Cleat Geeks

2015 Season Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals: 2014 Record: 90-72, 1st place in the NL Central

The Cardinals finished last year in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), losing to the San Francisco Giants 4-1. It was the fourth year in a row that St. Louis made it to at least the NLCS. They are once again poised for another great season. During the offseason, the Cardinals looked to further clean up their pitching rotation and add another bat to their lineup, by sending RHP Shelby Miller and RHP Tyrell Jenkins to the Atlanta Braves for RF Jason Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden. The only other notable signings included 1B Mark Reynolds and the pickup of RHP Carlos Villanueva to a minor league contract.

Cardinals Infield

St. Louis Cardinals Catcher: Yadier Molina

St. Louis Cardinals Catcher: Yadier Molina

Once again behind the plate is Yadier Molina (Career: .284 AVG., 96 HR, 584 RBI’s, .339 OBP), who will playing in his 12th season. At 32 years old, he is still among the best in baseball, as well as the cornerstone of the Cardinals defense. The Cardinals also have in Molina, an extra added advantage from the other clubs. Molina is one of the only catchers in baseball that is relied upon to manage the play of the pitchers on the mound, while dissecting the batters at the plate. Nagging injuries have some concerned on whether his production will continue to decline. Last year marked a season in which Molina played at least 20 less games (110) since 2009, where he’d been averaging at least a 130 games per season. Molina spent his offseason slimming down, hoping it will help his production and the previous nagging injuries behind the plate. He should have another solid season. Tony Cruz (Career: .225 AVG., 3 HR, 47 RBI’s, .271 OBP) will continue playing in the backup role.

There are few changes to mention with the remaining infield group. 1st base will again see a lot of play by “Big City” Matt Adams (Career: .283 AVG., 34 HR, 132 RBI’s, .323 OBP), now playing in his 4th season. At 2nd base, Kolten Wong (Career: .236 AVG., 12 HR, 42 RBI’s, .280 OBP) is poised to take the bulk of the work load. He is also projected to have a breakout season, though Spring Training has not been as expected. Wong currently only has 5 hits in 27 at bats. Short stop duties will continue with Jhonny Peralta (Career: .267 AVG., 177 HR, 773 RBI’s, .330 OBP) at the helm. He should continue to provide a solid presence, though much like Wong, he’s having a slow start in Spring Training, currently at 7 hits in 24 at bats. This could be an advantage for Pete Kozma (Career: .236 AVG., 3 HR, 50 RBI’s, .297 OBP) who seems to be showing a great amount of improvement from last season’s disaster that had many wondering why Matheny was still trying to use him in the lineup. Kozma should get some back up time at 2nd base as well, and possibly some at 3rd. Most of the 3rd base duties will continue with the solid and composed Matt Carpenter (Career: .293 AVG., 25 HR, 183 RBI’s, .397 OBP).

Cardinals Outfield

St. Louis Cardinals Outfielder: Matt Holliday

St. Louis Cardinals Outfielder: Matt Holliday

The Cardinals outfield looks to have gotten a boost with the offseason acquisition of veteran Jason Heyward (Career: .262 AVG., 84 HR, 292 RBI’s, .351 OBP) in right field. In center field, Jon Jay (Career: .295 AVG., 28 HR, 217 RBI’s, .359 OBP) looks to continue the remarkable improvement he had in the second half of last year’s season; once again regaining his position from Peter Bourjos (Career: .247 AVG., 28 HR, 113 RBI’s, .304 OBP). Jon Jay should be ready for the start of the season, as he is almost fully recovered from his offseason wrist surgery. Speaking on Jay, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said “He’s going to be fine…, just want to make sure that he feels good when he goes out there, and when he goes, no turning back.” In left field, stands once again, the power hitting “Forearms” Matt Holliday (Career: .308 AVG., 271 HR, 1056 RBI’s, .385 OBP). Holliday is getting up there in years, and though his fielding ability has continued to show some decline, he shouldn’t be a hindrance to the outfield. He is also still a force to be reckoned with at the plate. One last notable outfielder that deserves a mention is the young Randal Grichuk (Career: .245 AVG., 3 HR, 8 RBI’s, .278 OBP). This will be Grichuk’s second season, and he looks to get quite a bit more playing time while adding some needed speed. He also currently leads the Cardinals this Spring Training with four homeruns.

Cardinals Starting Rotation

St. Louis Cardinals Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright

St. Louis Cardinals Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright (Career: 3.01 ERA, 119-66 W-L, 1306 SO, 1.16 WHIP) leads the charge in a rotation that looks to be as solid as any in the league. Wainwright is the workhorse for the club, and though he is widely revered and loved in St. Louis, he rarely gets the true recognition from the rest of the league he so deserves. Behind Wainwright is the widely touted Lance Lynn (Career: 3.46 ERA, 49-28 W-L, 599 SO, 1.28 WHIP), who has some of the best production and most wins from any pitcher in the league the last three years. In January, Lynn signed a 3 year, $22 million dollar deal. This will allow the Cardinals consistency at the top of the rotation for foreseeable future. Last year’s big time acquisition, John Lackey (Career: 4.03 ERA, 152-117 W-L, 1790 SO, 1.32 WHIP), will play the middle man in this deep rotation. The bottom of the rotation concludes with Michael Wacha (Career: 3.04 ERA, 9-7 W-L, 159 SO, 1.16 WHIP) and Carlos Martinez (Career: 4.28 ERA, 4-5 W-L, 108 SO, 1.41 WHIP). Marco Gonzales (Career: 4.15 ERA, 4-2 W-L, 31 SO, 1.53 WHIP) and Jaime Garcia (Career: 3.50 ERA, 42-26 W-L, 476 SO, 1.31 WHIP) are currently jockeying for the possible final rotation spot. That is, if the Cardinals actually do decide to go with six starting pitchers this season.

Cardinals Bullpen

The Cardinals bullpen was average last season. The bullpen’s greatest strength was BB% (Walk Rate), ranking 9th in the league last season. The weakest aspect to the bullpen was their collective FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), ranking 19th. The bullpen’s most glaring weakness last season was found in the declined pitching performance (specifically his walk rate) of closer Trevor Rosenthal (Career: 2.89 ERA, 48 SV, 220 SO, 1.21 WHIP). A rebound season for Rosenthal could be one of the most significant keys to whether the Cardinals will make a return deep into the playoffs.

The Key

St. Louis Cardinals Manager: Mike Matheny

St. Louis Cardinals Manager: Mike Matheny

The key to a successful season for the Cardinals will again be consistency. The Cardinals need to prevent lengthy cold streaks with their bats; while on the other end, the bullpen needs to shine in close games. Mike Matheny (486 G, 275-211, .566 PCT, 20-19 POST) will also need to hone in on his play calling. Last season saw many fans livid with some of his decision making. It’s hard however to deny that during his first 3 full years of managerial duty thus far, that he’s a proven winner. There are few that could accomplish what he has already in such a short amount of time. Matheny has been able to handle the responsibilities, limelight and expectations from a very energetic fan base; all while transitioning from such a beloved manager to the likes of a Tony La Russa, without skipping a beat.

My Opinion

St Louis Cardinals World Series Championship

St. Louis Cardinals celebrating their last World Series Championship in 2011

Without any glaring deficiencies and a lineup that is systematically the same, it’s hard to predict anything short of going deep into the postseason again. You would almost have to be foolish to bet against them. Since the mark of the 21st Century, it can very well be argued that the Cardinals have been the best team in baseball. Until their success simmers into mediocrity, the Cardinals are a safe bet for more late October baseball this upcoming season.

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