The Cardinals are, without a doubt, the Reds’ most dangerous opponent for the NL Central title in my opinion. While the Cardinals are, admittedly, getting up there in age, they still feature one of the more dangerous lineups in the MLB. When you factor in that they feature a nice pitching staff, headed by staff ace Adam Wainwright, you are looking at serious contender year in and year out. This is exactly what the Cardinals have been over the past decade- true competitors. They’ve snagged two World Series titles in the last 7 years, one in 2006 and the other in 2011, and are known for coming up clutch when it matters (such as being down to their last strike in arguably the best World Series game ever played.)
Many Reds fans don’t like to admit that they think the Cardinals are a good team because of the recent rivalry between the two teams, sparked by Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina. However, we have to look at the reality of the situation- there’s no team better in the big leagues than the Cardinals when it comes to winning in tight situations. Even in 2012, where they didn’t win the World Series, they still blew up reliable closer Drew Storen to snatch victory away from the Washington Nationals. Like it or not, the Cardinals are a great team who should never be fully counted out.
It was a relatively quiet offseason for St. Louis in 2013, however they did make one great under the table move. They signed Randy Choate to a 3 year, 7.5 million dollar deal to be their lefty out of the bullpen. Along with a full season of deadline-acquired Edward Mujica (who pitched to a 1.03 ERA in 26.1 innings with the Cards), Choate (3.03 ERA in 2012) should solidify the Cardinals’ bullpen. They also signed veteran utility man Ty Wigginton who can provide some nice pop off the bench. Most of the Cardinals offseason discussion, however, is about what they lost. They gave up SP Kyle Lohse, who was unquestionably the team’s best pitcher in 2012, as he pitched to a 16-3 record with a sparkling 2.86 ERA. While Lohse hasn’t been signed yet, the Cardinals don’t seem to have any interest in a reunion. They also gave up Lance Berkman, who signed a big deal with the Texas Rangers to be their DH for 1 year and 10 million dollars (with a 2014 vesting option for 13 million which triggers at 550 PAs this year.) This seems to be a big deal for the 37 year old Berkman, who had a down year last year after reviving his career in St. Louis in 2011, and the Cardinals were right to not chase after him for that amount of cash.
With all of this being said, let’s take a look at who the Cardinals plan to run out on the field this year:
1. Potential Starting Lineup
|Player (pos)||2012 Stats|
|1. Jon Jay (CF)||.305/.373/.400; 4 HR, 40 RBI|
|2. Allen Craig (1B)||.307/.354/.522; 22HR, 92 RBI|
|3. Matt Holliday (LF)||.295/.379/.497; 27HR, 102 RBI|
|4. Carlos Beltran (RF)||.269/.346/.495; 32HR, 97 RBI|
|5. Yadier Molina (C )||.315/.373/.501; 22HR, 76 RBI|
|6. David Freese (3B)||.293/.372/.467; 20HR, 70 RBI|
|7. Daniel Descalso (2B)||.227/.303/.324; 4HR, 26 RBI|
|8. Ronny Cedeno (SS)||.259/.332/.410; 4HR, 22RBI (NYM)|
This is exactly why the Cardinals are a team to be feared. Last year, they had three .300 hitters, with 2 who were extremely close. For reference, the Reds had no qualified hitters who hit over .300 last year. Say what you want about age, but the Cardinals’ offense is still potent. The Cardinals could also potentially go to Pete Kozma as their shortstop for 2012. He impressed last year in 72 at bats, hitting .333/.383/.569. However, he has a mediocre minor league record and really struggled in the playoffs. Both Kozma and Cedeno are viable options to replace the oft-injured Rafael Furcal, who will miss the 2013 season (0r at least most of it) after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Allen Craig, who I have already picked up in a few of my fantasy leagues, is the X Factor for this lineup. People are expecting great things out of Craig this year, who has a composite projection (via RotoChamp) of .290/.347/.494 with 22 HR, and 82 RBI. Even those great numbers are selling Craig short, in my opinion. I see him as a potential .300/30 HR threat.
Carlos Beltran is another player to watch on the Cardinals. Will he be the Carlos Beltran from before the All Star break last year, who hit .296/.382/.542, with 20 HR 65 RBI? Or will he be the Carlos Beltran who hit just .236/.302/.440 with 12 HR and 32 RBI after the All Star break? Or will be just be the Carlos Beltran who only plays 90 games? Beltran’s health and performance is a huge factor to the success of the Cardinals’ offense. While they have enough offensive talent to replace him if need be, their production would take a hit no doubt.
