La Russa expected to return to Cardinals for 2011

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Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan informed the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday that he will be returning for the 2011 season. And now it looks like manager Tony La Russa is about to make the same call.

According to the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss, a person close to La Russa said Saturday that he would be “very surprised” if the veteran skipper opts not to return to St. Louis next season. Strauss opines that the Cardinals are simply waiting to make the announcement and probably won’t until scouts from throughout the organization convene at Busch Stadium late next week.

La Russa led the Redbirds to a disappointing 86-76 record this season despite two Cy Young candidates in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, a Rookie of the Year candidate in Jaime Garcia and sluggers Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.

The 66-year-old battled with young outfielder Colby Rasmus at different points in the season and insisted on giving frequent playing time to mediocre talent — like Aaron Miles and Randy Winn. That commitment to replacement-level players frustrated right fielder Ryan Ludwick, who moved on to San Diego at the trade deadline in search of an everyday role. The Cardinals landed Jake Westbrook in that trade, and Westbrook pitched quite well down the stretch, but he is a free agent this winter and the club may have to let him walk because of a looming extension for the one they call “El Hombre.”

Nonetheless, La Russa was formally invited back by the Cardinals last week and is almost certain to return. As for his coaching staff, including former slugger and steroid user Mark McGwire? It remains to be seen.