Pujols, Molina, and Wainwright; the last act

The young man responsible for making the decisions in the cave of the St. Louis Cardinals is new this season.

Everything else is pretty much the same.

Indeed, the return of slugger Albert Pujols to a team that still includes stalwarts Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina gives the Cardinals a touch of old-school nostalgia heading into the season.

“There’s still something left for him,” Oliver Marmol, the youngest manager in the majors at 35, said when asked about the return of the 42-year-old Pujols after more than a decade playing for the Dodgers and Angels in The Angels.

“There’s more to it than just something,” Marble insisted. “Albert wants to play this season because he can help a team win. He wants to finish well and I think he can do it.”

Pujols is likely to share at-bats with Corey Dickerson, a former Tampa Bay outfielder who came in to provide depth at various positions. Otherwise, the roster remains largely unchanged from the group that won 90 games under Mike Shildt before falling in the NL wild-card game to the Dodgers last season.

Shildt was fired soon after, over what Cardinals president John Mozeliak described as “differences in philosophy.”

Mármol took Shildt’s place, after serving in a variety of roles for five years and despite having no previous managerial experience. In fact, Wainwright, 40, and Molina, 39, are older than the new pilot, who provides a decidedly exuberant and upbeat manner.

You’ll have a lot of veterans to fall back on. Paul Goldschmidt is back at first base, Tommy Edman at second and Nolen Arenado at third, with Paul DeJong at shortstop. Outfield options include youngsters Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader.

And of course, Puerto Rican Molina behind the plate to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Molina was cautious in his preparation in spring training, but he is expected to be in the lineup for the opening game with Wainwright on the mound. They have lined up in 304 regular-season games, the fourth-most in history, and could overtake Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan for the record if they get to 21 more games together.

The Cardinals don’t have a particularly deep rotation, and it doesn’t help that Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes enter the season depleted. Flaherty recently received an injection to help with a labral injury in his right shoulder. Reyes, who wants to be a starter but was solid as a closer last season, is also dealing with shoulder discomfort.

Until the Cardinals get Reyes back into the rotation, Giovanny Gallegos is expected to get the first opportunity to close out games. Last season he was 6-5 with a 3.02 ERA and 14 saves. Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera and Jordan Hicks will have their role as setup men and could have a chance to pitch in the ninth.

Hicks in particular is an intriguing candidate. He had Tommy John surgery, opted out of 2020 because of the pandemic, and then suffered a setback. But the 25-year-old pitcher had 20 saves during the 2018 and 2019 seasons and, when he was healthy, he shone with a fastball that he once tied with Aroldis Chapman for the fastest pitch in history, at 105.1 mph.

Jordan Walker, the Cardinals’ top prospect, isn’t going to unseat Arenado at third base any time soon. But keep a close eye on Nolan Gorman, another third baseman who moved to second in hopes of finding room in the majors this summer.

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Pujols, Molina, and Wainwright; the last act