Series: Game 1 of 3

Series starts Mon 3/31

Game 1: Monday, March 31
St. Louis
Game 1: Tuesday, April 1
St. Louis1
Game 2: Wednesday, April 2
St. Louis8
Game 3: Thursday, April 3
St. Louis3

4:15 PM ET, March 31, 2008

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri 

Starting Pitchers

Colorado: Francis (4-10, 5.01 ERA)

St. Louis: Wainwright (11-3, 3.20 ERA)

Rockies-Cardinals Preview


The Colorado Rockies are eager to show that their run to the World Series last season was no fluke.

With their young roster largely unchanged from 2007, the Rockies are hoping to finish what they started last season as they kick off a season-opening three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals Monday at Busch Stadium.

The Rockies started off slow last season, but won 14 of their 15 final regular-season games, including the wild-card tiebreaker against San Diego, to reach the postseason for the second time in team history and first since 1995 with a 90-73 record. Colorado then reeled off seven straight wins to capture its first NL pennant before getting swept by Boston in the World Series.

"We need to win four more games," manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Rockies are convinced that last year's team was no flash in the pan. Instead of shopping for free agents in the offseason, Colorado focused on locking up its young core of players, signing slugger Matt Holliday, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, right fielder Brad Hawpe, closer Manny Corpas and right-hander Aaron Cook.

The Rockies' biggest pickup was right-handed reliever Luis Vizcaino, who will take over for the departed LaTroy Hawkins and set up Corpas. Rookie Jayson Nix, who batted .292 with 11 homers at Triple-A Colorado Springs last year, will replace Kaz Matsui at second base.

"Our big thing is we're still a young team and the experience that we gained last year is sort of our free agency," said team owner Charlie Monfort, who boosted payroll from $61 million to about $70 million.

Holliday led the NL last season with a .340 batting average and 137 RBIs and ranked fourth in the league with 36 homers, but was edged out by Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins for NL MVP. Tulowitzki, meanwhile, led major league shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage, turned the 13th unassisted triple play in big league history, and set an NL rookie record for home runs by a shortstop (24).

Tulowitzki hit .291 with 99 RBIs and finished second to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun for NL Rookie of the Year. Colorado gave Tulowitzki $31 million over six seasons, the largest contract for a second-year player in the majors.

"He made some plays that were jaw-dropping, eye-opening, take-your-breath-away," Hurdle said. "He showed some leadership traits for a young player that I hadn't seen before on the field in the heat of battle. Some big swings of the bat late in games that you don't count on.

"But about two-thirds of the way through the season, nothing he did after that kind of surprised us. He threw a lot at us in a hurry."

The biggest question for the Rockies might be the rotation. Jeff Francis, who gets the opening day start, is the unquestioned ace and went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA last season, matching the team single-season record for wins.

However, the four pitchers behind him on the staff -- Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and Mark Redman -- won just 17 games combined last season. No wonder Hurdle, who usually waits until mid-March to announce his opening day starter, had already tabbed Francis as his man on Feb. 25.

"Basically, from the second half of the season all the way through the playoffs he was our No. 1 guy," Hurdle said.

Francis went 9-4 after the All-Star break and 2-1 in the postseason. The 27-year-old Canadian has been tough on the Cardinals, going 4-1 with a 2.28 ERA in six career starts against them.

St. Louis also has issues with its starting rotation heading into the season. Joel Pineiro, Mark Mulder and Matt Clement will all likely miss time at the start of the season with shoulder problems, and former NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter could be out until July following right elbow surgery.

For now, that leaves Adam Wainwright as the Cardinals' ace, with free-agent pickup Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper, Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer likely filling out the rotation.

"At some point during this year, we're going to have the deepest starting rotation of all time," said Wainwright, who will get the start opposite Francis. "It's a good problem to have."

Wainwright went 14-12 with a 3.70 ERA in his first year in the rotation after serving as the closer in the Cardinals' run to the 2006 title, recording the highest win total in franchise history for a first-year starter.

Wainwright's only start against Colorado came on May 9 last season, when he allowed one earned run in six innings of a 9-2 home win. Before that, he made four scoreless relief outings against the Rockies, all in 2006, going 1-0 over 4 1-3 innings.

"The reality of it is, if Carpenter was here, I'm probably not starting," Wainwright told the Cardinals' official Web site. "But he's not, so I get to do it. It's a really exciting time for me. It's the start to hopefully a big year for me, but it's something cool I can say I did. I plan to do it for a long time, but I can always say I did it."

The Cardinals, who won the 2006 World Series in five games over Detroit, are hoping to bounce back from their first losing season (78-84) since 1999. The lineup will have a new look this season following the departures of Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and David Eckstein.

Rick Ankiel, a converted pitcher who hit .285 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs in 47 games last season, takes over for Edmonds in center field. Free-agent pickup Cesar Izturis takes over for Eckstein at shortstop, while Rolen's longtime feud with manager Tony La Russa led the Cardinals to trade him to Toronto for fellow third baseman Troy Glaus.

"People are looking at other clubs and liking them better than ours," La Russa said. "I look at our club and see some real possibilities. We've got a real shot if we go about it right."

The Cardinals still have one of the most lethal offensive players in baseball in Albert Pujols, who batted .407 with a .500 on-base percentage, hit five homers and drove in 18 runs during the spring. Pujols hit .327, and his 32 homers and 103 RBIs in 2007 were both career lows.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Gameday Matchup

 ColoradoSt. Louis
Current StreakL3W6
Last 105-57-3

Pitching Matchup

ColoradoSt. Louis
J. Francis
4-10, 5.01 ERA

Last Game:
9/12 at COL
6.0 IP, 3 ER
Dec = Loss
A. Wainwright
11-3, 3.20 ERA

Last Game:
9/24 vs ARI
6.0 IP, 2 ER
Dec = Win

Gameday Lineups

NO.ColoradoSt. Louis
1. W. Taveras, CF S. Schumaker, LF
2. T. Tulowitzki, SS R. Ludwick, RF
3. T. Helton, 1B A. Pujols, 1B
4. M. Holliday, LF T. Glaus, 3B
5. G. Atkins, 3B R. Ankiel, CF
6. B. Hawpe, RF Y. Molina, C
7. Y. Torrealba, C C. Izturis, SS
8. J. Nix, 2B A. Wainwright, P
9. J. Francis, P A. Miles, 2B