Oct 24, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal (right) celebrates with catcher Yadier Molina (left) after game two of the MLB baseball World Series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2014 MLB Team Previews: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

2013 Record: 97-65 (.599, 1st place)

2013 in Review

Ho-hum. Another year with the Cardinals in first place and another World Series appearance. With typical playoff focus, the Cardinals bested the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the post-season on their way to the World Series. Losing to the Red Sox four games to two was a bitter end to a tremendous season, but there’s nothing but optimism moving forward. The Redbirds are young yet experienced, with a fresh supply of rookies on the farm ready to help them back to the Promised Land.

The Cardinals success last season began with their pitching. Ranking 6th in WHIP during the regular season with a 1.24 team mark, the pitching tightened up in the playoffs for a post-season best 1.05 WHIP including two shutouts. The Phillies had just three shutouts all season, the low mark in baseball.

In support of the pitching, the offense scored the most runs in the NL and was second in OPS to only the Colorado Rockies. However, the hitters did not maintain their pace in the post-season, managing a paltry .596 OPS as a team. Give some credit to the pitching they faced, but the offense didn’t rise to the occasion in the post-season.

2014 Preview

Key Additions

OF Peter Bourjos
SS Jhonny Peralta
IF Mark Ellis

Key Subtractions

RHP Jake Westbrook
OF Carlos Beltran
RHP Chris Carpenter
3B David Freese
RHP John Axford
RHP Edward Mujica

Offense

Projected Lineup

  1. Matt Carpenter
  2. Kolten Wong
  3. Matt Holliday
  4. Allen Craig
  5. Matt Adams
  6. Yadier Molina
  7. Jhonny Peralta
  8. Peter Bourjos

The three Matts – Carpenter, Holliday and Adams – should provide enough support to clean up hitter Allen Craig to keep the Cardinals scoring runs in bunches. Peter Bourjos adds speed at the top, an element lacking last season. Jhonny Peralta will boost the offense at shortstop, where the Cardinals had meager production last year with Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso.

Pitching and Defense

Projected Rotation

  1. Adam Wainwright
  2. Michael Wacha
  3. Lance Lynn
  4. Shelby Miller
  5. Joe Kelly

Closer: Trevor Rosenthal

Adam Wainwright. Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals pitching will be every bit as good as it was last season, if not a bit better due to experience. Led by Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn, the starting rotation is strong and deep.

The bullpen is teeming with young talent and will not much miss Edward Mujica. Trevor Rosenthal is a nasty closer, one of the best finishers in the game. The dogfight for roster spots on a deep team means even the last arm in the pen will be a good one.

Defensively the Cardinals should be fine, despite moving pieces. They were tied for first in fielding percentage and 5th in total chances in 2013. Peter Bourjos is one of the best center fielders in the majors and will make many friends on the pitching staff.

Best Case Scenario

The Cardinals pitching should be solid all season long. The Cardinals always seem to have a fresh arm to plug in.

If all goes according to plan, the loss of outfielders David Freese and Carlos Beltran will be offset by rookie outfielders Oscar Tavares, Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey, each knocking on the door.

Even if the Redbirds sustain one or two key injuries, they are deep enough and balanced enough to fill in the gaps with talent. This is a team ready to compete at the highest levels and anything short of a World Series victory will feel like a disappointment.

Worst Case Scenario

Short of bad luck, it’s hard to project the Cards doing anything but winning. However, the NL Central isn’t an easy division and if the Redbirds suffer a wave of injuries to several of their top players the competition will catch up to them.

Some of their younger players could struggle and regress but that would be reversing the trend of youngsters coming up and impressing.

Projection

Matt Holliday. Image Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

For the years between 2008 and 2011, the Phillies were often called the Yankees of the National League. No one says so anymore but there is always a team that seems to be held up as the NL equivalent of the Bronx Bombers.

In another decade we may have to start asking who is the AL equivalent of the St. Louis Cardinals. Since 2000, the Cardinals have finished in first place 8 times, falling short in just 7 seasons. So far this century they have been to the World Series 4 times, winning twice and losing twice. Four more times they advanced as far as the NLCS. At this point every NL team knows the road to the championship goes through St. Louis.

What sets the Cardinals apart?

For one, the Cardinals are incredible talent evaluators. No team has excelled in the draft in recent years the way the Cardinals have. Their best draft in 2009 has produced seven big leaguers so far.

Much of their success in the draft has to do with player development as much as talent evaluation. The Cardinals consistently produce fundamentally sound players who get the most out of their abilities. The hitters seem to recognize pitches well and maintain a balance between aggression and patience. The pitchers throw hard but also know how to change speeds and work in and out or up and down in the zone as needed. Credit a great catcher in Yadier Molina for helping but these young Cardinal pitchers are coming up with polish and poise.

So, talent evaluation and player development are key. But their success runs deeper than that. The Cardinals are excellent at scouting their opponents and using technology to better prepare their players with a solid game plan.

There aren’t any weaknesses to find. The only thing looking better than the Cardinals’ present is their future. The Cardinal Way just works and teams would do well to imitate them in every way possible until they can compete at their level. Are you listening, Ruben Amaro, Jr.?

Predicted Finish: 1st place

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