PLAYER TO WATCH
"Every day felt like a struggle," Colby Rasmus says of his rookie season, during which he faced unforeseen circumstances ranging from a hiatal hernia which caused him to lose 25 pounds, to the unplanned pregnancy of his girlfriend (now fiancée), Megan Hudson. Rasmus, 22 at the time, was exhausted physically and mentally, and his numbers reflected it. The centerfielder, who began 2009 as Baseball America's third-ranked prospect, behind Matt Wieters and David Price, hit .251 with a feeble .307 on-base percentage. "I was tired all the time," he says. "I wasn't eating. My body was struggling."
Now a proud father (daughter Rylee was born last October), Rasmus, is "refreshed and ready to go" after packing on 15 pounds and returning to a better frame of mind this winter. The Cardinals lack big bats after Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday and could use a breakout year from the former Alabama high school star, who has 20-homer, 20-steal potential and plays Gold Glove--caliber defense.
Rasmus says he felt "lonely and lost" in the clubhouse last year—"I kind of kept my head down and tried to figure things out by myself," he says—but has found a mentor in Mark McGwire. St. Louis's new hitting coach has retooled Rasmus's swing and worked on improving his plate discipline. "Big Mac has been great," says Rasmus. "He understands what I'm trying to do. Everything is working out now."
The Cardinals' batting average against lefthanded pitching in 2009, the worst in the majors and their lowest mark in more than half a century. It didn't seem to matter: Their .571 winning percentage against lefthanded pitchers (28--21) was fourth best in the NL.
Ryan Franklin's 1.92 ERA last season was about good fortune rather than fortitude. Frankin allowed just a .269 batting average on balls in play, about 30 points lower than the league average. He gave up only two home runs all season, largely because a measly 3.2% of the fly balls he allowed left the yard. (The league average is around 10%.) Finally, 86% of the base runners he allowed were stranded, as opposed to 70% for the league. Those percentages will tend to even out, so even if he pitches exactly as well as he did in 2010, it would be no surprise if Franklin's ERA doubles this year. Therefore, the Cardinals have to be prepared to let hard-throwing Jason Motte replace him as the closer. Motte misses bats and strikes out a man an inning. (Franklin's K rate last year was .72 per inning.) The Cards will be a better team with Motte pitching late in games.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Tony La Russa
15TH SEASON WITH CARDINALS
6 10 4.74 1.37
2 2 2.87 1.04
4 38 1.92 1.20
4 0 4.76 1.41
*Minor league stats
SCOTT SEWELL/ICON SMI (RASMUS)
STACKED DECK A confident Rasmus further strengthens the Cards' hand.
TOM DIPACE (MOTTE)