Thursday, 29 March 2012

2012 Previews: St. Louis Cardinals

Your reigning, defending, MLB heavyweight champions of the world.

The Majors
If you needed evidence that anything can happen in the majors, look no further than the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.  They were pretty damn lucky to even get in to the playoffs, thanks to the Braves shitting their pants last September, and they were about half a breath from being eliminated multiple times throughout the playoffs, but they dug in and came out on top somehow anyway.  That's not to take away from the fact that they actually won 90 games, and played really solid down the stretch, but in terms of true talent, they were probably the 13th or 14th best team in baseball.

Fast forward an offseason; elephants in the room consist of Chris Carpenter and his shoulder/nerve issue, Adam Wainwright and his return from Tommy John surgery, and the loss of Albert Pujols (replaced by Carlos Beltran).  I don't think it would be a shock to say that this team isn't favored to repeat as World Series champs, but I can certainly see them competing for the division, or at worst, a wild card spot.  They should be worse this year when compared to last, but the good NL Central teams (CIN, STL, MIL) should beat up on the bad ones (HOU, CHC, PIT) to the point where it's almost unfair.

The pitching staff, without Carpenter, looks sort of mediocre, with Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, and probably Lance Lynn covering.  A fairly strong, Rays-like bullpen should be able to keep the Cards in games late.

The real point of worry is going to be the offense, however.  The loss of Pujols allows the Cards to shift 36-year old Lance Berkman to 1B, making room for Carlos Beltran.  As far as replacing Pujols goes, that's good, I guess, but I'll be goddamned he comes anywhere close to Pujolsian production.  I also expect a pretty big regression from Berkman.

The Minors
The Cards have built themselves a really nice minor league system over the last few years, and it will probably be one of the best in the game if they can continue to develop their high-ceiling guys.  Pitcher Shelby Miller leads the class, and will probably be around at some point this season, especially if one of the rotation members can't hang (unless Carp comes back, shifting Lynn back to the bullpen).  They've drafted really well over the last few years, which is probably the reason why former vice president Jeff Luhnow got the GM job in Houston over the offseason.

The Verdict
I expect the Cards to take a step back this season.  The Cards themselves are a worse club than a year ago, and the Reds and Pirates have improved, which should take away some wins.  The second wild card obviously helps, and they're good enough to compete for the division thanks to the step back from Milwaukee, so I fully expect two NL Central teams to make the playoffs.

Projection: 88-74, 2nd in the NL Central

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