The official 2013 Major League Baseball season began last week but for people in the Midwest the season does not truly begin until Opening Day in St. Louis. On Monday afternoon fans who aren’t even attending the game that day will gather downtown for a rally in anticipation of another year of baseball heaven. And once you pass the trumpeters and other musicians on the corner of the stadium and walk past the honorable statues of Cardinals including “The Man” Stan Musial and enter the gates of Busch Stadium then you are ready for the season. The sight of the Clydesdales trotting around on the green, perfectly manicured grass. The parade of Cardinal Hall of Famers and other former players that will forever live on in fans’ memories for their accomplishments. That first sip of your local brewer and the aroma of hot dogs floating through the air. Anxiously awaiting that first pitch from Jaime Garcia, now the baseball season is here.
The Cardinals, with their 11 World Series titles and 18 National League pennants, have long established their organization as one of consistency. They are currently on a run of making the playoffs 9 times in the last 13 seasons with two championships during that span. Cardinal fans are now accustomed to contending each and every year. So what will the 2013 season bring for the Birds on the Bat?
I expect the Cardinals to once again contend for the playoffs, markably easier now with two Wild Card berths. It looks as though the Cincinnati Reds will be the top of the Division but you can never count the Cardinals out. The Cardinals have a leader of the pitching staff, Adam Wainwright, some young arms and experienced hitters who have been there before. Lets take a quick look at the 2013 Cardinals.
THE PLUS SIDE
The Cardinals have a great mixture of experience and leadership and youth in their pitching staff and bullpen. Adam Wainwright should be back to form after coming back from Tommy John surgery last season. His leadership, which he learned from one of the top competitors I have ever seen in Chris Carpenter, will be a huge benefit for the staff. Jake Westbrook is a solid starter while the remaining members of the staff bring loads of talent. Lance Lynn surprised everyone last year with his breakout season as a starter and the Opening Day starter on Monday Jaime Garcia is one of the top lefties in baseball when healthy. In addition the first of what figures to many young power arms has cracked the rotation in Shelby Miller. The bullpen likewise has a mixture of veterans and youth.
The Cardinal lineup is loaded with experienced hitters including Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina. It has has some younger players looking to establish themselves in Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and David Freese. This lineup can hit. It has a good balance of power and average and features professional hitters who play the game right.
THE MINUS SIDE
My biggest concern for the Cardinals this year will be how often can they get their top players on the field. Carlos Beltran is past his prime and is already battling a toe injury. Matt Holliday, David Freese and Allen Craig are all impressive hitters and run producers but have had a knack for coming up with odd injuries and missing time. The pitching staff and bullpen appear to be solid but we all know just one pitch can change that.
The balance of offense. Many fans complained last year about the yo-yo offense of the Cardinals and were glad to see Mark McGwire, last year’s hitting coach leave for L.A. this past offseason. Well now that he is gone those fans will not have anyone to use as the scapegoat this year. Will the Cardinal offense be able to be more consistent this season. Fans couldn’t understand how the Cardinal offense would score seven runs one night and none the next. John Mozeliak and the Cardinal organization have put their money into the Cardinal way, trusting Mike Matheny and a new influx of coaches to lead their brand.
I think the Cardinals will contend for another playoff run and as we all know once you are in the playoffs anything can happen. Hitters can get hot (David Eckstein) and pitchers who were average can turn into dominant performers (Jeff Weaver). I think the Cardinals will battle for a Wild Card spot and again be a tough team in October.
I am still not sold on Jon Jay as an everyday centerfielder. Jay is a solid player, you can win with him I am sure. But he is what he is; a .290 hitter with little pop and average speed. I also feel that McGwire leaving will not be an improvement. McGwire is a controversial figure for baseball fans however one can not ignore the success he had with these hitters. He made them more patient, improving their on-base percentage, and the Cardinals were scoring more runs than previously. He did a great job and unfortunately the majority of fans were unable to look beyond his past. Baseball is a game of averages. Any team would prefer to score seven runs every game but that is not how it works. In the end it is what you do for the entire season, for an entire series, not just one game.
But my biggest concern is the chance of injuries though. The Big Four (Holliday, Craig, Freese and Beltran) all have an injury history and the odds or greater than not that they will miss time. It is just a matter of how much time. Many fans are questioning Pete Kozma and saying he needs to continue his development as a hitter. Sure that would be great but Kozma’s success at the plate is not going to determine the Cardinals success this season. If your offense is reliant on a #8 hitter then you have larger problems. The Cardinals success will come from their ability to stay healthy or not. We have already seen Freese miss the start of the season, Beltran battling a toe injury and Jason Motte out with a shoulder strain. The baseball season is a long one, let’s hope for a healthy one.