OK, my Cardinal questions

Colleague Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and listed his ten most pressing questions for the 2010 Cardinals as they start spring training in Sunday’s P-D. While all of Joe’s questions and concerns are legitimate, I have a condensed list that’s more about whether or not the Cardinals can win the division in 2010.

That being the case, whether or not this is Tony LaRussa’s last year, whether or not the club gets a deal done with Albert Pujols, and what the current payroll is aren’t concerns of mine. Last year at this time, it seemed unfathomable that the Cardinals could afford to trade for Matt Holliday, but outstanding fan support allowed them to deal. So I will look strictly at players, and winning and losing.

1) Can Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny deliver 200 innings each? As the season starts, the Cards are scheduled to play 1,458 innings. If the top four starters can give them 800, the Redbirds are well on their way to winning at least 88 games. For any club, the health of the starting pitching is crucial. For this one, because fifth, sixth and seventh starters such as Jaime Garcia, Kyle McClellan and Rich Hill are such question marks, the health of the top four is even more important.

2) If David Freese isn’t ready, who fills in? The Cardinals don’t have options behind Freese, unless Julio Lugo or Joe Mather pull a surprise. The Redbirds must make a determination early on Freese. If he can’t do it, they need to convince Felipe Lopez to come back, and take a chance on him at third base.

3) Where is the lefty power off the bench? Among the starting eight, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Ryan Ludwick aren’t going to be pinch-hit for . Lugo or Tyler Greene can hit for Skip Schumaker or Colby Rasmus against a tough lefty. But who hits for Freese or Brendan Ryan or the pitcher against a tough righty reliever? That hitter isn’t on the bench right now, and the Cardinals need to find him.

4) Is there someone to pick up Ryan Franklin if he struggles closing again? Franklin blew three saves in six September opportunities last year, plus one (Holliday’s drop) in the playoffs. Is Jason Motte, last year’s opening day closer, ready THIS year? In the last 12 months, the Cardinals have shipped out Luke Gregerson to San Diego, Chris Perez and Jess Todd to Cleveland, and haven’t re-signed veteran John Smoltz. All, at different levels, can close. If Franklin falters, is someone on hand to get the 27th out every night?

5) What is Colby Rasmus? He had a very good rookie year in which he improved all the time. But, let’s be honest. LaRussa likes veterans. And if Rasmus can’t handle 140 games, who plays center field and hits in the middle of the lineup? At the moment, the Cardinals don’t have a single known quantity as a backup centerfielder, like they did last year with, for better or worse, Rick Ankiel. So they need to find that fourth outfielder, who is a centerfielder, by the end of spring training.

Innings from the starters, bench and bullpen strength and depth should lead the Cardinals to another division title. But they do have some questions to answer…and players to get…before opening day.