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CARDINALS AND ROYALS READY FOR ANOTHER EXCITING BASEBALL SEASON

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CARDINALS AND ROYALS READY FOR ANOTHER EXCITING BASEBALL SEASON
The two Major League Baseball teams that call the state of Missouri home have markedly different goals for the 2011 season. The St. Louis Cardinals are looking to return to the playoffs after finishing second to the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central a year ago. The Kansas City Royals, on the other hand, are hoping to avoid the worst record in baseball after a woeful 67-95 campaign and would be perfectly content with even incremental improvement. 
From a personnel standpoint, the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest concern is the impending free agency of Albert Pujols. He arrived at training camp without a long term deal and his longterm status is uncertain to say the least. Pujols has publicly stated that he’d like to stay in St. Louis but at this point it looks like he’ll at least test the free agent market following the 2011 season. Assuming he approaches his impending free agency like so many other players in all sports during a ‘contract year’ he could put up big numbers this season.
Tony LaRussa is back for his 16th season as manager and, if anything, has an improved everyday roster to work with. The Cards upgraded the middle of the batting order with the free agent acquisition of Lance Burkman and the emergence of rookies Jon Jay and Allen Craig late last season will pay dividends this year in the form of added depth. The pitching rotation should be decent assuming that Chris Carpenter can avoid injury and veteran Jake Westbrook can improve upon his numbers from last season.
Over in Kansas City, there’s guarded optimism surrounding a team that is essentially starting from scratch in many ways. They’ve got a new manager as Ned Yost enters his first full year at the helm and he’ll have plenty of work to do. The Royals are very enthusiastic about a bumper crop of young prospects, but have added a few solid veterans so they won’t be forced to bring them along too quickly. Some of the players that the Royals are banking on to lead them back to respectability aren’t even on their current 40 man roster—including highly touted third baseman Mike Mostakas. Still, don’t be surprised if Mostakas and a few other youngsters are in the starting lineup by the end of the year.
Another young player that could move into the starting lineup before the season is over is Lorenzo Cain, who was acquired as part of the deal that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. For now, however, he’s still listed behind Melky Cabrera on the depth chart. Veteran Jeff Francis is currently penciled in as the opening day starter but there’s also some impressive pitching prospects down on the farm including southpaw John Lamb who’ll start the season in AA but will likely be in the majors before the 4th of July.
The Royals did a lot of things right last season—in particular, they hit for average with a .274 team batting average that ranked second in major leagues. On the other hand, they scored only 676 runs which ranked 20th in the MLB. Assuming that even some of the prospects are as good as billed and that the Royals cash in some of those hits for runs in 2011 there’s every reason to expect at least some improvement. This may be a team that is a year or two away, but it’s also possible to envision a scenario where the young players all start to pay dividends immediately in which case a winning season in Kansas City is within the realm of possibility.