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News » Pirates-Cardinals Preview 2009-04-05


Pirates-Cardinals Preview 2009-04-05


Pirates-Cardinals Preview 2009-04-05
Reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols did everything he could to carry the Cardinals last season, but with a patchwork pitching staff beset by injuries, St. Louis finished short of the postseason for the second straight year.

They also missed the playoffs because of their struggles against a Pittsburgh Pirates team that tied a major league record with its 16th consecutive losing season.

With Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright healthy and a high-powered offense built around Pujols, the Cardinals are hoping to restore their previous dominance of the Pirates in Monday's season opener at Busch Stadium, and most importantly, put an end to their brief playoff drought.

The Cardinals finished 86-76 and four games back of wild-card winning Milwaukee last season - an impressive feat considering St. Louis' rotation was led for much of the season by journeyman Kyle Lohse and converted reliever Todd Wellemeyer.

Pujols shouldered the offensive load, finishing with a .357 batting average, 37 home runs and 116 RBIs to earn his second MVP award. He's the only player in major league history to top 30 homers and 100 RBIs each of his first eight seasons.

The Cardinals are hoping Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, can carry this year's pitching staff after making just four starts over the last two seasons due to right elbow and shoulder surgeries.

Carpenter is slated to pitch the finale of this four-game series Thursday, while Wainwright is scheduled to pitch his second consecutive season opener.

"This is a big deal this year," Wainwright told the Cardinals' official Web site. "With the rotation and the team we have, I think we have a real chance. So I'm not going to let my team down with not preparing myself or any of that."

Although Wainwright was the Cardinals' opening day starter last season, the game was rained out. There is snow in the forecast for St. Louis on Monday.

Wainwright went 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 20 starts in 2008, and was 5-0 with a 3.35 ERA in his final seven starts after missing 2 1/2 months with a sprained right middle finger.

The right-hander was at his best at Busch Stadium, going 7-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 11 starts there. In two starts against Pittsburgh, though, Wainwright went 0-1 and yielded 11 runs in 12 innings.

Pujols feasted on Pittsburgh pitching in 2008, hitting .429 (27-of-63) with two homers, seven doubles and 11 RBIs in 17 games. He also went 5-for-7 with a homer versus Monday's scheduled starter Paul Maholm.

Pujols is joined in the lineup by right fielder Ryan Ludwick, who is coming off a career year - 37 homers and 113 RBIs - and center fielder Rick Ankiel, who finished with 25 home runs and 71 RBIs in 120 games.

Although Pujols had no trouble knocking around Pittsburgh's pitching staff, the Cardinals went just 7-10 against the Pirates - their first losing season to them since 1999. St. Louis had been 45-21 versus Pittsburgh over the previous four years.

The Pirates are coming off their 16th consecutive losing season, matching a major league record set by the 1933-48 Philadelphia Phillies. Pittsburgh, which hasn't had a winning season since 1992, has lost either 94 or 95 games in each of the past four years.

Despite going 67-95 to finish last in the NL Central in 2008, the Pirates made very few changes to their lineup.

Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson and Andy LaRoche still make up the infield, while Nyjer Morgan, All-Star Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss man the outfield. The pitching rotation has also remained the same.

While it might seem strange not to overhaul a last-place team, Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington believes there is talent in place, with more soon to arrive from an improving farm system.

"The fans are tired of losing. The players in the clubhouse are tired of losing," he said. "The field staff, the front office, everybody. That's why we're here - we're here to win. But we're here to do it the right way, and first you've got to build a foundation."

The Pirates expect further improvement from Maholm, whose 3.71 ERA last season earned him a $14.5 million, three-year contract although he went just 9-9 in 31 starts.

The left-hander finished the year strong, allowing two runs or fewer in six of his final nine starts. He's also coming off an impressive spring in which he gave up only four runs in 23 2-3 innings over six starts.

Maholm went 2-1 with a 3.05 ERA in three outings versus the Cardinals last season.

While Maholm is being counted on to lead the rotation, the Pirates are hoping McLouth can build off a campaign in which he led the team in home runs (26), RBIs (94), runs (113) and stolen bases (23).

In 15 games against St. Louis in 2008, McLouth hit six home runs and drove in 18.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 6, 2009

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