Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014 NL Central Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

If Reds fans were wondering how the St. Louis Cardinals would top their 2012 NL championship, Mike Matheny gave them a terrible, terrible answer: in only his second year as a big league skipper, he led the Cardinals to the World Series while the Reds failed to win an October series yet again.

Throughout the season, the beastly birds played to win and didn’t give their fans any cause for concern, even in the August heat when they slipped to 4 games behind Pittsburgh in the NL Central. Despite weak play at shortstop and Jaime Garcia’s May surgery, they never faltered and came close to winning their twelfth world championship.

Key Additions: The Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta in November to a four-year contract, adding both offensive and defensive talent to the shortstop position that was share by Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso in 2013.

Peter Bourjos will battle Jon Jay for rights in centerfield. Although Jay’s batting statistics are better, Bourjos’ ability to steal bases (the one lackluster statistic for the 2013 team) and solid defensive skills should help secure his spot in the lineup.

Key Losses: Are there any to speak of? The Cardinals are proudly boasting their “good problems” with too much pitching and too much depth at positions. Chris Carpenter retired, but Adam Wainwright will take over as leader of the mound.

Third baseman David Freese was traded to Los Angeles in a four player deal. There are plenty of Freese t-shirts around St. Louis, but the in-field won’t suffer with Matt Carpenter’s move over from second base.

Youngsters to watch: Attention is already and will remain on the young and successful pitching staff, specifically Michael Wacha. After his newfound fame in the postseason, Wacha will now enjoy that of the second man in the Cardinals’ rotation. At just 22, he clearly represents the youth and talent of which the Cardinals are so proud.

Kolten Wong may earn his place on the lineup with steady offensive stats and reliable fielding at second base.

Manager: Mike Matheny (185-139 record, 3rd season)
Home Attendance: 3,369,769 (2nd of 15)

2013 Records
Overall: 97-65 (1st place in NL Central)
Home: 54-27
Away: 43-38
Vs. NL Central: 46-30

Notable 2013 Stat Rankings
Runs – 783 (1st in NL)
HR – 125 (13th in NL)
AVG – .269 (2nd in NL)
SB – 45 (15th in NL)
ERA – 3.43 (5th in NL)
BAA –481 (5th in NL)
WHIP – 1.245 (6th in NL)
Errors – 75 (tied for 14th in NL)

Projected Lineup
3B Matt Carpenter
CF Jon Jay or Peter Bourjos
LF Matt Holliday
RF Allen Craig
C Yadier Molina
1B Matt Adams
SS Jhonny Peralta
2B Kolten Wong or Mark Ellis

Projected Rotation
RHP Adam Wainwright
RHP Michael Wacha
LHP Lance Lynn
RHP Shelby Miller
RHP Jaime Garcia

RHP Carlos Martinez (SU)
RHP Jason Motte (SU)
RHP Trevor Rosenthal (CL)

Best case scenario: The Cardinals will arrive in Cincinnati for Opening Day with such a strong rotation and few changes to the successful 2013 team that it will take a lot to stop them from campaigning for postseason champagne and confetti. The few changes made to the roster are improvements, providing more speed and youth. If anything, the competition to make the lineup will only fuel young players like Oscar Taveras to more success. The Cardinals will cruise into the postseason with a mission to correct 2013’s World Series failure, as the favorites to win it all.

Worst case scenario: Those of us who loathe the Redbirds can dream of the hyped Cardinals pitching staff making headlines for losses and high ERAs. The young staff suffers injuries, just as Jaime Garcia did in 2013, and the rotation loses its power. With so many interchangeable fielding positions, competition for daily jobs leads to inconsistent production from the young guys and close games become losses due to avoidable errors and bad at-bats. Mike Matheny’s off-field issues become too much of a distraction and fans lose trust and confidence. The Cardinals make it to the post-season, only to lose the NL pennant.

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