Can La Russa and Duncan deliver another miracle? 2009 St. Louis Cardinals Preview

Although the St. Louis Cardinals overachieved in 2008 with 86 wins it would be unreasonable to expect coaches Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan to work another miracle or to even build on that success.

Perhaps Fred Bird (above) can throw a mean curve.

The Cardinals patchwork rotation returns for the most part but it still looks like a Triple-A rotation rather than a major league one outside of ace Adam Wainwright.

Joel Pineiro, Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Lohse and a starter to be named will round out the rotation that won't feature Chris Carpenter for the majority of the season, if ever.

That rotation didn't scare anyone last year but Duncan was able to get the most out of his guys (he usually does). If everyone duplicates their 2008 success, St. Louis could be an 81-85 win team but that's asking a lot and it doesn't even put the team in the playoff picture.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for fans is that one of the best supported organizations didn't feel like spending any money.

It's been a buyers market but the Cardinals have stood pat, content with running out a team nearly identical to that of the 2008 season.

On top of the numerous question marks in the rotation, the lineup is filled with holes top to bottom with the exception of MVP candidate Albert Pujols.

Third baseman Troy Glaus had offseason surgery and may miss the first month of the season and there aren't any viable replacements short term. Adam Kennedy was let go after clashes with management and will be replaced at second base by Brendan Ryan who didn't prove much of anything in 2008.

Shortstop Khalil Greene is one of the few newcomers and St. Louis has to hope a change of location (from San Diego) can help him rebound from a season when he hit .218 to drop he career average into the high-.240s.

Perhaps Greene will bounce back in a big way but I wouldn't bet on it because his best season was his rookie season.

The outfield remains in good shape depending on if you believe that Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick are legit.

Ludwick was a career minor-leaguer with Cleveland before having an all-star season in 2008.

The final piece of the puzzle is the engima known as Rick Ankiel.

Ankiel is up for a new contract after 2009 and should be motivated to build on his relatively young hitting career.

In his first-full season as a hitter, Ankiel knocked out 25 home runs and should continue to get better as he adjusts to major league pitching.

I'm not sure there is really a key to the 2009 season for the Cardinals other than hoping for more good fortune to extend from the 2008 season.

One of the outfielders is likely to get traded because of the emergence of super-star prospect Colby Rasmus. Rasmus and third baseman Brett Wallace should at least get a crack when the Cardinals likely fall out of the race around July.

But as previous years have shown us, you can't count out the La Russa/Duncan administration.