Greetings all... let's hit the NL Central favorites and the defending champs...
C - Yadier Molina
1B - Lance Berkman
2B - Tyler Greene/Daniel Descalso
SS - Rafael Furcal
3B - David Freese
LF - Matt Holliday
CF - Jon Jay/Carlos Beltran
RF - Carlos Beltran/Allen Craig
Albert Pujols isn't walking through that door. Let's get this out of the way now because it obviously looms over everything. Is he a huge loss? Yes, of course he is, but this is still an above-average lineup.... if health is there. Molina just signed an extremely "premium" contract at $15 million a year, and while he's overpaid, he's great defensively and posted an OPS over .800 last year. Berkman was fantastic in 2011 (.959 OPS, 31 homers) and while health is far from certain and age is a factor, if he can come near that production playing 1B exclusively this year, that's nice. Matt Holliday is an elite player that you never hear about, posting a .900+ OPS yet again last year, and he's banged up a bit usually, but is good for big numbers when he's in there. The big keys? Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran. Both guys are above-average at their positions when healthy (and Beltran is far above-average), but both guys have long injury track records, and in Furcal's case, there is little behind him. Allen Craig provides Beltran insurance, but health is a big key for him as well. If all goes well? Darn good lineup, but if the injury bug hits, look out.
1 - Adam Wainwright
2 - Chris Carpenter*
3 - Jaime Garcia
4 - Kyle Lohse
5 - Jake Westbrook/Lance Lynn/Kyle McClellan
Speaking of injuries, here we are. Adam Wainwright is a top-10 pitcher when he's right, and while he's coming off Tommy John surgery, he's looked dominant in Spring, and if he's 100%, he's elite. Carpenter is definitely injured for early in the year, but the concern is that a timetable has yet to be determined for his return. He's an upper-echelon guy when he's in there, and they need him. Garcia posted a 3.56 ERA last year and was even better than that early before faltering a bit late, and he's a nice #3 option, Lohse is a solid veteran at the back-end, and the trio battling for the 5 spot won't be good, but Westbrook is solid and Lynn has upside.
Now that Tony LaRussa has moved on, the Cards will finally go with Jason Motte as their closer. He's got elite stuff, has showed what he can do in the postseason, and should be solid in the role. He's flanked by Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, and either Lynn or McClellan (or both), and that's a pretty nice back-end in terms of options.
87-75, 1st in NL Central