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January 21, 2003

Team Health Reports

Team Health Reports: St. Louis Cardinals

by Will Carroll

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Projected lineup

 2B Fernando Vina
 CF Jim Edmonds
 LF Albert Pujols
 3B Scott Rolen
 RF J.D. Drew
 1B Tino Martinez
 SS Edgar Renteria
 C Mike Matheny

Rotation

 Matt Morris
 Woody Williams
 Jason Simontacchi
 Brett Tomko
 Dustin Hermanson

Closer

 Jason Isringhausen

There's an element of luck in injury. A team can suddenly get healthy or a team can have a run of bad luck. Bad luck can pop up in the form of an unexpected or even odd injury, but bad luck almost by definition doesn't have a pattern. Teams have years where they sneak through almost untouched by injury, followed by years in which everything that can possibly break, strain, or sprain does.

Then there's the curious case of the 2002 Cardinals.

At one point last year, the Cardinals had every starter but one on the DL, and this was before the Darryl Kile tragedy. A collision that sent Scott Rolen to the shelf for the post-season perhaps doomed a team that could have challenged for a World Series title. No team in recent memory has been as defined by volume of injuries. Moreover, no team with a comparable history came close to the success the Cards had. There are some that will credit this to Tony LaRussa or blame the medical team. But in the end, the Cardinals in many ways were simply outliers, racking up more injuries than you'd ever expect while enjoying more subsequent success than you'd ever imagine.

The upside with teams that suffer through a spate of injuries? They tend to be healthier the next year. Teams that bring the injuries on themselves by overusing pitchers or filling their rosters with fragile players are the exception. For the most part, the Cardinals weren't one of those teams. They should expect to be healthier in 2003.

Still, looking through their roster, there are a few players that may have actually stayed healthier than expected last year. Jim Edmonds is aLarry Walker type, a hard-nosed, dive-for-the-ball-and-tear-something player. Staff ace Matt Morris shouldered a heavy load. Yet neither player experienced a serious injury. Scott Rolen made it through the season healthy, despite his history of back trouble. Woody Williams broke down, couldn't come back and was treated strangely at best by the organization. Even J.D. Drew played acceptably through a misdiagnosed knee problem. Drew still gets a red flag though - he's a perennial breakout and breakdown candidate, all at once.

Assuming Morris is no worse for wear, the Cards must still hope for healthy returns by Williams and Jason Simontacchi, two pitchers who could spend more time on the DL than on the mound. They both get red flags. Add a post-surgical Jason Isringhausen and this is precisely the type of pitching staff that Dave Duncan does not succeed with. There's no retread here for him to work his magic on and there's an obvious disconnect between the type of players that the front office is providing and the type of player the field staff needs to succeed.

Looking through the lineup, the only player that doesn't worry me due to history, usage, or style of play is Albert Pujols. The cynic would say that makes him most likely to run into a wall or something equally random. There's the old and fragile (Martinez), the young and fragile (Drew) and someone like Mike Matheny, who contributes so little to the lineup that he may as well be injured. Even he now has a shoulder injury to rehab.

A winning Cardinals team will need to have luck on its side, with all the breaks going their way. With the Astros likely improved and potentially game foes in the Reds and Cubs, they'll need every bit of that good fortune to get it done.

Will Carroll is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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