It’s easy to see why the St. Louis Cardinals have the shortest odds to win the World Series
at 20/1 of any National Central League Division team, according to numbers listed at Bodog.com.
Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are at the top of the rotation. Albert Pujols is at first base. Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman are in the outfield. Ryan Franklin is the closer. Yadier Molina is the best defensive catcher in the National League.
Yet something has been missing from the Cardinals. They won an underachieving 86 games last season, out of the race essentially by mid-August.
In wagering terms, the Cardinals were off 20 units in 2010. That ranked them fourth from the bottom behind only money-draining Pittsburgh, Arizona and Seattle.
There may not have been a more disappointing MLB team to wager on last season than the Cardinals since nothing was expected of the Pirates, Diamondbacks and Mariners.
St. Louis failed seven times as minus 150 or higher chalk during the final 30 games, twice losing as favorites of more than minus 200.
Dominating the division from 2000-2006, the Cardinals have averaged fewer than 85 victories in the last five years. Just once in the last four years have the Cardinals captured the NL Central.
Certainly the Cardinals look on paper to have enough to unseat Cincinnati and regain their prior elite status, especially with Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook as their No. 3 and No. 4 starters and an upgrade offensively at shortstop with Ryan Theriot.
But, then again, perhaps not as there remain question marks and holes.
Sure Pujols still is the most dangerous hitter in baseball pacing the NL in homers with 42 and RBI’s with 118 while batting .312. He finished second to Cincinnati’s Joey Votto in voting for the National League Most Valuable Player. Pujols has won the coveted award three times.
However, third base has become a black hole unless David Freese can get healthy following surgery on both of his ankles. The Cardinals have no power behind Freese at third base. St. Louis third basemen ranked last at the position in the National League in on-base percentage and home runs with seven.
Theriot is a better hitter than last year’s shortstop Brendan Ryan, but a downgrade defensively. Theriot and second baseman Skip Schumaker are one of the weaker double-play combinations. Theriot is the Cardinals’ fifth starting shortstop in the last five years.
Carpenter will turn 36 in late April. He’s still very good, but could break down any time. Franklin is two years older than Carpenter. Molina has knee issues. The 35-year-old switch-hitting Berkman couldn’t hit lefties last season, is a year removed from knee surgery hasn’t proven durable when playing in the outfield.
So while star power dots the lineup and pitching staff, there are serious concerns.
Much of the offseason was devoted to trying to sign Pujols to a long-term extension, which hasn’t happened yet and could prove distracting. Chemistry wasn’t great. It was a tense clubhouse.
Depth is a problem in the infield and defense is weak in the middle infield and at the corner outfield spots putting additional pressure on promising but youthful centerfielder Colby Rasmus.
Theriot, Holliday, Rasmus and even Pujols can all steal a base, but there are no great speedsters, which makes manufacturing runs difficult. Even with Pujols and Holliday – who batted .312 with 28 homers and 103 RBI – the Cardinals were only average in the major offensive categories ranking from 14th-to-16th in runs scored, on-base percentage and homers.
St. Louis had the fourth-best ERA at 3.57 but was 14th in errors and 20th in strikeouts.
This will be Tony La Russa’s 16th season as manager of the Cardinals. La Russa has the third most victories in baseball history, but isn’t guaranteed a 17th consecutive season if the Cardinals continue to miss the postseason.