ST. LOUIS — Even before spring training began, Cardinals fans were ready to mail in the season.

 

No Jim Edmonds. No Scott Rolen. No David Eckstein.

 

All were either traded or free agents that were not returning.

 

Troy Glaus didn’t exactly seem like a fair trade for Rolen, but the threat of a poison in the locker room might have been even worse.

 

And Eckstein missed much of the tail end of 2007 with injuries. But could anyone replace his scrappy leadoff hitting?

 

What about Edmonds? Sure he was beginning the down slope of his career, but his arm in center field might have been hard to replace and the same could be said for his veteran leadership.

 

If losing three proven players wasn’t bad enough, Chris Carpenter was still recovering from Tommy John surgery and not expected to be back until July. Mark Mulder had his own injury troubles, and new acquisition Matt Clement was impressive in Boston, but expected to be out for quite some time.

 

It’s OK. Albert Pujols will still be in the lineup. Or will he? Elbow problems threatened to keep him out of the lineup and miss nearly the entire season with the possibility of surgery. The battered Redbirds were placed by experts at the bottom of the NL Central battling Pittsburgh for last place.

 

By the way, the mastermind behind 13 years of success? Yeah, he’s gone, too. Walt Jocketty is no longer your General Manager.

 

Congratulations Cardinals! This is your Opening Day lineup:

 

RF           Skip Schumaker

LF            Chris Duncan

1B           Albert Pujols

CF           Rick Ankiel

3B           Troy Glaus

C             Yadier Molina

2B           Adam Kennedy

P             Kyle Lohse

SS           Cesar Izturis

 

No need to worry. Here is your bench:

 

Jason LaRue

Aaron Miles

Brendan Ryan

Brian Barton

Ryan Ludwick

 

Fast forward to May 1, 2007…

 

Congratulations Cardinals! This is your lineup:

 

(See above roster)

 

Mulder and Carpenter are on the fast-track to a comeback and that team from St. Louis that every expected to be living in the NL Central basement by the All-Star Break is instead battling the Chicago Cubs for the top spot.

 

Glaus is surprisingly leading the Majors in doubles (12) and is tied for sixth in RBI (21), while Pujols leads all hitters in walks (30), as well as on base percentage (.523) and batting average (.365) among players with at least 50 at bats.

 

As a team, the Cardinals are tops in doubles (64) and walks (144), and rank second in on OBP (.374) and average (.279).

 

All of this leaves Cardinals Nation hopeful for a post All-Star Break run after missing out on the playoffs last year for the first time since 2003.   

 

One ESPN analyst remarked that head man Tony LaRussa is the reason behind the Cardinals success. Who else would be able to take a team of virtual no-names and hold baseball’s second best record after the first month?

 

After setting a franchise record for wins in April (18), the Cardinals increase the excitement by hosting division rival Chicago in a three-game series this weekend.

 

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