MLB In Full Bloom - Cardinals Preview - 3/10/2014

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22– Number of days until Opening Day

63,278 – Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Key Additions: Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, Mark Ellis

Key Departures: Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Edward Mujica, Jake WestbrookJohn Axford

St. Louis Cardinals Preview

In an era filled with parity and unprecedented levels of roster turnover, the St. Louis Cardinals consistency is special. Since 2000, the Cardinals have made the playoffs 10 times, won seven division titles, and reached the World Series four times. The Cardinals came out of the 2013 World Series in a hurry to prepare for the team’s next shot. It was only a few weeks before Cardinals GM John Mozeliak made a pair of substantial moves addressing the team’s two most glaring needs from 2013—a shortstop and a center fielder.

OFFENSE: The Cardinals historic .330 batting average with runners in scoring position spurred the Cardinals to the National League lead in runs. Five Cardinals finished among the majors’ top-10 averages with runners in scoring position, led by Allen Craig's major-league best .454. While a repeat of  this production can’t be expected this year, the lineup remains stocked with productive hitters. The signing of shortstop Jhonny Peralta gives the Cardinals five regulars who hit .300. The Cardinals will miss their leading home run hitter Carlos Beltran, but I believe first baseman Matt Adams can help fill their power void. This lineup is deep and will score runs.

STARTING PITCHING: Despite having only three pitchers start 20 games or more, the Cardinals' rotation posted the second lowest ERA in the National league in 2013. Adam Wainwright had one of the best seasons of his career, posting a 2.94 ERA. He led the league in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts, but finished a distant second to Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young race. The often overlooked Lance Lynn put up the first 200 inning season of his career, but struggled to find consistency. Shelby Miller was the early season favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year award thanks to an 8-4 record and 2.08 ERA through his first 14 starts. Joe Kelly posted a 2.69 ERA in 37 appearances, and was 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA as a starter. The most impressive aspect of this rotation is their depth; after listing four names, I still have not mentioned Michael Wacha or setup-man-turned-starter Carlos Martinez, both of whom will get varying amounts of starts in 2014. The Cardinals rotation is deep and have enough depth in the organization to fill the gaps if needed.
BULLPEN: The Cardinals' bullpen seemed to be a very average unit in 2013. But, they finished seventh in the National League in both ERA and save percentage, and their 20 blown saves were the fifth-most in the league. Closer Trevor Rosenthal led the way with 108 strikeouts and 20 walks in 75 1/3 innings. Kevin Siegrist allowed as many earned runs in the postseason as he did in the entire regular season. He probably will not repeat last year's 0.45 regular season ERA. Jamie Garcia is sidelined with a shoulder injury and his absence could leave the bullpen with some undefined roles. But that doesn’t mean it will be any less effective than it was in the playoffs last year, when Cardinals relievers turned in a 1.82 ERA.

2014 PREDICTION: The Cardinals won it all in 2011 and have been close to winning championships in both 2012 and 2013. The entire organization has made a seamless transition from the Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols days to this new era of seemingly endless homegrown talent. The Cardinals are hands down the class of the NL Central, and possibly the National League. If their pitching stays healthy and effective, the only real question may be whether they can surpass the 100-win mark.

Final Record: 98-64 (First Place in NL Central)