St. Louis Cardinals: 3 up and 3 downNearly the entire 2013 season, all the way up until the fourth game of the World Series, everything was fine for the St. Louis Cardinals. There were setbacks during the season, mostly injuries, but the Cardinals had an answer for just about every one of them. But the Cards finished the season on a losing streak, dropping the final three games of the World Series to the Boston Red Sox to put a bitter finish on a sweet season.
The Cardinals enter their third season with manager Mike Matheny at the helm, and while both of Matheny’s first two seasons have seen success, the final goal of winning a World Series is still incomplete. The franchise, led by general manager John Mozeliak, has a front office that has made outstanding personnel decisions recently. The Cardinals and their farm system have one of the deepest clubs in the majors and they are ready to contend for a championship again in 2014.
The Cardinals made two major offseason moves in the same week in November. First, they traded 2011 World Series hero David Freese to the Angels for athletic outfielder Peter Bourjos, whose past is riddled with injuries. They followed that up by signing shortstop Jhonny Peralta, an offensive force with a checkered PED history. The rest of the holes are to be filled internally by players already within the organization.
Best case scenario
The best case scenario for the St. Louis Cardinals would require a season with minimal injuries and every player finding a defined role. If that happens the Cardinals can approach 100 wins, win the National League pennant again, and this time finish it with a World Series victory.
Most important Cardinals
It is silly to suggest that any Cardinal other than catcher Yadier Molina is the most important player on the team. Molina is revered for his handling of the pitching staff, and giving the right signs to the young pitchers. Yadi also shuts down the opposition’s running game with his laser arm. Additionally, Molina in recent years has been a fixture in the middle of the Cardinals’ lineup. Molina’s health is paramount to the Cardinals’ success and his workload needs to be monitored.
Adam Wainwright (Photo: Scott Rovak – USA TODAY Sports)
The Cardinals have what seems like endless young pitching, but the rock of the pitching staff is ace Adam Wainwright. The risk of employing so many unseasoned pitchers is the inconsistency that can occur. But the Cards can always count on Wainwright to give them a quality start and eat innings. Wainwright returned to his pre-surgery form in 2013, leading the National League in innings (241.2), complete games (5), and shutouts (2). He is the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff, and his involvement is a necessary ingredient to a successful season.
Potential breakout players
Michael Wacha will always be remembered for crashing the 2013 postseason with unhittable stuff and unflappable nerve. But the 22-year-old Wacha can establish himself as a great major league starter if he can perform well consistently throughout the entire season. The Cardinals were cautious with Wacha until last September, and he still has not reached his full potential. Look for him to go to his curveball more to add another wrinkle to his destructive fastball-changeup repertoire.
The Cardinals will be looking for more power on offense in 2014 and first baseman Matt Adams could be the man to provide it. Adams, 25, hit 17 home runs in just 296 at-bats last season, and he has the chance to start opening day and cement the first base position as his for 2014. The big lefty struggled against southpaws last season, and many teams implemented a defensive shift when he was at the plate. If Adams can improve against lefties and learn to spray the ball to all fields, then he will be a force in the Cardinals lineup and possibly hit upwards of 30 home runs.
Worst case scenario
The Cardinals were hit by quite a few injuries last season, but the injury bug seems like it could always be worse. Several key players missed extended time, but the most valuable Cardinals (Molina, Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Matt Carpenter) were mostly healthy. If injuries hit the Cards even harder in 2014 it could lead to a worst case scenario of not making the postseason. An overcrowded pitching staff or potential platoons in the field could also lead to a confusion of roles if not managed properly. The Cards probably have enough depth to still finish above .500 regardless, but missing the playoffs this year would be a failure from any point of view.
Areas of concern
The middle of the infield has been a problem for the Cardinals for much of the past decade. Both shortstop and second base have been revolving doors. In 2014, the Cardinals are giving unproven Kolten Wong a shot, but signed veteran Mark Ellis for insurance. The Cards are counting on Peralta to shore up the shortstop position with consistent offense. If he cannot come through then it is back to the combination of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, both of whom are capable fielders but anemic hitters. The Cards need second, short, or both to be solidified by a player or players who can play every day and also help turn the lineup over.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2013
Centerfielder Jon Jay had a disappointing 2013, losing his spot as the leadoff hitter early in the season. Coming into the year he had a career .300 batting average, but Jay only managed to hit .276 for the season. He also regressed defensively, including some blunders in the playoffs. The Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos to create a healthy competition in center, but Bourjos has to make a comeback of his own. Bourjos only played in 55 games last season for the Angels due to injury. The Cardinals did not give up much in the trade to acquire Bourjos, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy and give the Cards his extraordinary athleticism. Either Jay or Bourjos need to bounce back in a big way or else the Cardinals will have a potential problem area in the center of their outfield.
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