The Cardinals won 97 games last year and rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs, but I think they forgot that the World Series counts, because nobody really showed up against Boston. Despite that horrible disappointment, the Cardinals are back for more, and they might have gotten even better this off-season. Look out for them.
Where’s the Weakness?
I’ve mentioned this before, but I am insanely jealous of the Cardinals and their ability to seemingly young pitchers out of the woodwork every year. When I went to look at their depth chart to write this post, I realized they also have a lot of good young hitters too. It’s really not fair how good a player development system they have. I hate it! I hate it! I hate it! OK tantrum over… Let’s get on with the offense.
The Cardinals only really lost one player on offense over the off-season, and that was my boy Carlos Beltran. Beltran’s 24 homers and 84 RBI aren’t ridiculous or anything, but you can’t always find that just lying around. Luckily, for the Cardinals, they actually did have it lying around. Matt Adams, who is something like 6’6″ and somewhere in between 250 and 300 lbs, is ready to take over at First Base. The 25 year old has a lot of power, and managed to hit .284/.335/.503 with 17 homers in less than 300 ABs last year. His emergence allows the oft-injured Allan Craig to move to Right Field to take over for Beltran. When healthy, Craig is a clutch performer who can hit for average and power. Last year, in 134 games, he hit .315/.373/.457 with 13 homers and 97 RBI, which is pretty impressive. If he can stay on the field, he and Adams will surpass Beltran’s production.
Shortstop has traditionally been a weak spot for the Cardinals (sorry Pete Kozma and Rafael Furcal), but they went out and signed Jhonny Peralta this off-season, which should address that nicely. Peralta can pick it with the best of them on the field, and really handles himself well at the plate too. The Cards took a weakness and turned it into a strength this year, which is always good. Kolten Wong, meanwhile, was a 22 year old rookie last year and hit .155 in 62 plate appearances with the big club. This year, he’s going to be given a chance to split the second base duties with Mark Ellis. Wong, the diminutive Hawaiian (5’9″) has shown that he can hit across every minor league level, and his speed should also be a nice addition to this team. Wong’s emergence allows the Cards’ old 2B, Matt Carpenter, to shift to third. Lat year, Carpenter hit .318/.392/.481 with 11 homers and 78 RBI, but his 55 doubles are what really stuck out to me. The soon-to-be 29 year old missed the 200 hit plateau by just 1 last year. Here’s hoping he tops it in 2014. The Cards also just signed Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz to a major league deal. The shortstop might start in the minors to acclimate himself to the American game, but he’s got major league talent too. The rich get richer.
Did I mention the Cardinals also have one of the best catchers in baseball? Yadier Molina, who used to be just the best defender in baseball, has really learned to hit the last few years. The youngest of the Catching Molina Brothers (with Jose and Benji coming before him), Yadier hit .319/.359/.477 last year, with 44 doubles, 12 homers and 80 RBI. All around, I think he’s the best in baseball. He’s only 31 years old too. Must be nice…
Hey guess what, I didn’t even get to the rest of the outfield yet, where the Cardinals have Matt Holliday, who is one of the best hitters in the league. Holiday hit an even .300 last year with 22 homers and 94 RBI, which he should have no trouble repeating, and even surpassing, as he enters his age 34 season. The Cards acquired Peter Bourjos from the Angels this offseason (because Mike Trout), and had him as the every day center fielder, but a puzzling leg issue has held him back so far in camp. Borjous’ game is all about speed, so that leg issue is a bit concerning. That being said, they do have John Jay on the roster. Jay was last year’s starting CF, and has proven he can handle the role on a team that went to the World Series. If anyone in the outfield gets hurt, the Cardinals can always bring up Oscar Taveras, who is considered one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball. Must be nice.
Oh Yeah, the Pitching!
At 32, Adam Wainwright will be six years older than the next oldest guys in the Cardinals rotation this year. Old Man Wainwright, as I hope the other guys call him, went 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA last year. He might not have been the best pitcher on the team. Everybody run… They’re here.
I’ve been touting this pitching staff for a couple of years now, and that was before Michael Wacha was even called up. Wacha, who will join the rotation full time this year, was called up in time to make 9 starts last year, and went 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA. he struck out 65 in 64.2 innings, and seemingly almost pitched a no-hitter every time out. He’s also only 22. I’ll go cry now. Wainwright and Wacha will be joined by Shelby Miller (15-9, 3.06) and a now healthy Jaime Garcia (5-2, 3.58 in 9 starts) and Lance Lynn, who at 15-10, 3.97, is the worst pitcher on this team. Must. Be. Nice. Seriously, I’m already dead. Just stop it.
The Cardinals lost their closer this offseason, when Edward Mujica signed with the Red Sox. Good thing they have 24 year old Trevor Rosenthal ready to step into the role. Rosenthal struck out 108 guys in 75.1 innings last year, so I don’t think the Cards will skip a beat. Oh, by the way, the rest of their bullpen is also young and good. Rosenthal will be joined by Seth Maness (2-4, 2.63 ERA), Kevin Siegrist (3-1 0.45 ERA) and Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69 ERA) and Carlos Martinez (2-1, 5.08), who could probably be in most teams’ starting rotations. Don’t be fooled by Martinez’s numbers, he’s considered one of the best prospects in the Cards’ system, throws gas and should be a dominant force at some point or another. Maybe they decide to let him start in AAA, rather than be another reliever in the bigs, but he’ll help the team at some point. I did manage to find one old guy in their bullpen, and that’s 37 year old Randy Choate. Yankees fans should remember the lefty specialist, as he came up with the Yankees in 2000 and pitched there through 2003. He’s old, but he’s good at his job too (2-1, 2.29 ERA).
Just give them the division right now. I think this team can win 100 games. I didn’t realize just how good they are until I started researching this post. Amazing. If they show up for the World Series, everyone’s in trouble.
I’ll just list them. You can figure out where to draft them. Molina, Adams, Carpenter, Peralta, Holliday, Craig, Wacha, Wainwright, Miller, Lynn, Garcia, Rosenthal. Wait and see how Wong does, but he could be good too.
Featured image courtesy of: USATSI
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