The St. Louis Cardinals have won four National League pennants and two World Series titles in the last ten years, including last year’s run to the NL pennant. TheSportsNotebook’s spring training previews come to rest on the National League’s flagship franchise, as we offer our Notebook Nine, the key points to know about the Cards…
*Exactly how much young pitching does this organization stockpile? Michael Wacha, 22-years-old electrified everyone last October, with four dominating postseason starts and winning MVP honors in the National League Championship Series. Shelby Miller is 23 and won 15 games with a 3.06 ERA before being mysteriously shelved in October. Trevor Rosenthal is the same age and throws 100 mph gas in solidifying the closer role. Kevin Siegrest and Seth Maness are in their early twenties and are top setup men. Now 22-year-old Carlos Martinez will get his shot at the rotation this year.
*Adam Wainwright officially made it all the way back from the elbow injury that cost him his 2011 season. The 2012 campaign saw Wainwright gradually get stronger and post a respectable numbers. Last year he won 19 games with a 2.94 ERA, clearly re-emerging as a staff ace. Wainwright then solidified that standing by personally pitching the Cardinals past the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Division Series with two wins. The only thing Wainwright couldn’t do last year was beat Jon Lester in the World Series.
*All of this would mark the St. Louis pitching staff is stacked, but the team stands to get two upgrades at some point early in the season. Jaime Garcia will make it back from a shoulder injury. Garcia is only 27-years-old and has consistently posted ERAs in the 3s. Jason Motte, the closer who had a strong year in 2012, missed all of last year, but is also expected to return. Depth is the one issue the St. Louis bullpen has, so another quality arm on deck is exactly what’s needed.
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*Has Lance Lynn lost his mind? The starting pitcher who’s reasonably decent—ERAs ranging from the low to high 3s—but easily the most inconsistent on the staff—is reported to be unhappy that he must compete for his rotation job. Okay, I’m looking at Wainwright, Wacha and Miller as locks for three spots. Oh, and I forgot Joe Kelly, another young pitcher who posted a 2.69 ERA last year and won Game 1 of the NLCS. Then there’s Martinez, who showed electric stuff out of the bullpen in late-season duty last year. And Garcia coming back. Who does Lynn think he is that he shouldn’t even have to fight for his job?
*The everyday lineup has some changes to it, although whether that amounts to anything good or bad remains to be seen. David Freese, the hometown boy who was the hero of the 2011 postseason, had a down year and was traded to the Los Angeles Angels. A sequence of position shifts will replace the third baseman, but for all practical purposes his bat is being replaced by the signing of shortstop Jhonny Peralta. In the outfield Carlos Beltran left via free agency. Allen Craig will shift from first base to right field and give a full-time job to the burly first baseman Matt Adams, who hit 17 home runs in 296 at-bats last season.
*Second base is the big question mark spot. Matt Carpenter had a big year last season, with a stat line of .392 on-base percentage/.481 slugging percentage, but he’s moving to third base. Manager Mike Matheny is leaning to 23-year-old Kolten Wong, but the team signed 36-year-old Mark Ellis as insurance and steady utility man Daniel Descalco can also play here. I don’t want to prejudge Wong, but the lasting image I have is him getting picked off first to end Game 4 of the World Series when the tying run was at the plate.
*St. Louis has one of the deepest offenses in the National League, if not the deepest. If you want to look for potential cracks in the armor, start with Matt Holliday. He’s 34-years-old and his slugging percentage has dipped below .500 each of the last two years. Granted, it’s not by a lot—he’s stayed in the .490s—but every little chink is noticeable when you hit this age.
*Centerfield provides an interesting question. Peter Bourjos was acquired from the Angels in the Freese deal to start, but Bourjos has shown himself to be more of a defensive centerfielder who is merely adequate at the plate. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Jon Jay has spent three seasons of full-time duty demonstrating he can give you both quality defense and an OBP of .350-plus. If it were me, I’d be starting Jay and using Bourjos for defensive purposes to start the year. Of course it’s not me making the decisions and the people who like Bourjos have been right about a lot of stuff lately. Just sayin…
*We cap it off with Yadier Molina, the catcher who calls a fantastic game, does the job defensively and posted a .359/.477 stat line, the latest in a run of seasons that has him rivaling Buster Posey in San Francisco for the honor of best catcher. Molina is the heart of an everyday lineup that does everything well—get on base, hit for power and execute with runners in scoring position.
As you might expect, Las Vegas likes the Cardinals, posting their Over/Under win prop at 92, and the World Series odds at 9-1. While St. Louis trails the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wallets of gamblers, they are more highly regarded than any other National League rival and more so than the Red Sox or Yankees.
I share that strong opinion of St. Louis and am picking the Over on the win prop. If anything I might like the Cards even more than Las Vegas. I won’t make my final preseason predictions until we conclude all of these spring previews just prior to Opening Day on March 31, but I’ll certainly consider picking St. Louis to win it all.