2004 record
105-57, NL champion

Projected batting order
1. SS David Eckstein, .276 BA, .339 OBP, .332 SLG, 2 HR, 35 RBI in 2004
2. RF Larry Walker, .298 BA, .424 OBP, .589 SLG, 17 HR, 47 RBI in 2004
3. 1B Albert Pujols, .331 BA, .415 OBP, .657 SLG, 46 HR, 123 RBI in 2004
4. 3B Scott Rolen, .314 BA, .409 OBP, .598 SLG, 34 HR, 124 RBI in 2004
5. CF Jim Edmonds, .301 BA, .418 OBP, .643 SLG, 42 HR, 111 RBI in 2004
6. LF Reggie Sanders, .260 BA, .315 OBP, .482 SLG, 22 HR, 67 RBI in 2004
7. 2B Mark Grudzielanek, .307 BA, .347 OBP, .432 SLG, 6 HR, 23 RBI in 2004
8. C Yadier Molina, .267 BA, .329 OBP, .356 SLG, 2 HR, 15 RBI in 2004

Projected rotation
1. Mark Mulder, 17-8, 4.43 ERA in 2004
2. Chris Carpenter, 15-5, 3.46 in 2004
3. Jason Marquis, 15-7, 3.71 in 2004
4. Jeff Suppan, 16-9, 4.16 in 2004
5. Matt Morris, 15-10, 4.72 in 2004

Projected bullpen
Closer: Jason Isringhausen, 47 saves, 2.87 ERA in 2004
RH setup man: Julian Tavarez, 2.38 ERA in 2004
LH setup man: Ray King, 2.61 ERA in 2004

The new guys
Mark Mulder: This was general manager Walt Jocketty's great white whale, a No. 1 starter. If Mulder is healthy and over the ugly slump that plagued him in the second half of 2004, he steps right in at the top of what was already a deep (if not spectacular) rotation. He's an efficient, groundball pitcher who should fit right in on a staff made up mostly of guys who fit that same description.

Mark Grudzielanek: Making the trip down I-55 from Chicago, Grudzielanek will try to replace a couple of different players' contributions. Defensively he takes over at second base from Tony Womack, where he should be an upgrade in terms of both his range and his throwing arm. Offensively he likely slots in lower in the order, trying to knock in the big boys much as Edgar Renteria did in recent years.

David Eckstein: The former Angel and certain fan favorite tries to fill the other half of those two holes. He'll step in for Womack as the leadoff man, where he offers less speed, but perhaps a greater ability to get on base. Defensively he'll likely be a downgrade from two-time Gold Glove winner Renteria, but the Cards are confident his positioning will help him make up for any limitations he may have.

Prospects to watch
RHP Anthony Reyes: This is the guy who will have the buzz. In his first pro season, Reyes flat-out dominated Double-A hitters. The club has no plans to rush him, but he might force their hand. Baseball America rated the right-hander from USC as the organization's No. 1 prospect based on 111 pro innings.

RHP Brad Thompson: You probably know Thompson as the guy who pitched 57 consecutive scoreless innings in the minors. He's not a dominating type of pitcher. Instead he's savvy and keeps the ball on the ground. Still, Thompson had a fantastic year at Double-A and may have an ETA of 2006.

RHP Adam Wainwright: And here's the third of the troika, once rated the Braves' No. 1 prospect. He throws hard, he's got excellent poise and his command is coming along. This time last year, Wainwright was where Reyes is -- the most hyped youngster in camp. He ran into injury problems, but his ceiling is still extremely high.

Returning from injury
Chris Carpenter: Had the righty been available for the World Series, things might have turned out differently. Of course, he wouldn't have helped score any runs, but you never know. Carpenter was out from mid-September on, due to a rare nerve ailment. He's feeling fine and is not expected to be limited at all in Spring Training.

Matt Morris: Quite a bit hinges on how the team's former ace comes back from offseason shoulder surgery. If shoulder trouble was the reason he struggled in 2004, and if his operation was successful, Morris could regain his place as one of the game's top starters. He's expected to be limited early in the year, and may not be ready to join the rotation until May.

opening daySpotlight on
the Cardinals
An up-close look at the club as
we approach Opening Day
More team spotlights:

Albert Pujols: The Cards hope and believe that a second OssaTron treatment has cleared up Pujols' plantar fasciitis. He has no plans to undergo surgery, so if the condition recurs, he'll have to play in pain and/or undergo another dose from the OssaTron machine.