2. Potential Starting Rotation
With the season-ending injury to Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals’ pitching staff was dealt a big blow. While Carpenter is getting up there in age, him and Adam Wainwright still formed a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Cardinals’ rotation. Now, their rotation is in question. Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia (assuming he’s healthy, he’s had some health issues this winter), and Jake Westbrook are virtual locks for the rotation. Lance Lynn had a great start to 2012, including an All Star nod over Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto, but faltered down the stretch. I think that he will take the fourth spot. The fifth spot is up for debate, really. Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, who have both impressed, are in contention for the fifth spot in the rotation. However, I think that 2012 rookie Joe Kelly, who pitched well in both the rotation and bullpen in 2012, will win the spot out. He has more MLB experience than either Miller or Rosenthal, and his stuff is just nasty, with a fastball that can easily hit triple digits. With that being said, here is the Cardinals’ projected rotation:
|1. Adam Wainwright||14-13, 3.94 ERA.|
|2. Jaime Garcia||7-7, 3.92 ERA.|
|3. Jake Westbrook||13-11, 3.97 ERA.|
|4. Lance Lynn||18-7, 3.78 ERA.|
|5. Joe Kelly||5-7, 3.53 ERA.|
Notice that the Cardinals’ rotation, while still good, doesn’t impress nearly as much as their offense. Adam Wainwright should only get better as he removes himself from Tommy John surgery, which he showed by pitching to an impressive 3.28 ERA after the All Star break. Wainwright has been an ace throughout his career, and he should return to ace status in 2012. Jaime Garcia is an underrated pitcher, but has had problems staying on the field. Overall, the Cardinals are in pretty good shape with their starting rotation, but they could miss the production that their opening day starter Kyle Lohse provided last season.
3. The Cardinals’ 2012
The Cardinals had a bit of a down year, partially caused by injuries, after their unlikely World Series victory in 2011. They finished with a record of 88-74, good for second in the NL Central. Against the Reds, they were the better team last year, although just barely, finishing with a 8-7 record against the 97 win Reds. They were headed by rookie manager Mike Matheny, who had a good season as his first as head of the Cardinals. Matheny should improve as he goes on, thus improving the Cardinals as a whole. Seeing as last year was Matheny’s first as a manager, his career record is an impressive 88-74.
4. Position Player to Watch
As I talked about before, I think that Allen Craig is the offensive player to watch for on this team. He has the chance to be a legitimate superstar, and would only be aided by St. Louis’ incredible offense. According to FanGraphs, Craig was worth a solid 3.1 WAR. Most projections see him as more of a .280/.290 hitter rather than a .300 hitter, but he should still impress nonetheless. Craig is incredibly clutch, as he hit over .400 with runners in scoring position last year. Craig has the potential to be the best player on this impressive team, and even if he falters, he should still be a solid first baseman.
5. Pitcher to Watch
The pitcher to watch for the Cardinals has to be Adam Wainwright. Wainwright has been one of the National League’s best pitchers since 2006. He has an impressive career ERA of 3.15, even with last year’s outlier number of 3.94. Wainwright actually pitched a lot better than the results indicated last year, as his 3.10 FIP and 3.23 xFIP were among the best in the National League. With another year removed from his surgery, he should be even better. In 2010, when he finished second in Cy Young voting, he posted a 2.42 ERA with a record of 20-11. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wainwright return to his sub-3 ERA form in 2013, now that his curveball should be working right again. Wainwright’s main pitch last year was his sinker, which he threw at an average of 90 mph. However, his most impressive pitch is, arguably, his curveball, which is one of the best in baseball. He threw his curveball 24 percent of the time, limiting hitters to a measly .174 average off of the pitch. He throws the curveball slow, at an average of just over 73 mph, which is a nice complement to his hard sinker. Wainwright should be one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2013, and is a virtual lock to bounce back, in my opinion.
6. Conclusion and Prediction
Like I said before, never count the Cardinals out. I know a lot of Reds fans are confident about this season, which they should be. It’s not everyday you get to root for a 97-win team who actually got better, but don’t assume the Reds have the division locked up. The Cardinals are always a threat, and will pounce on the Reds at the slightest sign of weakness. Here is how I think the division will shape up:
|1. Cincinnati Reds||94-68|
|2. St. Louis Cardinals||90-72|
|3. Milwaukee Brewers||87-75|
|4. Pittsburgh Pirates||75-87|
|5. Chicago Cubs||70-92|