This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in the National League. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Cardinals, who want to go all the way this year; no other result will be satisfactory. After breakout performances by youngsters Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal in last year’s playoffs, the Cards have the young core in place to make another run at winning the whole thing.
Projected Lineup: 3B Matt Carpenter, RF Jon Jay, LF Matt Holliday, 1B Allen Craig, C Yadier Molina, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Kolten Wong, CF Peter Bourjos
By now, St. Louis fans are ecstatic whenever the Cardinals lose a key player to free agency. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Albert Pujols, Kyle Lohse, or Carlos Beltran; you can bet that a couple kids will come out of the woodwork, fill the vacancy, and lead the redbirds to another division title. It’s standard procedure at this point.
So let’s take a look at this year’s candidate to be the next guy who makes us all say, “Hey, this guy is leading the league in hitting, why have I never heard of him before?”
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing outfielder Oscar Taveras. He is starting the season in Triple-A, but he won’t be there for long. The man is a hitting machine, and able to handle big league pitching without question. The only real concern is that he swings at too many bad pitches—and hits home runs off them. A terrible habit that they’ll need to coach out of him. But once they do, he’ll be a more than capable replacement for the departed Beltran in right field.
Peter Bourjos also joins the starting outfield, who along with Taveras gives a brand new dimension to the defense. Last year, with Beltran and Matt Holliday manning the corner outfield spots, a lot of base hits split the gaps in the outfield. Now, Bourjos will provide the range in center to cover those gaps, Taveras brings good speed and a good glove, and Jon Jay can sub in for Holliday late in games to provide an airtight outfield defense.
What an advantage that’ll be in crucial late-inning situations, for the Cards’ young relievers to know that any ball hit to the outfield will be sucked into the vacuum of the Bourjos Patrol.
“Bourjos Patrol”—Isn’t that clever? I just made that up. I’m counting on my loyal readers as witnesses for when ESPN coins that nickname and refuses to send me my royalty checks. You heard it here first.
The Cardinals also have a surplus in their starting rotation. I mean, unless the rumors from last October are true, and Shelby Miller actually has been kidnapped by the mafia, the Cardinals enter 2014 with at least six viable starters. Seven, if you count Carlos Martinez, who absolutely deserves a spot in the rotation, but will start the year in the bullpen because there’s simply no room.
There’s the indefatigable Adam Wainwright, about whom nothing remains to be said. Michael Wacha and the presumably-still-alive Shelby Miller are each entering their crucial sophomore campaigns with high expectations.
And I mean very high expectations. If Wacha doesn’t throw a no-hitter in April, it’ll be a disappointment.
Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn should round out the rotation. And it should be mentioned, lest we forget, that Jaime Garcia is back from injury. If any of these guys falter, the Cardinals have the depth to fill the void.
The Cardinals have all the pieces of a winning team. Only a colossal setback would hold them back at this point—and we’re talking something like, say, the Gateway Arch falling down.
And to be honest, if that happened, they’d still probably win the Wildcard.
Projected Finish: 99-63, First place in NL Central