1 St. Louis Cardinals The Redbirds lost a megastar, but there might just be an MVP waiting in the wings

March 25, 2002

From the audible crack, a nearby coach thought the outfielder
had kicked a sprinkler head, but J.D. Drew knew better. Three
minutes into his first spring workout of 2002, Drew felt his
left ankle pop as he stepped in a divot and thought, Not again.
Each of his first three seasons had been cut short by injury,
including last year, when a broken right hand, strained right
quadriceps and back pain limited him to 109 games. Considered a
slow healer, Drew knew it was whispered that he couldn't stay
healthy for a full season. Writhing in pain as he grasped at his
ankle, his heart sank.

"Honestly, I was scared," says Drew. "When I got home, I would
think about it and I'd get the chills. You don't want to be
categorized as injury-prone. Especially this year, when I know
this team's counting on me." The ankle was just sprained, and
Drew returned to full workouts three days later, He reinjured it
in early March but was back playing a few days later with a
lightweight brace that he plans to wear all season.

A healthy Drew will go a long way toward compensating for the
off-season retirement of Mark McGwire, whose Ruthian presence
anchored St. Louis's lineup the past four years. With a dominant
pitching staff led by Matt Morris and a potentially devastating
offense featuring last year's Rookie of the Year, third baseman
Albert Pujols, as well as Jim Edmonds and McGwire's replacement,
former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, the Cardinals will
contend for the World Series if the 26-year-old Drew emerges as
the MVP candidate many expect him to be. "It's about time for
J.D.," Edmonds says. "He's learned enough to be a force in this
league. You just sort of wake up one day and figure it out."

Mention this to Drew, and his face lights up. "I know what he
means. My day was last April, at home against the Mets," Drew
recalls. "Things were bad. I was hitting like .180." After
making an out in his first at bat, Drew flung his batting helmet
against the dugout tunnel, a Vesuvian outburst for the
mild-mannered, deeply religious Drew. "I said to God, 'I treat
my parents good, I don't go out and party, I try to be a good
teammate.' And I'm not someone who goes 4 for 4 and says, 'I'm
the best,' then goes 0-fer and says, 'It was God's will.'

"After I snapped, I just decided to stop trying so hard," Drew
says. "The next at bat, I hit [a home run] over the bullpen."
Despite his myriad injuries--including the broken hand, courtesy
of an errant David Wells fastball, which caused him to miss six
weeks--Drew still finished with 27 home runs and 73 RBIs in just
375 at bats.

For Drew, however, the success was bittersweet. Since arriving
in the September of McGwire's magical 70-home run season of 1998
(Drew hit .417 with five home runs down the stretch, justifying
the hype that followed him from his days as a Florida State
All-America), his durability has been a concern. Determined to
show up at camp in peak shape this year, he eschewed heavy
weight workouts in favor of a plyometrics regimen with Cardinals
catcher and close friend Mike Matheny.

Drew struggled at times after shifting from center to right last
year--he had some difficulty picking up batted balls and
occasionally threw to the wrong base--but he is now an
above-average rightfielder on a team with few defensive holes.

"I feel more at peace now than I have in the past, because I've
worked hard and enjoy where I am," says Drew, who married his
longtime girlfriend, Sheigh, in November. "[Manager Tony La
Russa] always says you shouldn't avoid pressure, that you should
make pressure your friend. I think we're all ready to take that
next step." --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES The Cardinals need a healthy Drew to offset the loss of you-know-who in the middle of the lineup. COLOR PHOTO: ELIOT SCHECHTER/GETTY IMAGES ISRINGHAUSEN

In FACT
Edgar Renteria and Fernando Vina topped the Cardinals with 17
stolen bases each last season, St. Louis's lowest team-leading
total in a nonstrike year since Julian Javier's 11 in 1961.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cardinals

"If Rick Ankiel and Garrett Stephenson come back, the Cardinals
will have an excess of quality starters like no other team in
baseball. The team is trying to spin Ankiel's story positively,
but there are lots of issues there. He's holding on to the ball
too long before releasing it. Plus, a lot of his fastballs are
cutting way in on righthanders. Those are both tendencies of
guys with mental blocks. The sad thing is, no matter how well he
pitches, he'll always be two wild pitches away from another
breakdown.... Adding Jason Isringhausen addressed a huge issue
for this team. Dave Veres is a natural setup guy, and he was
exposed as a closer. This spring Veres didn't look very sharp.
He's not hitting the spots like he used to, and his split
doesn't have much bite.... I love their catching. When Mike
Matheny was a young guy in Milwaukee, he tried to hit homers all
the time. Now he just tries to put the ball in play, and he does
one hell of a job handling that staff. He keeps guys in control,
and he knows how to stop the bleeding and cut an inning down.
And my team would love to have Eli Marrero as our starter. He's
such a great athlete, they can play him behind the plate, at
first and in the corner outfield slots.... Nobody turns the DP
as fast as Fernando Vina. He's vastly underrated.... It'll be
interesting to see how Albert Pujols looks defensively. This
spring he wasn't throwing well at all. His approach at the plate
is fantastic, though. He really sees the ball well, he lets it
get into the zone and then he explodes."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

2B Fernando Vina L-R 160 .303 9 56 17
LF Placido Polanco R 224 .307 3 38 12
RF J.D. Drew L-R 39 .323 27 73 13
3B Albert Pujols R 12 .329 37 130 1
CF Jim Edmonds L 52 .304 30 110 5
1B Tino Martinez[1] L-R 67 .280 34 113 1
SS Edgar Renteria R 156 .260 10 57 17

BENCH

C Mike Matheny R 264 .218 7 42 0
C Eli Marrero R 270 .266 6 23 6
OF Eduardo Perez*[1] R 339 .222 3 19 3

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

IF Miguel Cairo R 364 .295 3 16 2
RH Matt Morris 13 22 8 6.4 1.26 3.16
RH Darryl Kile 26 16 11 6.7 1.29 3.09
RH Woody Williams 52 15 9 6.5 1.27 4.05
RH Garrett Stephenson[2]117 16 9 6.4 1.36 4.49
LH Bud Smith 103 6 3 5.9 1.22 3.83

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH Jason Isringhausen[1]67 4 3 34 1.08 2.65
RH Dave Veres 185 3 2 15 1.29 3.70
LH Steve Kline 237 3 3 9 1.09 1.80

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player
Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)

*Japanese Central League stats [2]2000 stats

Manager
Tony La Russa
seventh season with St. Louis

2001 record
93-69
tied for first in NL Central

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Edmonds
Vina
Martinez
Matheny

Good Leather

Polanco
Drew
Renteria
Pujols
Morris

Iron Hands

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)