Not having Albert Pujols would effect them no matter what they did. Some can say he was regressing and was not worth the contract he signed, but the bottom line is its hard to replace the numbers he puts up and the impact he had in that clubhouse. Carlos Beltran (.300, 20, 84) comes in to replace his spot in the lineup and is an underrated quiet leader. Signing Yadier Molina to his extension was huge, as they could not have withstanded losing their two biggest leaders.
The other major loss is manager Tony LaRussa, who retired following his 3rd WS win and over 30 years as a MLB manager. Pitching coach Dave Duncan is not expected to be with the team this season due to his wife's illness. New manager Mike Matheny comes in from the front office with no managerial experience and he teams with Derek Lilliquist, who filled in during Duncan's absense in 2011, to lead a team that everybody is shooting for. It is hard enough to repeat due to the parity in the game today, but even harder to do it with a new, inexperienced manager and coaching staff. Matheny may turn out to be a good manager, but a lot is on his plate for his first season on the job. You can make a case that the fact the media in St Louis is relaxed the WS win may make it easier, but it has always been tough to replace a legend. How does the saying go? You want to replace the guy who replaced the legendary coach or manager in professional sports.
The return of Adam Wainwright should help emensely. Injury concerns are once again surrounding Chris Carpenter (11-9, 3.45), who was excellent in September and the postseason. Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56) and Kyle Kohse (14-8, 3.39) should eat innings and benefit from having Molina behind the plate. I am wondering if Duncan not being around has aborted the quest to make Mark Rzepczynski (2-6, 3.34 in 71 games, 0 starts) into a starting pitcher. If not, Jake Westbrook (12-9, 4.66) is under contract for one more season and will probably man the fifth spot.
Jason Motte (5-2, 9 saves, 2.25, 78 games) is the closer coming off a great postseason (0-1, 5 saves, 4 ER in 12 1/3 IP, 12 GP). Fernando Salas (5-6, 24, 2.28, 68) and Lance Lynn (1-1, 3.12, 18 games will work with former Atlanta Braves reliever Scott Linebrink to get to Motte. Mitchell Boggs and Kyle McClellan return and lefty JC Romero looks to make a comeback to be the lefty specialist if Rzepczynski makes the move to the rotation.
Offensively, they didn't fall off as much as people think. Furcal (.231, 8, 28) is a concern both performance wise and when it comes to staying healthy for a full season. Beltran has had injury history, despite coming to camp in great shape and Allen Craig (.315, 11, 40) is expected to start the season on the DL. John Jay (.297, 10, 38) will take his place. Matt Holliday (.296, 24, 75) and Lance Berkman (.301, 31, 94) will follow Beltran in the order with NLCS and WS MVP David Freese (.297, 10, 55) looking to increase his numbers. Molina (.305, 14, 65) had a very good season in 2011 and Skip Shumaker (.283, 2, 38) has the edge on Tyler Greene to be the opening day 2B.
Overall, I think the Cardinals can stay in the pennant race this year. The second wild card will keep them there until the end. Add the legend of what happened in September of 2011 and anything can happen. Vegas gives them 83 as their O/U and I say slightly over at 84-78. That is not enough to get into the postseason this year and will be good enough for 3rd place in the NL Central.