The Cardinals' brain trust took a long, hard look at the squad that won 105 games and the NL pennant last season, but was steamrolled in four games in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox, and decided it may have been a team built more for the grueling regular season than the short-burst postseason.
"When you get beat four games in a row [and] you thought it would be closer, well, I have a few ideas," Manager Tony La Russa said earlier this spring. "We were good enough. But the Red Sox had a lot going for them. And a big part of it was, they had two guys like Pedro [Martinez] and [Curt] Schilling who really made pitches. Guys pitch like that, they're tough to beat."
_____ Breakdown _____
Lineup • SS David Eckstein • RF Larry Walker • 1B Albert Pujols • 3B Scott Rolen • CF Jim Edmonds • LF Reggie Sanders • 2B Mark Grudzielanek • C Yadier Molina Rotation • LHP Mark Mulder • RHP Chris Carpenter • RHP Jeff Suppan • RHP Jason Marquis • RHP Matt Morris Closer • RHP Jason Isringhausen
• Best move: Trading for Mulder, formerly one of the Oakland Athletics' Big Three. • Biggest loss: SS Edgar Renteria, who bolted for the Boston Red Sox via free agency. • Top rival: Chicago Cubs.
So, the Cardinals recast their team to be more top-heavy in the rotation, giving up some talented young arms to get Mulder from the A's. With Mulder and a healthy Chris Carpenter -- who was pitching like an ace last season before being lost to injury -- atop the rotation, the Cardinals look like they have the aces to at least compete against the Kerry Woods and Mark Priors of the world.
But in doing so, did the Cardinals give up too much of their everyday solidness? Maybe. While Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds got all the ink (and MVP votes) last season, hard-core Cardinals watchers know that much of the team's success was because of the unsung contributions of shortstop Edgar Renteria and catcher Mike Matheny -- neither of whom is around anymore.
The Cardinals may be a tougher October team now, but the question is: Can they get there again?