3 St. Louis Cardinals A loaded lineup won't be enough in the suddenly strong-armed Central

April 04, 2004

Edgar Renteria stood on the infield grass at the Cardinals'
spring training stadium in Jupiter, Fla., his two earrings
gleaming in the midday sun. A crouching photographer zoomed in
for a closeup, snapped a half-dozen shots, then glanced down at
his camera. "Got it?" Renteria asked. By the time the
photographer looked up, Renteria was gone in a sea of red-shirted
teammates. The 28-year-old shortstop has appeared in three
All-Star Games, won two Gold Gloves and emerged as one of the
game's best all-around players, yet he's easily missed on a team
brimming with star power. "Edgar's arguably the best shortstop in
the league," says G.M. Walt Jocketty, "but there are probably
five better-known guys on this team alone." Renteria is O.K. with
that.

Everything about him is low-key--he speaks in little more than a
whisper, his idea of a good time is a quiet evening of
dominoes--but Renteria looms large in the Cardinals' high-powered
offense, which last year was second in the league in batting
average and runs and tied for third in homers. First baseman
Albert Pujols, centerfielder Jim Edmonds and third baseman Scott
Rolen combined for 110 home runs in 2003, and new rightfielder
Reggie Sanders, a free-agent pickup, averaged 29 homers over the
past three seasons. Renteria is coming off a season in which he
had a career-high .330 average (32 points better than Alex
Rodriguez's) and a career-best .394 on-base percentage (58 points
higher than Miguel Tejada's). His second Gold Glove gave him two
more than Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra have won. "And he's
getting better," says St. Louis special assistant Jim Leyland,
who managed Renteria when they were with Florida.

Renteria was a baby-faced 22-year-old with chopsticks for legs
when he stroked the 11th-inning single that won Game 7 of the
1997 World Series for the Marlins. The native of Colombia
survived the initial fire sale of Florida players, then was dealt
to St. Louis in December '98. Renteria ran out of gas during the
second half of the 2001 season, when he was the subject of trade
rumors, and finished with a career-low .260 average. That
off-season he rededicated himself to the game and began a
rigorous weight-training program (three hours of lifting a day,
no hitting until February) that he still adheres to.

When Renteria arrived at spring training in 2002 his first words
to third base coach Jose Oquendo were, "I want to win a Gold
Glove." Oquendo taught him the importance of being more
disciplined in his pregame preparation. "He would mindlessly go
through drills in the past," says Oquendo, "but you could start
to see him thinking through each grounder." Renteria won his
first fielding award that year.

He is one of four Gold Glove winners on the team (along with
Edmonds, Rolen and catcher Mike Matheny), and the Cardinals will
need their exceptional defense to back up a dubious rotation.
While the other NL Central contenders bolstered their staffs--the
Cubs signed free agent Greg Maddux and the Astros landed Andy
Pettitte and Roger Clemens--the best Jocketty could do, working
under payroll limitations, was to sign free agent Jeff Suppan
(5.57 ERA in a two-month stint with Boston after being traded by
the Pirates) and trade for Jason Marquis, who spent most of last
year in the Braves' farm system. Counted on as the No. 3 starter,
behind Matt Morris and Woody Williams, is Chris Carpenter, who
hasn't pitched in the majors since injuring his shoulder in April
2002. "We expect big things from him," says Jocketty, who signed
Carpenter, the Blue Jays' Opening Day pitcher two years ago, in
December '02. "We need big things from him."

Last season Williams won 18 games, but the 37-year-old
righthander averaged 110 pitches a start, and right-shoulder
tendinitis may sideline him for the beginning of the season.
Morris, who won 22 games in 2001 and 17 in '02--his first two
full seasons in the majors--while logging more than 200 innings
each year, looked worn down last season and missed more than a
month with shoulder, ankle and hand injuries. Manager Tony La
Russa has vowed to keep Morris's pitch counts at conservative
levels early in the season.

"With the staffs that we'll be going up against in the division,"
says pitching coach Dave Duncan with a sigh, "there just won't be
too much room for error." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: KATHY WILLENS/AP ON THE SHORT LIST In the field and at the plate, the low-key Renteria compares favorably with the big names at his position.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT LABERGE/GETTY IMAGES MARQUIS

IN FACT

St. Louis set a team record in '03 with 570 extra-base hits,
surpassing the 1930 Gashouse Gang's 566.

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

"This team is not as strong as it was last year, and when you look
at what Chicago and Houston have done, I don't even see the
Cardinals fighting for the wild card. Yes, they've got formidable
bats, but they're going to miss Fernando Vina's spark at the top
of the order, and the rotation is very thin and significantly
weaker than it's been.... Woody Williams hasn't been healthy this
spring, and that's really bad news. Jason Marquis needs to stop
being a thrower and become a pitcher. Chris Carpenter is coming
back from Tommy John surgery, and he does have good stuff. He can
be a wild card, and could be a good buy behind Matt Morris....
Jason Isringhausen, the closer, has looked healthy this spring.
He'll stabilize the bullpen, but it's still got problems....
Steve Kline has pitched 100 innings four years in a row, and he
really looks like he's hit a wall.... Ray King will drive you
nuts with walks and deep counts.... What's really disappointing
about this club is that it has not trotted out any young talent
recently to give its staff a boost."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Hart
LF Lankford
1B Pujols
CF Edmonds
3B Rolen
SS Renteria
RF Sanders
C Matheny

RAY LANKFORD*

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 222 .224 6 26 2

JIM EDMONDS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 54 .275 39 89 1

REGGIE SANDERS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 70 .285 31 87 15

SCOTT ROLEN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 33 .286 28 104 13

EDGAR RENTERIA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 29 .330 13 100 34

BO HART

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 267 .277 4 28 3

ALBERT PUJOLS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 1 .359 43 124 5

MIKE MATHENY

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 276 .252 8 47 1

BENCH

KERRY ROBINSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 309 .250 1 16 6

EMIL BROWN +

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 367 .295 12 63 18

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Matt Morris 28 11 8 6.4 1.18 3.76
RH Woody Williams 53 18 9 6.7 1.25 3.87
RH Chris Carpenter* 104 4 5 5.6 1.58 5.28
RH Jeff Suppan 107 13 11 6.5 1.31 4.19
New acquisition
RH Jason Marquis 264 0 0 5.2 1.50 5.53
New acquisition

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Jason Isringhausen 56 0 1 22 1.17 2.36
RH Julian Tavarez 189 3 3 11 1.22 3.66
New acquisition
LH Steve Kline 245 5 5 3 1.35 3.82

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*2002 stats
+ Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

2003 RECORD
85-77
third in NL Central

MANAGER
Tony La Russa
ninth season with St. Louis

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)