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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Will La Russa use underdog status as a motivator?

About three weeks ago, I took a look at the betting lines to see what those putting their money down had to say about the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series chances in 2011.

As training camp opened, the Cardinals had slipped from an opening line of 14/1 to 20/1. Since then, of course, the Nick Punto groin surgery occurred, setting off panic among early bettors.

Ok, some might argue that actually helped matters, but in all seriousness, the club losing ace pitcher Adam Wainwright for the entire season was a tough blow to take. As a result, the Cardinals are now not only at 30/1, they are tied for third among National League Central Division clubs with Chicago.

Think about that.

World Series Odds Opening Early Feb Current
St. Louis Cardinals 14/1 20/1 30/1

Milwaukee leads the way in the division at 15/1, but that does not yet take into account new ace Zack Greinke’s basketball-induced rib injuries announced on Tuesday. Dusty Baker’s Cincinnati club is at 25/1, according to betting site thespread.com. The Phillies sit on top at 2/1, though ongoing concerns over the knee of second baseman Chase Utley could erode that position.

Further, the over-under on St. Louis wins this season sits at just 83. As recent points of comparison, the Cardinals won 86 in their disappointing 2010 season after claiming 91 victories in 2009.

Perhaps going from the favorite to a decided underdog is just what manager Tony La Russa will call upon to motivate a Cardinals team that seemed to lack the requisite drive last year. The 2010 club suffered through a dismal 9-21 stretch from mid-August to mid-September that doomed their playoff hopes.

The surprising and resilient Reds took the NL Central crown with a five game cushion that would have been much greater had the Cardinals not finished with a 9-2 record during what was essentially garbage time.

What will be the top three teams in order in the 2011 NL Central?

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