Where They Stand: St. Louis Cardinals | Sharapova's Thigh

Albert Pujols is better than you at baseball.

Since we're all huge baseball fans here at the Thigh, we've decided to examine each MLB team and where they currently stand. We'll look at how the team did last year, changes that happened or could happen with the team this offseason, and how it looks like the team will do in 2009 as of now. We'll even toss in the hottest thigh associated with each team. In this edition, we look at the St. Louis Cardinals.

2008 Outcome: 86-76, 4th Place In The NL Central, 11.5 Games Behind The Cubs.

What They've Lost: IF/OF Aaron Miles(Signed With Cubs), SP Braden Looper(Signed With Brewers), RP Jason Isringhausen(Signed With Rays), IF Felipe Lopez(Signed With Diamondbacks), SS Cesar Izturis(Signed With Cardinals), RP Russ Springer(Signed With A's), RP Ron Villone(Signed With Mets), 2B Adam Kennedy(Signed With Rays), 1B Josh Phelps(Signed With Giants), C Mark Johnson(Signed With Cubs), RP Mark Worrell(Traded To Padres).

What They've Added: Acquired SS Khalil Greene(From Padres), Signed RP Dennys Reyes(2 Years, $3 Million), Signed RP Trever Miller(1 Year, 500K), Signed C Justin Knoedler(Minor League Deal), Signed 2B Joe Thurston(Minor League Deal).

Needs: With third baseman out at least a couple months, they could use a third baseman but like rookie David Freese and he'll likely get the majority of playing time in Glaus' absence. Second base could also become a need if Skip Schumaker can't handle it defensively.

The Talk: The Cardinals surprised many last year by hanging in the playoff race all season with a team that really wasn't all that impressive on paper. They had some major surprises, most notably with outfielder Ryan Ludwick. The 30-year-old hit .299, with 37 homers, 113 RBI, and a .966 OPS. His previous best for a season in batting average was .262, 14 for homers, 52 for RBI, and .845 for OPS. Obviously, it's questionable if he can repeat such a season, but there's no doubt he has some great power.

Pitching coach Dave Duncan is known for turning mediocre to even very bad pitchers into good ones, and he demonstrated it in 2008 maybe more than ever. Starting pitcher Kyle Lohse had an ERA over 4 in every season(2001-2007) prior to 2008, and a losing record from 2004-2007. The Cardinals signed him in the offseason prior to the 2008 season and he went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA.

Todd Wellemeyer was also a key to the Cardinals' pitching success. The 30-year-old had only made 22 starts in his previous five seasons in the majors, spending most of his time in the bullpen. He made 32 starts for the Cardinals last season, totaling 191.2 innings. He did a lot more than just eat innings too, as he went 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA. He's always had good stuff, with a 95 mph fastball, very deceptive change up, and decent slider, so he's capable of continuing the success.

It also helps your chances of being competitive when you have the best player in baseball and one of the best all-time already in Albert Pujols. Pujols's career line through seven seasons: .334 AVG, 319 HR, 977 RBI, and a 1.049 OPS. Unbelievable. He won his second NL MVP award in 2008, as he batted .357, with 37 homers, 116 RBI, and a 1.114. As MoonDog Sports wrote today, Pujols is looking to hit for more power. How scary is that?

Batting behind Pujols this year and sure to see more RBI opportunities than he's seen in his life is newly acquired shortstop Khalil Greene. The 29-year-old Greene is coming off what was by far the worst season of his career. He hit just .213, with 10 homers, 35 RBI, a .599 OPS, and 100 strikeouts in just 389 at bats. He's having a superb spring though, so the Cardinals feel he'll be much better than last year. Much has always been made about his home/road splits, as he's played his entire career in the premier pitcher's park, Petco Park in San Diego. In his career at home, he's a .225 hitter, with 34 homers, and a .658 OPS. However on the road, he's a .270 hitter, with 50 homers, and a .802 OPS. Regardless of his offensive output, he's an outstanding defensive shortstop that will make plenty of highlight reel plays.

