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Spring primer: St. Louis Cardinals

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer


The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series -- one of the most thrilling World Series' in a while, too -- but the 2012 club will look a bit more different than most defending champions. The manager is new (Mike Matheny, pictured above) and the superstar is gone. Also, an ace rejoins the rotation (Adam Wainwright, who missed 2011 after having Tommy John surgery in the spring) and Carlos Beltran's bat has been added to the order. And in the end, the more things change, the more they remain the same, as the Cardinals are expected to contend.

Major additions: OF Carlos Beltran
Major departures: 1B Albert Pujols, IF Nick Punto, IF Ryan Theriot, RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Octavio Dotel

Probable lineup
1. Rafael Furcal, SS
2. Jon Jay, CF
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Lance Berkman, 1B
5. Carlos Beltran, RF
6. David Freese, 3B
7. Yadier Molina, C
8. Tyler Greene, 2B

Probable rotation
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Chris Carpenter
3. Jaime Garcia
4. Kyle Lohse
5. Jake Westbrook

Back-end bullpen
Closer: Jason Motte
Set-up: Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski

Important bench players

IF-OF Allen Craig , IF-OF Skip Schumaker , IF Daniel Descalso

Prospect to watch
Shelby Miller is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher and is a consensus top-five prospect in all of baseball. And he might be ready to hit the bigs this season. In Double-A last year, Miller was 9-3 with a 2.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings (he didn't a full season there, because he started the year in High-A). Natural progression for the talented 21 year old would be to start in Triple-A. If he does well there for the first two months while, say, Jake Westbrook struggles, seeing Miller in the Cards' rotation down the stretch is realistic.

Fantasy sleeper: Tyler Greene
"Greene is the preseason favorite to win the starting job at second base, and he could prove to be a late bloomer. Like teammateAllen Craig, he has impressive minor league power numbers, but he's had to wait until his late 20s to get a chance at a regular role in the majors. Greene's ability to draw walks and steal bases has already translated to the majors during his limited time with the Cardinals. If he can deliver double-digit homer totals like he has in the minors, Greene will suddenly be in high demand in standard mixed leagues." - Al Melchior [Full Cardinals team fantasy preview]

Fantasy bust: Kyle Lohse
"Coming off a 2010 season marred by forearm surgery and a 6.55 ERA, expectations were low for Lohse entering last year. However, he emerged healthy and put together his best campaign in three seasons. With a 14-8 record, 3.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, Lohse became a staple in standard mixed leagues, but he is not a strong bet to repeat his success. Lohse benefited from opponents hitting just .191 against him on ground balls, but that mark is likely to rise, especially with subpar middle infield defense behind him. Despite what his 2011 stats might suggest, owners who draft Lohse in standard mixed leagues this year will likely regret their choice." - Al Melchior [Full Cardinals team fantasy preview]

Optimistic outlook
Good production from Beltran and Wainwright's return to the rotation mitigates losing Pujols' presence in the lineup. By playoff time, Miller has established himself as a dominant youngster and the Cardinals head into the World Series with not only a potent offense, but a dominant foursome atop the rotation (Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia, Miller). And we have our first repeat World Series Champions since the 2000 Yankees.

Pessimistic outlook
Age catches up with Berkman, Beltran and Carpenter. Holliday struggles in the role as focal point of the offense. Wainwright struggles to regain his form early in the season while Freese and Craig can't keep the magic they had in the postseason for a full campaign (remember, Freese has never played more than 93 games in a regular season). Meanwhile, Matheny has trouble pulling all the right strings and shows everyone just how valuable now-retired Tony La Russa was. And the Cardinals finish third, behind the Reds and Brewers.

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