This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. 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, whose championship drought has now reached critical levels for St. Louis fans, with no new hardware since 2011. With the core of the team still intact, is it time for the Cards to reclaim their spot at the top?
Projected Lineup: 3B Matt Carpenter, RF Jason Heyward*, LF Matt Holliday, 1B Matt Adams, SS Jhonny Peralta, C Yadier Molina, 2B Kolten Wong, CF Jon Jay
Projected Rotation: RHP Adam Wainwright, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP John Lackey, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Carlos Martinez
* new additions
A lot of people take it for granted that the Cardinals will make the playoffs every year, just because that’s the way the world works. But when you try to take a step back and explain why, it’s harder to pinpoint. It’s sort of like gravity—we all just take for granted that it works, but even some of the most highly-regarded scientists couldn’t for the life of them tell you why or how.
Most people will tell you it has a lot to do with that dude putting down the signs. But here’s the thing about Yadier Molina: while he continues to be the same unstoppable force on defense, his bat is slipping. Last season, he posted his lowest OPS since 2010, showing a significant decline in power. The now 32-year-old Molina will be valuable no matter what, but if the offensive half of his game is gone, the Cards will be hurting for runs.
To remedy their lack of offense, the Cards traded for Jason Heyward, who is more known for his great defense, but can be a source of power as well as an on-base machine. He’ll likely hit in the 2-hole, which was a black hole for the club last season, with hitters posting an anemic .680 OPS from the spot last year.
But the guy to watch in terms of a potential breakout year is Kolten Wong. Initially thought to be a top-of-the-order bat with decent speed, he added another element to his game by finding some power halfway through last season—of the twelve homers he hit, eleven came after July 1. And let’s not forget about the three additional bombs he hit in the playoffs, including the walk-off in the NLCS that showed he’s not the least bit fazed by high-pressure situations.
The bench is pretty stacked, with the most notable aspect being all the outfielders who will be fighting for playing time. The Cards have always been inexplicably insistent on starting Jon Jay, which means worthy candidate Randal Grichuk will be relegated to bench duty. Grichuk is a legit prospect who just finished tearing up the Grapefruit League with a .911 OPS. And yet, thanks to Mike Matheny’s love affair with Jay, Grichuk will probably only see starts against lefties or if someone gets hurt.
And don’t even get me started on Peter Bourjos, who at this rate will only see playing time if a lunar eclipse coincides with a Led Zeppelin reunion concert.
Adam Wainwright is the anchor of the pitching staff, but you wonder when his workload will catch up to him—in the last two seasons, including the playoffs, Wainwright has thrown 519.2 innings! For a 33-year-old in today’s game, that amount of work is not normal. And as great as Waino has been, it’s the workload that will almost certainly be blamed when he inevitably hits that decline.
Michael Wacha appears healthy, but his innings will be closely monitored this year after last season’s shoulder injury. Lance Lynn and John Lackey round out a very consistent top four.
Carlos Martinez will continue to grow as a starter after winning a spot in the rotation with a very good spring. Prior to this year, the organization had kept him in the bullpen due to having too much rotation depth. Now they’re set on letting him develop as a starter, which means he’ll have to be a different pitcher, having to rely on his secondary pitches to get outs rather than his velocity. There may be an adjustment period, but don’t freak out if he has a rough start to the season—the kid’s talent is real.
The bullpen is solid, and the one thing all the relievers have in common is that they all should have been pitching instead of Michael Wacha in Game 5 of last year’s NLCS.
(Sorry. Too soon?)
24-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal could very well reach “elite” status this year with his electric stuff. He had a slight problem with free passes last year, with a rate of 5.4 walks per nine innings. But he appears to have fixed that issue going into this year, having only walked one batter all spring.
The Cardinals have some extra depth in rookie Marco Gonzales, who will start the year in Triple-A despite a very good spring in which he posted a 1.04 ERA working mostly as a starter. He’ll appear in some capacity on the big league club this year, either as an extra left-handed arm in the bullpen, or as a backup starter in case someone in the rotation goes down.
With an aging core, it’s anyone’s guess as to when the Cardinals will make the jump from baseball royalty to over-the-hill. And with the competition in the NL Central only getting stronger, the fall could come soon for the redbirds.
Projected Finish: 80-82, Fourth place in NL Central