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St. Louis Cardinals 2014 Season Preview

Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals put together an incredible season that far exceeded many expectations. The Redbirds set an all-time record for batting average with runners in scoring position (.330), which was key to scoring runs in an offense that ranked 27th in the majors in home runs (125). Meanwhile, the pitching staff saw several young arms emerge from the farm system. Rookies Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Michael Blazek, Kevin Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, John Gast, and Michael Wacha all saw playing time in 2013, and all made meaningful contributions to the team.

2013 could easily have been a disaster for the Cardinals, but somehow they were able to hit and pitch their way to a 97-65 record, tying the Boston Red Sox for the best regular season record in the big leagues. The Cards rode that momentum to a National League pennant, and held a 2-1 lead in the World Series before losing to the aforementioned Red Sox. All in all, the season was a rousing success for the Cardinals, although anyone in the organization would probably tell you otherwise after falling short of a championship.

Entering 2014, the expectations are high. With major league experience–as well as valuable playoff experience–their young arms are expected to carry the load alongside veterans Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, and Lance Lynn. Offensively and defensively, the team has upgraded in multiple positions from a few wise offseason moves. However, power may once again prove to be the team’s Achilles heel.

Key Losses:

– 3B David Freese (trade with Los Angeles Angels)

– OF Carlos Beltran (free agency)

– P Edward Mujica (free agency)

– P John Axford (free agency)

– P Chris Carpenter (retired)

Key Additions:

– SS Jhonny Peralta (free agency)

– CF Peter Bourjos (trade for David Freese)

– P Jason Motte (return from injury)

– 2B Mark Ellis

Storylines entering 2014:

Without a doubt, the #1 issue with the 2014 Cardinals is their youth. Aside from the pitchers, second baseman Kolten Wong and first baseman Matt Adams also made impressions and will be expected to fully contribute in 2014. Wong underimpressed in his short stint last season, but I don’t think that was indicative of what he is fully capable of. Adams had his fair share of success, but pitchers eventually realized that pitching him offspeed on the outside half of the plate is an effective way to battle him. The success of both Wong and Adams, as well as the team’s young pitching, will be huge for 2014.

Along with the performance of their rookies, the Cardinals offense will also be under a microscope this year. It’s incredibly unfair to assume or expect that the Cardinals will once again hit .330 with runners in scoring position, but the talent is still there to put up a solid number in that department. Also facing the offense is their ability to hit for power. The Cardinals were so successful without hitting home runs in 2013 because they hit so well with runners in scoring position, but with an expected drop in their RISP stat, the offense will have to provide some more power to compensate.

Finally, can star prospect Oscar Taveras come back from his midseason ankle surgery to eventually work his way up to St. Louis sometime this season? I’m under the assumption (and opinion) that Taveras will begin the season in AAA Memphis to get a little more experience before hitting the big leagues. Should a Cardinal outfielder get hurt or Taveras put up extraordinary numbers in Memphis, he will be a welcome addition to an already-potent offense.

Best Transaction: 

No question here: trading Freese and reliever Fernando Salas to the Angels for Bourjos and prospect Randal Grichuk. This move freed up a bullpen spot for one of the young relievers who debuted last season, but most importantly significantly improved the team’s defense. Bourjos is recognized as one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, and will be a huge upgrade from Jon Jay. Meanwhile, Freese’s departure allows Matt Carpenter to move back to his natural third base position, which in turn makes room for the above-average fielding Wong to start at second base.

Honorable mention: signing SS Jhonny Peralta as an obvious offensive upgrade of Pete Kozma

Worst Transaction:

It’s hard to question any of the team’s moves this offseason. They addressed many of their needs and improved considerably on defense. However, I think they grossly overpaid for Peralta–4 years, $52 million. His offense will be a welcome addition to the lineup, but as I wrote at the time of the signing, we may not even see Peralta’s offense until 2015.

That said, Peralta was probably the best option for the Cardinals in a weak shortstop free agent market. There were plenty of trade rumblings involving the Colorado Rockies and their young shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, but nothing came of those. The Texas Rangers and their middle infield of Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar were also targets, but the Rangers’ trade of second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers all but ended the possibility of the Cardinals bringing in Andrus or Profar. Plus, in all likelihood, the asking prices were probably far higher than Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was willing to pay.

2014 Projected Lineup:

1. 3B Matt Carpenter

2. 2B Kolten Wong

3. LF Matt Holliday

4. RF Allen Craig

5. C Yadier Molina

6. 1B Matt Adams

7. SS Jhonny Peralta

8. CF Peter Bourjos

9. Pitcher

This lineup is stacked. The two-hole could see just about anyone outside of Craig and Adams, but however manager Mike Matheny decides to write it up, this lineup should score a lot of runs in 2014.

On the bench is OF Jon Jay, C Tony Cruz, IF Daniel Descalso, 2B Mark Ellis, and most likely OF “Sugar” Shane Robinson. The biggest problem here: complete lack of power. Ellis can hit one out now and then, but other than that, don’t count on a pinch-hit home run from this group. If Taveras makes his way to St. Louis midseason, that will obviously change.

2014 Projected Rotation & Bullpen:

1. Adam Wainwright

2. Shelby Miller

3. Michael Wacha

4. Lance Lynn

5. Jaime Garcia

Middle relievers: Seth Maness, Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist, Joe Kelly

Setup: Jason Motte, Carlos Martinez

Closer: Trevor Rosenthal

Their youth will be the biggest question mark. I’m not too worried about the rotation (as long as Lynn doesn’t have his annual midseason meltdown), but the bullpen will have to keep up their strong play from 2013. The good news, though: if Rosenthal runs into problems as the closer, Motte has extensive closing experience and I’m sure would gladly take his old job back.

Prediction:

This team is good, there’s no question about it. They’re also young, though. If you’ve made it this far, you should know that by now.

Here’s the good news: the four other teams in the NL Central have done next to nothing to gear up for 2014. The Cardinals have only gotten better. It’s pretty clear in my opinion that the Cardinals are the team to beat in the NL Central.

Now how about the National League as a whole? The Dodgers, Braves, and Nationals look to be the Cardinals’ biggest threats, but this St. Louis team has all the talent in the world to take down any opponent.

Look for another National League Central Division title for the Cardinals in 2014. There’s no doubt that they can reach and win the World Series, it’s just a question of overcoming the rest of the NL firepower. If I had to choose right now, I’ll stay consistent with my pick from my Tigers preview a few weeks ago and say that the Dodgers will be the NL representative in the 2014 World Series. Let’s just say that the Cardinals will give L.A. a run for their money.

Record: 93-59

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