled in his first tour of Triple-A, but still the team's best arm in the upper minors. Could debut in '11.|
|4||Carlos Martinez||19||SP||Rookie||Class A|
|Probably still at least two years away from the majors, but mid-90s fastball could speed his path.|
|Good contact hitter who should see some time in a utility role this year.|
|Best of the rest: Tyrell Jenkins, SP; Eduardo Sanchez, RP; Seth Blair, SP; Jordan Swaggerty, RP; Joe Kelly, RP; Matt Carpenter, 3B; Oscar Taveras, OF; Deryk Hooker, SP; Adam Reifer, RP; Cody Stanley, C; John Gast, SP; Tommy Pham, OF; Trevor Rosenthal, SP; Nick Longmire, OF; Blake King, RP; Bryan Anderson, C; Steven Hill, C; Daryl Jones, OF; and Robert Stock, C.|
Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.