Monday, September 13, 2010

Wait Til Next Year- St. Louis Cardinals

Think back to August 11, just about one month ago. Brandon Phillips had been quoted as having some less than nice things to say about St. Louis, sparking a brawl between the Cards and Phillips’ Reds. The teams then completed a three game series, which the Cardinals swept in Cincy. With all the momentum, St. Louis looked ready to take the upper hand in this close race and cruise to a division title with a strong final month and a half.

Instead, everything went wrong for the Cardinals. Since the end of that series in Cincy, they’ve managed only a 10-18 record, effectively removing themselves from the NL Central race. Meanwhile, the Reds have gone 17-11. Although I predicted that St. Louis would take this division on the strength of their strong rotation, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter will be making October tee times rather than October starts.

However, all’s not lost for the Cardinals. St. Louis fans should look forward to a strong 2011 campaign. There’s a lot for Cardinals fans to be excited about.

First of all, rookie starter Jaime Garcia has come on in a way no one could have expected. Some combination of Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan’s magic dust and Garcia’s four above-average pitches have allowed him to become one of the best third starters in the NL (I’d say Matt Cain, but I’m pretty biased), following up the Carpenter-Wainwright one-two punch. Garcia, still only 24, has excelled in this role. His 2.69 ERA is certainly luck-aided, but a 3.45 FIP from a rookie with room to grow is certainly nothing to scoff at. Expect the southpaw to continue as a strong member in what should be one of the best rotations in baseball in 2011.

Second, and probably more importantly, expect a resurgence from Albert Pujols. The best hitter in the game has had an off year, if you can consider 6.2 WAR in the middle of September an off-year. Pujols is a virtual lock to finish with his lowest WAR season since his sophomore campaign in 2002. After a unanimous NL MVP selection in 2009, Pujols is now 5th in the NL in WAR this year. He hasn’t finished lower than 3rd best in the league since 2003. At 30, the three-time MVP winner isn’t getting any younger, but I wouldn’t expect him to stop factoring into MVP discussions anytime soon. Expect a bounce-back year from Pujols in 2011, getting back into the 8+ range and continuing his dominance over NL pitchers.

So wait til next year, Cards fans, but expect your MVP to return to form and the newest product of Dave Duncan’s voodoo magic to form an integral part of a strong rotation. Check back tomorrow, when we can finally put the Chicago White Sox to rest and lock in the playoff teams in the AL (though we still won’t know matchups for a few weeks).

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