The 2004 NL Champs lost their keystone combo, but added a big lefty in Mark Mulder. To make things even more exciting in the final season at Busch Stadium, Albert Pujols is locked and loaded for a strong MVP push and Jim Edmonds is in the best shape of his career. Because there is no glaring weakness (the only team in the NL which can say that), there's no reason to think this tight-knit group won't be back in the Series.
Worth Every Penny
What more can be said about Pujols. There's no player, in reality or fantasy, that I'd rather have right now. The scary part is that his work ethic is such that it's possible he's only scratched the surface of his ability. And for good measure, he's the team leader in the clubhouse, even at age 25.
About To Blossom
Yadier Molina -- of the famous catching Molina brothers -- is going to be the Cardinals full-time backstop this season, replacing Mike Matheny who defected to the Giants as a free agent. Not much of a power hitter, Molina will hit for a good average and drive in more than his fair share of runs in the potent St. Louis order. He's not a star, but he'll be a solid second fantasy catcher option.
There's no doubt that when healthy, Larry Walker is one of the finest hitters in the NL. But Walker is rarely healthy and he started off this spring with a sprained back. If you can get him as a value pick, he's worthy of a spot. But if you do draft him, stash John Mabry on your bench as insurance, just in case.
Do You Feel Lucky?
Chris Carpenter has always had the arm to be an elite pitcher, but inconsistency followed by injuries plagued him. Last season, he finally put together the type of season that's been expected from him since he reached the majors with the Blue Jays in 1997. With a powerful lineup and strong pen behind him, Carpenter should be moved up on your draft list and treated like an ace.
David Eckstein, who stole 82 bases in four seasons as an Angel, will be on the go as the Cardinals leadoff hitter. The left-handed Walker will be batting behind him, so Eckstein will get a little better jump and will also be set in motion a lot. Dare I predict 25 to 30 steals? Yes I do.
If Something Should Happen To Jason Isringhausen
Gone is the safety blanket that Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa could count on in Steve Kline, so Julian Tavarez, the top right-handed setup man would likely get save opportunities if Izzy were out. If there was a prolonged absence, the Cards would likely look outside the organization for a solution.
Don't Forget About
Edmonds, Jason Marquis, Reggie Sanders, Jeff Suppan
Don't Bother With
Mark Grudzielanek, Roger Cedeno, So Taguchi
David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).