ST. LOUIS (AP) -When the National League's last two World Series teams play on opening day, all eyes will be on two of the league's best hitters: St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Colorado's Matt Holliday.
Cardinals opening-day starter Adam Wainwright knows firsthand how good both are; Holliday has torn up Cardinals pitching.
Still, Wainwright has an opinion about who is better.
``He's like Albert almost,'' Wainwright said. ``Almost. I have a game plan and I'm going to follow it, and if I make my pitches I'm very confident I can get him out.''
He'll need to do better than the Cardinals have in the past against last season's runner-up in the NL MVP race. Holliday has a .418 career average against the Cardinals, his best against any opponent, and is hitting .483 with five homers at new Busch Stadium, entering its third season.
Holliday is the best bat in a lineup that also features Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe and is as good as any in the league.
But in an NL West featuring some of the league's best starting pitching, the Rockies rotation remains a question mark.
Left-hander Jeff Francis won 17 games last year and gets his first opening-day start, but the other four starters - Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, Mark Redman and Franklin Morales - combined for 17 wins.
To manager Clint Hurdle, it's no big deal to have questions at the back end of the rotation.
``Yeah, us and 29 other clubs,'' he said. ``I don't think there's any doubt about that if you check the industry out. I like our guys, I like our back end, just as far as what they've done and what they've shown.''
The Rockies were overlooked entering last year and got off to an 18-27 start. A magical 21-1 run propelled them to the World Series, where they were swept by the Red Sox. During the winter, they concentrated on retaining their top players.
The Cardinals open the season with question marks in the lineup and rotation. Most of their projected rotation is sidelined with injuries and they've been picked by many to finish in the bottom half of the Central. It would be a big drop-off for a franchise that's made it to the postseason six of the last eight seasons.
``You mean the same guys who picked us to win last year?'' manager Tony La Russa said. ``They're just guessing and who can blame them when they look at all of our questions and changes?''
The Cardinals hope to stay competitive until their starters get healthy. Joel Pineiro is expected to miss perhaps a few turns as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Mark Mulder and Matt Clement, both coming off shoulder surgery, could be ready in May, and ace Chris Carpenter's timetable coming off reconstructive elbow surgery is July 1.
In the meantime, Wainwright's 14-win season his first year in the rotation makes him the ace. Swingmen Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson, Braden Looper and newly signed Kyle Lohse round out the rotation.
``We're not waiting for anyone,'' Wainwright said. ``We've got to get our business done until they get back. If we were waiting for them, we're going to find ourselves a lot of games back.''
Veterans Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and David Eckstein are gone, leaving Pujols protected by new third baseman Troy Glaus, left fielder Chris Duncan and center fielder Rick Ankiel.
Duncan and second baseman Adam Kennedy will make their debut in the second game of the season because La Russa is loading his lineup with right-handed hitters to face Francis. One left-handed hitter who will play is outfielder Skip Schumaker, a longtime prospect who won the leadoff job.
``We're playing with that sense of 'What do we have to lose?''' Wainwright said. ``Nobody's expecting anything from us. We're going to go out there and play free and easy and ... go after it with an excitement level that's pretty hard to match.''
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