(BaseballStL) -- The Cardinals face the Nationals in the final game of Grapefruit League play here in Jupiter, Florida. Following this matchup, a lot of the guys will head to Springfield for one final exhibition before kicking off the regular season Wednesday night in Miami. Jaime Garcia takes the ball today and he'll be backed by the following lineup:
1) Tyler Greene - 2B
2) Carlos Beltran - RF
3) Matt Holliday - LF
4) David Freese - 3B
5) Yadier Molina - C
6) Matt Carpenter - 1B
7) Shane Robinson - CF
8) Rafael Furcal - SS
9) Jaime Garcia - P
Garcia will be followed by the full compliment of bullpen pitchers that the Redbirds possess. Translation: Everyone is available. From Jason Motte the closer to J.C. Romero the 2nd lefty. It's like a regular season game. Almost.
Storylines to look out for this afternoon:
-- Mike Matheny will probably manage this game as close to a regular season matchup as he possibly can. Now, he's not going to stretch out anyone to the point of pushing them just to try and win the game. That's not what I mean by that. But he'll probably use his bullpen like he would Wednesday night in Miami. Meaning, lefties against lefties...try and find some matchups that he likes. Use his setup guys the way he would to set up Motte to come in and close out a win. Obviously, if things don't lend themselves to that strategy he can always back off and go with a few other minor leaguers they have available just in case. But expect this game, from a manager's point of view, to be run like a regular season game. In fact, we could see how he likes to use his weapons in the running game and what sort of strategy he'll employ.
-- Obviously, this is not a "regular season" batting order and lineup that Matheny is throwing out there, given that Lance Berkman and Jon Jay are not playing. But you can't ignore the fact that once again Rafael Furcal is hitting 8th. He has absolutely not been himself at the plate (or really in the field for that matter) this spring and as Matheny said a few days ago...time is running out. I do believe Matheny when he says that Furcal is the team's starting shortstop. He's being paid a lot of money over the next 2 years to do that. But the leadoff hitter he is not. Furcal has led off the last week about as much as Tyler Greene has and Daniel Descalso has. And if Descalso is going to find his way into the lineup to hit first (he'll likely play 2nd base) someone is going to sit between Greene/Furcal. And we all know how in love this franchise is with Greene's physical abilities. That's not to say a scenario where Greene/Descalso are starting and Furcal is sitting will happen often. But it will happen. And more than they'll be able to justify it as a "day off" for Furcal. This might not be a true "3 into 2"...but it's certainly not a "2 into 2" with a bench guy.
-- Shane Robinson gets the start in center field today as he has already been told he's made the team as a bench player. Robinson's strength is his defense. He's a terrific defensive outfielder who covers a lot of ground and has a nice, accurate arm. His offense (a few years ago) was supposed to be similar to that of David Eckstein. Someone who can be a flat out pest at the plate that gives tough at-bats on a consistent basis. But that hasn't happened for some reason. Injuries have played a part in that. Robinson's performance has too. For the 2012 season, "Sugar Shane" has his work cut out for him to stick around at the big league level. It's my personal opinion that Robinson is only here because Allen Craig is not yet ready for active duty. But Craig's not far off. In fact, he nearly was ready to kick off the season. So on April 10th (when he's eligible to come off the disabled list) or shortly after that...Allen Craig will be wearing the uniform and suiting up for the Cards. Thus, someone will be sent off the roster. Erik Komatsu is the only other real alternative aside from Matt Carpenter. Komatsu is a Rule 5 guy who would have to be exposed to waivers if sent out. And Carpenter has been too good to go this soon. Plus, Zack Cox is probably going to be the 3rd baseman in AAA and that would complicate things if Carpenter was sent back. The safe money, barring another injury, is Robinson. But a lot can change in the next couple weeks on that front.
-- In closing, I've talked to multiple players on the Cards roster. They firmly believe, despite all the changes that have taken place with the manager, pitching coach and first baseman, that they can successfully defend their World Series title. This team may not have the best player in baseball starting at 1st base and hitting 3rd every single day. But they've got balance. Lance Berkman proved he wasn't old and broken down. He's still Lance Berkman. Everyone knows what Matt Holliday can do. Saying the name David Freese actually means something around the country now that he's shown the world what he's capable of. Same thing applies to Allen Craig. Rafael Furcal, if healthy, plays wonderful defense. Yadier Molina needs no introduction. And now they've added Carlos Beltran to the mix. This club firmly believes there is plenty of offense to offset the loss of Albert Pujols. And with a pitching staff that lost only Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Edwin Jackson...it gains some guy named Adam Wainwright. Yadier Molina said it best the other day. They can win another World Series championship with this group.