NATIONAL LEAGUE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BREAKOUT PLAYER / / ADAM WAINWRIGHT

Team / / St. Louis Cardinals

Position / / Right-handed starter

Comment / / This might be one of those rare mistakes made by Braves general manager John Schuerholz. Wainwright, a former No. 1 pick by Atlanta, was dealt as part of the J.D. Drew trade in 2003. Wainwright, 25, did his initial breaking out by taking over for injured closer Jason Isringhausen in the second half of last season. He threw 9 2 / 3, scoreless innings in the postseason and saved four games. But now, with Isringhausen presumably healthy, Wainwright moves to the No. 4 spot in the St. Louis rotation. He's big -- 6 feet 7 -- and throws four pitches for strikes. He could emerge as the next great Cardinals starter.

~ Dan Connolly

LAST SEASON / / 83-78 / / FIRST PLACE

Manager / / Tony La Russa, 12th season with the Cardinals, 29th overall

Payroll / / $95 million

X-factor / / Veteran Jason Isringhausen is coming back from a painful hip injury to reclaim his closer's role from World Series standout Adam Wainwright.

Best case / / Albert Pujols finishes in the top four in Most Valuable Player voting for the seventh straight year. ... Pitching coach Dave Duncan works his latest round of magic with Kip Wells, a talented underachiever. ... The David Eckstein-Adam Kennedy keystone combination proves as successful as it was with the 2002 Angels, another World Series title outfit.

Worst case / / Braden Looper can't handle the move into the rotation, forcing the Cardinals to scramble for innings from their starters. ... Juan Encarnacion's wrist injury remains a season-long issue. ... They wind up in the same wins range as last year but the rest of an improved division blows past them.

LINEUP 2006 STATISTICS

SS David Eckstein .292, 68 runs, 7 SBs

LF Chris Duncan .293, 22 HRs, 43 RBIs

1B Albert Pujols .331, 49 HRs, 137 RBIs

CF Jim Edmonds .257, 19 HRs, 70 RBIs

3B Scott Rolen .296, 22 HRs, 95 RBIs

RF Juan Encarnacion-i .278, 19 HRs, 79 RBIs

C Yadier Molina .216, 6 HRs, 49 RBIs

2B Adam Kennedy .273, 4 HRs, 55 RBIs

ROTATION

RHP Chris Carpenter 15-8, 3.09 ERA, 184 K's

RHP Kip Wells 2-5, 6.50 ERA in 441 / 3 inn.

RHP Braden Looper 9-3, 3.56 ERA, 41 K's

RHP Adam Wainwright 2-1, 3.12 ERA, 72 K's

RHP Anthony Reyes 5-8, 5.06 ERA, 72 K's

BULLPEN

RHP Jason Isringhausen 4-8, 3.55 ERA, 33 saves

RHP Brad Thompson 1-2, 3.34 ERA, 0 saves

LHP Randy Flores 1-1, 5.62 ERA, 0 saves

CAPSULES FROM THE SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

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