Now that St. Louis Cardinals fans have opened their 2011 World Series championship Christmas gifts and the calendar has turned to 2012, it’s time to start anticipating the beginning of a new season.
The Cardinals have already made most of their offseason moves by keeping Rafeal Furcal and Skip Schumaker, signing Carlos Beltran and not signing Albert Pujols. With the lineup and rotation pretty much set, now Cardinals fans can start asking the annual questions of how good the team will be during the upcoming season.
The 2012 Cardinals will look a lot better on paper than a lot of defending World Series champion teams. Most of those teams have geared up for a championship run for several years and have an aging nucleus by the time they win the World Series. Even the 2006 Cardinals were in a position where they couldn’t bring back many pieces of that team in 2007.
That’s not the case in 2012. Sure, the team lost the best baseball player and best manager of this generation, but, the rest of the team remains pretty well intact, especially considering Adam Wainwright will be back to lead the rotation after missing the entire 2011 season because of injury.
Not many defending championship teams are able to add a Cy Young Award winner to their staff the following year without having to dish out a major contract or trade away the entire minor league system.
Those types of moves often impair a franchise for several years after it goes for broke to win a championship. Even the New York Yankees struggled to maintain a minor league system that continually fed the big club with solid, young talent after their dynasty of the late 1990s.
So, the Cardinals look to be in a position where they will once again strongly contend for a playoff spot in 2012. The major question marks will be and whether or not the team will be able to score enough runs.
The offense carried the 2011 Cardinals for much of the season, but more responsibility immediately dropped on the pitching staff once Pujols left for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The pitchers are going to have to be excellent this year for the Cardinals to win a lot of games.
Had Pujols and manager Tony La Russa stayed, the Cardinals would’ve likely been huge favorites in the National League Central Division and maybe the entire National League, but the few changes they made are significant and leave the door open for doubt to creep inside.
The Cardinals spent most of the money they didn’t pay Pujols on Furcal, Schumaker and Beltran. Unfortunately, those three players combined might not generate the same offensive production Pujols did by himself. That means the Cardinals’ starting pitching will have to be dominant at times, the defense will have to be vastly improved and the team will have to be more creative in baserunning situations.
The 2011 Cardinals were built from the batter’s box, but the 2012 Cardinals will likely have to win with pitching and defense.