NL Central- The St. Louis Cardinals

The 2009 St. Louis Cardinals are going to be contenders in 2009. No doubt... There I said it. Admittedly, I am a Cubs fan, but I have forced myself to give credit where credit is due for the betterment of the blog... Adam Wainright and Chris Carpenter are both aces when healthy, and with the two finally healthy in 2009, the Cardinals will be neck and neck with the Cubs all season long... Can't wait...

The position players (I promise I will not digress into steroid curiosities amongst these players):
The Cardinals have not only an underrated outfield, but also two underrated prospects in the outfield in Joe Mather and Nick Stavinoha. Both provide pop and quite a bit of upside. (Watch out for Joe Mather as Glaus's possible temporary replacement at third...) Oh wait... almost forgot about Colby Rasmus, the top prospect in the Cardinals' system. Rasmus is a leadoff-type hitter with potential to be a great defensive outfielder. Rick Ankiel did what not many have been able to do in baseball history by successfully transforming himself from starting pitcher to plus-defensive outfielder with power... Skip Schumaker is a grinder and Ryan Ludwick had a breakout year last year with a .299 average, 37 homers and 113 RBIs. If he can have even comparable numbers to that in '09, the Cards will have a dynamic middle of the order with Pujols, Ludwick, Glaus and Ankiel.
Troy Glaus, who also posted good numbers in '08 (.270, 27, 99) will begin the season on the DL after successful shoulder surgery... but no worries, as he is slated to return in mid to late April. The Cards have dependable D up the middle in Khalil Greene and Brendan Ryan. Ryan will likely start at second and he is a blooming utility man who can play 2nd and SS. Greene and Ryan will both be QAB (questionable at best) on the offensive, however, but if Greene is completely healthy and decides to become a solid hitter, not a slugger, then he could end up with (. 270, 20, 75) type numbers... Stop swinging for the fences, Khalil, its not you...
Alber Pujols is the best player in the game today, in my mind... That won't change at all, especially if he is near 100% healthy, in which case he'll put up .350, 50, 140... Yadier Molina continues to play all-world defense behind the plate, and has even improved his hitting, batting above .300 last year. Stay healthy Yadi, your team needs you like a bad thing...

The pitchers:
I have mentioned that Wainright and Carpenter, barring injury, will both be ace-like and win 15+ games this year. While the 3-4-5 of Lohse, Wellemyer and Pineiro is lackluster, remember Lohse won 15 games (and had a sub-4 ERA) last year on an injury-decimated team. Wellemyer also provided stability, going 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA. Piniero has experienced success in the major leagues, and is capable of being atleast a solid fifth starter.
The Cardinals' bullpen will be their weak spot, and that has eliminated many a team from contention. They'll need to add pieces here in order to compete. Chris Perez, their closer-of-the-future-wait-I-meant-present, is inexperienced but does have tremendous stuff. Perhaps he can pull a Papelbon and put it all together. I am going to guess he will blow at least ten saves this year... More young and inexperienced closers fail than succeed (by a wide margin). Ryan Franklin is a steady setup man, but trust me... The combo of Thompson, Kinney and McClellan won't be able to get the ball to Franklin/Perez. The Cards need to add another setup man, preferably a lefty since they don't have one on the depth chart as of now. Come on Cards, WTF?

If the Cards are able to add a dependable lefty setup man before too much time has elapsed, they will be a potential dark horse to win the NL Central. Not having a lefty on the pitching staff spells disaster, and undoubtedly they will find two southpaws to add to the roster to complete a very solid team.

Prediction: 80-82 without change to bullpen
88-74 with aforementioned lefty setup additions