Don't count the Cardinals out yet

Updated: February 26, 2011, 11:41 AM ET
By Buster Olney

There are few players, if any, who would be missed more than Adam Wainwright will be missed by the St. Louis Cardinals. He's one of the best half-dozen pitchers in the majors, and there really is no way to replace what he does.

But the notion that the Cardinals might be starting to think about how to abandon their 2011 ship is laughable, because this is not a franchise that is built that way. The loss of one player in February is not going to prompt Tony La Russa to wave the white flag on this season, and general manager John Mozeliak is not going to suddenly call other teams and start offering his most marketable players.

You can bet that Wednesday and Thursday were very difficult days for the Cardinals, who know their pursuit of the NL Central title just got a whole lot tougher. The Cincinnati Reds won the division last year and they're a young team that seems to be getting better. The Milwaukee Brewers' rotation looks like it could be exceptional -- and with significantly more depth than St. Louis'. Mike Quade, now installed as the full-time manager of the Chicago Cubs, has his players drinking the Kool-Aid: Carlos Zambrano says he's never going back to being what he was before, and Aramis Ramirez is in great shape and appears more dedicated. Even the Houston Astros are quietly confident in what their rotation could accomplish, considering how strongly it finished last year.

But the Cardinals do have the game's best player, Albert Pujols, who has been extraordinary in every year in his career and has a whole lot at stake for 2011, before he hits free agency. Matt Holliday is coming off a year in which he hit .312, with 28 homers,103 RBI and a .390 on-base percentage. Colby Rasmus might have grown from what happened last year. The Cardinals think David Freese is going to hit. Chris Carpenter is still a front-of-the-rotation pitcher, and Jaime Garcia was the NL Rookie of the Year front-runner on Aug. 1 of last year.