The lineup will be without a powerful bat courtesy of third baseman Troy Glaus for at least the first two months of the season it appears due to a shoulder injury. Glaus hit 27 homers and drove in 99 runs last season for the Cards. Replacing him will be rookie David Freese who the Cardinals are very high on. Last season at Triple-A Memphis, Freese hit .301 and launched 26 homers to go with 91 RBI, so maybe the Cardinals will be fine here while Glaus is out.

Rick Ankiel had his first season as a position player in 2008 and displayed plenty of power. He hit 25 home runs and drove in 71 runs in 413 at bats. He really struggles with breaking balls down and in, and it will be interesting to see if NL teams try to expose that more this season. He has an absolute cannon though, which we've known for years after seeing him fire 95 mph fastballs as a pitcher.

The Cards lost Aaron Miles who signed with the rival Cubs after he had a great 2008 season in St. Louis, as he batted .317 and played all over the diamond, primarily at second base. They also lost infielder Felipe Lopez who hit .385 in 156 at bats for them after coming over from the Washington Nationals. He signed with the Diamondbacks. With these losses and the hope to get Colby Rasmus playing time in center field, they decided to move outfielder Skip Schumaker to second base.

Schumaker's never played an inning at second base in the majors or minors, but the Cards believe he can make the transition. He was struggling badly there early in spring training but reports are he's looking much better there now. If that can work, it allows the Cards to use what they believe to be their best possible lineup.

As for the rotation, it's led by right-hander Adam Wainwright. He spent some time on the disabled list last season and only made 20 starts. He was tremendous in those starts though, going 11-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 132 innings. He has a terrific fastball-curveball combo and good command. That's much like the pitcher that used to be the ace in St. Louis, Chris Carpenter. He's dealt with injuries each of the last two seasons and only pitched 21.1 innings. Reports are that he looks great this spring though, and if he can get back to the pitcher we saw in 2004-2006, all of a sudden this Cardinals team looks much more dangerous.

The back of the bullpen's probably been the most discussed part of the Cardinals team this offseason. Former Cards closer Jason Isringhausen signed with Tampa Bay, and hard-throwing young right-handers Jason Motte and Chris Perez came into spring as the most likely candidates to get the closer's role. The 26-year-old Motte won the role and Perez was sent to Triple-A. I really like Motte. He's fearless and will challenge any hitter with his fastball that reaches up to 100 mph. He's going to need to develop another good pitch to go with his heater though, as there's plenty of good fastball hitters in the NL Central.

Free Agent Signing/Trade Prediction: Nothing all that exciting on the horizon it appears, but if the Cards end up not feeling completely comfortable in Freese, it's possible a trade could be made for a backup third baseman. There's rumors that they're in talks with the Tigers for utilty player Ryan Raburn who can handle third base, so that's possible.

Young Player To Make 2009 Impact: Colby Rasmus.

An incredibly hyped prospect, Rasmus appears to have earned a starting job in center field for the Cards. He's very good defensively, but struggled in the minors in 2008 with a .252 batting average and a .752 OPS combined between three teams(Rookie Ball, Single-A, Triple-A). Expect him to struggle a bit at the plate at first, but he has plenty of talent and the Cards think he'll be a 25+ homer guy in the future. He also has good speed and I wouldn't be surprised to see him steal 15-20 bags this season.

2009 Outlook: They always find a way to compete and as I've said, it helps when you have the best player on the planet on your team in Albert Pujols. It's hard to project this team very well as we don't know if players like Ryan Ludwick, Kyle Lohse, and Todd Wellemeyer can repeat their 08 success, or if Chris Carpenter can stay healthy. If Carpenter can stay healthy, this could be a darn good rotation with a great 1-2 punch with him and Wainwright.

I think this is an 83-87 win team that will finish second in the NL Central. If all or even some of those question marks go their way though, they can challenge the Cubs for the NL Central crown.

Hottest Thigh Association: Team Fredbird.

Baseball cheerleaders exist apparently, and thankfully. Team Fredbird is a group of hot chicks that run around acting like they care about the Cardinals, but more importantly, looking damn hot while doing so. Those are some nice thighs right there.

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