Jason Isringhausen: The closer battled through a sore hip for much of the year and still tied a team record for saves. He had the joint operated on and is expected to be ready to go for the start of spring.

On the rebound
Matt Morris: See above, as it's likely that a "cranky" shoulder contributed to a career-worst ERA and a career high in home runs allowed. Still, he topped 200 innings and notched 15 wins, so it wasn't exactly a lost season. A return to 2001 form, or even 2002-03 form, from Morris would be a huge boost.

Rick Ankiel: The left-hander's story has been told countless times. Now he's looking forward to what would be his first normal, healthy, full season in the big leagues since his 2000 rookie year. He could be a critical X factor in the rotation in place of Morris, and out of the bullpen once Morris is ready to start.

Long gone
Edgar Renteria: Ultimately, the contract terms just didn't match up. So the Cards lost their unofficial captain and one of the game's best all-around shortstops. It will be harder to replace Renteria's defense than his offense, since he was coming off something of a subpar year compared to his stratospheric 2003.

Mike Matheny: The rock in the clubhouse and a three-time Gold Glover, Matheny simply received an offer from the Giants that the Cards had no interest in matching. No Cardinal was more respected personally, and it remains to be seen how the character of the team will turn in Matheny's absence. However, Molina has all the tools to be a spectacular defensive catcher, and he's already a more dangerous hitter than the man he replaces.

Tony Womack: Nobody except maybe Womack himself expected a season like the veteran second baseman turned in, so bully for him for turning it into a two-year contract with the Yankees. There will be no replacing his speed, but otherwise there should be little downgrade in the transition from Womack to Grudzielanek.

Woody Williams: The leader of the pitching staff, Williams was somewhat miffed that the Cards didn't make more of an effort to re-sign him. He headed west to San Diego. His rotation spot will be taken by Mulder, but as with Renteria and Matheny, his presence will be missed in the locker room.

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2004 hitting leaders
(min. 200 at-bats with Cardinals)
Avg.: Pujols, .331
OBP: Edmonds, .418
SLG: Pujols, .657
Runs: Pujols, 133
RBIs: Rolen, 124
Hits: Pujols, 196
2B: Pujols, 51
3B: Rolen, 4
HR: Pujols, 46
SB: Womack, 26

2004 pitching leaders
(min. 30 IP/10 decisions)
IP: Morris, 202
W: Suppan, 16
L: Morris, 10
Win %: Carpenter, 15-5, .750
S: Isringhausen, 47
ERA: Steve Kline, 1.79
K: Carpenter, 152
K/9: Kiko Calero, 9.33
WHIP: Calero, 0.82

Info:

Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. How much of a hit have the Cards taken defensively?
Considering the extreme groundball nature of their starting rotation, they'd better hope the answer is "not much." The question isn't so much about errors, because both Eckstein and Grudzielanek are sure-handed. It's about range, and how many of those groundballs will be turned into outs. St. Louis should remain one of the league's premier defensive teams, but if the Redbirds have lost even a little, it will be a problem.

2. Who will fill out the right side of the bullpen?
Right now, it looks like Reyes, with Mike Lincoln on the way in a while. Sending Kiko Calero and Danny Haren to Oakland in the deal for Mulder definitely weakened the Cards' relief staff unless Reyes contributes a great deal. This will be one area where the front office will likely be looking for an in-season upgrade.

3. Will these guys stay healthy?
The ability to avoid the disabled list was an under-reported but critical element in the Redbirds' 105-win season. None of the five starting pitchers hit the DL (though Carpenter was out for the final couple of weeks of the regular season), and neither did any of the hitters in the middle of the lineup. Part of that is preparation and good work by the training staff, but part of it is luck, too. Good health needs to be there again for another big year.

The bottom line
It's rare that a Walt Jocketty-Tony La Russa Cardinals team goes to Spring Training with so few questions, but there just isn't much to be established at this point. A few questions remain on the bench and in the bullpen, but for the most part spring will consist of getting a look at the youngsters and getting the veterans healthy and into playing shape. If you're looking for spring drama, look elsewhere.