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1 St. Louis Cardinals

April 03, 2006
April 03, 2006

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April 3, 2006

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1 St. Louis Cardinals

A title could be in the cards if Scott Rolen can shoulder the load

Scott Rolen hasnot been fully healthy in almost a year, since he barreled into Hee Seop Choi,the Los Angeles Dodgers' outsized first baseman, in a baserunning collisionlast May at Busch Stadium. For Rolen, who collects Gold Gloves and All-StarGame appearances the way some people collect stamps, the collision was only thestart of bad things to come. It triggered a series of physical problems in hisleft shoulder that required two surgeries and cost him most of a season in theprime of his career. The Cardinals are plainspoken about the significance ofhis return. "There isn't anything more important," manager Tony LaRussa said during the winter. "You're talking about a guy who's a potentialHall of Famer, so if he plays like he's played his whole career, it's aterrific boost for our club."

This is an article from the April 3, 2006 issue Original Layout

Rolen's injury-atorn labrum-affected the same part of his body that was badly hurt in aprevious collision, with the Diamondbacks' Alex Cintron during the 2002playoffs. After colliding with Choi, Rolen underwent shoulder surgery inmid-May and attempted to rejoin the Cardinals in June. He hit only .207 with nohome runs in 87 at bats, though, and went on the DL on July 22. He was informedthat he'd need a second operation to reattach the labrum, one that would haveto be followed by an aggressive, six-month rehabilitation. So incapacitatedthat at times he even had difficulty putting on his shirt, Rolen had the secondoperation in August and was sidelined for the rest of season. His .235 battingaverage, .323 on-base percentage, .383 slugging and five home runs were allcareer lows.

Although hisreplacements, primarily Abraham Nuñez, hit for average and played respectabledefense in his stead, Rolen was sorely missed. Cardinals third basemen finishedlast season with a .368 slugging percentage and eight home runs, 15th and 16thin the National League, respectively. A power shortage at a corner infieldposition is difficult to overcome, and Rolen's absence was magnified inOctober. Despite a second consecutive NL Central title and a major league-best100-win season, St. Louis was once again snuffed out in the postseason afterslumping at the plate, this time while hitting a piddling .209 with threehomers in 187 at bats during a six-game loss to the Astros in the NLCS.

So Rolen'sshoulder has, necessarily, attracted great scrutiny this spring, with everyoneso far sounding optimistic. "He's ahead of schedule," La Russa says."He likes the way he feels, and he's free and easy. You look at the wholegame with him because he's a complete player; that's one of his greatqualities. So it's defense, offense, baserunning."

Rolen, who turns31 on April 4, has not spared the shoulder, either at bat or in the field.During his first spring training game he dived for a ground ball and landedhard on the shoulder, without incident. But his ability to hit the ballhard-particularly to the left side-will tell the story of how well he hasrecovered. For the righthanded-hitting Rolen, his left shoulder absorbs theforce of a power stroke to leftfield. "The at bats," he says, "aregoing to be the biggest thing: how I respond from at bat to at bat."

Whether or notRolen comes back fully, St. Louis remains a prohibitive favorite to defend itsdivision title. It has the game's best righthanded hitter in first basemanAlbert Pujols, the league MVP in 2005, and it possesses a deep, at timesoverpowering, rotation. The Cardinals must find a replacement for Matt Morris,who signed with the Giants as a free agent after winning a total of 79 gamesthe past five seasons, but the combination of Sidney Ponson-a 29-year-oldretread who can eat innings, especially now that he has the benefit of a potentoffense behind him-and prospects Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright should getthe job done. Winning the World Series, however, the only achievement that haseluded this club so far, will require everyone, including Rolen, at fullstrength.

IN FACT

Albert Pujols isthe first player to lead the majors in runs for three straight seasons sincethe Reds' Pete Rose did it in 1974, '75 and '76. No one has pulled off the featfour years in a row.

CONSIDER THIS
a modest proposal

With anassortment of midlevel players battling for the second-base job, Hector Luna(right) stands out as the one who could make a difference as an every-dayplayer. A Rule 5 pick from the Indians in 2003, Luna has made solidcontributions off the Cardinals' bench the past two seasons, peaking last yearwhen he batted .285 with a .344 on-base percentage and a .409 slugging average.At 26, Luna is entering his prime-he's the only one of the club's second-baseoptions at that stage-and he's the most athletically gifted of the group. Hisdefense has been average but figures to improve with regular playing time.

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2005 statistics

2005 RECORD
100-62
first in NL Central

MANAGER
Tony La Russa
11th season with St. Louis

BATTING ORDER
SS Eckstein
LF Taguchi
1B Pujols
CF Edmonds
3B Rolen
RF Encarnacion
C Molina
2B Spivey

JIM EDMONDS
B-T L
PVR 60
BA .263
HR 29
RBI 89
SB 5

SO TAGUCHI
B-T R
PVR 273
BA .288
HR 8
RBI 53
SB 11

DAVID ECKSTEIN
B-T R
PVR 227
BA .294
HR 8
RBI 61
SB 11

SCOTT ROLEN
B-T R
PVR 26
BA .235
HR 5
RBI 28
SB 1

YADIER MOLINA
B-T R
PVR 262
BA .252
HR 8
RBI 49
SB 2

ALBERT PUJOLS
B-T R
PVR 2
BA .330
HR 41
RBI 117
SB 16

JUNIOR SPIVEY[New acquisition]
B-T R
PVR 277
BA .232
HR 7
RBI 24
SB 9

JUAN ENCARNACION[New acquisition]
B-T R
PVR 117
BA .287
HR 16
RBI 76
SB 6

BENCH

SCOTT SPIEZIO[New acquisition]
B-T S-R
PVR 367
BA .064
HR 1
RBI 1
SB 0

JOHN RODRIGUEZ
B-T L
PVR 292
BA .295
HR 5
RBI 24
SB 2

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
ROTATION

PITCHERPVRWLKWHIPERA
RH Chris Carpenter32152131.062.83
LH Mark Mulder201681111.383.64
RH Jason Marquis8813141001.334.13
RH Jeff Suppan3116101141.383.57
RH Sidney Ponson
[New acquisition]
208711681.736.21

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
BULLPEN

PITCHERPVRWLSVWHIPERA
RH Jason Isringhausen4412391.192.14
RH Braden Looper
[New acquisition]
18147281.473.94
LH Ricardo Rincon
[New acquisition]
2111101.454.34

Newacquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)

ON DECK
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...

A 6'7",205-pound righthander, Adam Wainwright was considered one of Atlanta's bestminor league arms when the Cardinals got him in the J.D. Drew trade in December2003. Though he led the Pacific Coast League with 182 innings pitched at TripleA Memphis last year, he put too many men on base--opponents hit .282, and hewalked 2.5 per nine--and has at times relied too much on his fastball. Still,he could work his way into the rotation.

PHOTOJ.B. FORBES/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/KRT/ABACARARE BIRD Valuable with a glove or bat, Rolen could be the difference between a championship and another playoff fizzle.TWO PHOTOSJOHN CORDES/ICON SMI (LUNA); MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (WAINWRIGHT)ILLUSTRATION