We are just a week and a half away from first pitch of the 2015 MLB season so let’s examine the local nine and take a look at some of the storylines that will capture the water cooler talk this summer.
Here in the Midwest as the weather warms up the city comes to life for the local baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals will be looking to extend their franchise record playoff run to five consecutive seasons, including a NL Central title in each of the last two years. The Cardinals last two seasons couldn’t be more different from each other. A dominant, high-scoring offense in 2013 that led to 97 wins. Then last year, 2014, a team that fought their way into the playoffs despite ranking just 24th out of 30 teams in scoring; thanks to a pitching staff that led all of baseball in shutouts and picked up 90 regular season wins.
So what team to expect this year in 2015? That has been the question all off-season and I think the answer lies in what makes baseball so simple at times, averages. Baseball is a game of averages. Players get hot then get cold but at the end of the season their numbers usually reflect the type of player they are. Of course there are seasons when a player declines or improves but in general the game is about averages. I think we will see that come into play this year for the Cardinal hitters. I don’t think they will bounce back to their historical clutch hitting numbers in 2013 but I also don’t think they will struggle to get runs across as much as they did in 2014. It will likely be somewhere in the middle.
The Cardinals bring back the majority of the team, making only a couple of additions. The first of which is the biggest and most important, the trade for Jason Heyward. Heyward fills the void in right field left by the untimely death of Cardinal prospect Oscar Taveras. Heyward, a former all-star, is looking to live up to the hype he once had as an Atlanta Brave prospect. Heyward burst onto the scene with the Braves in 2010, being named an all-star, and hit .277 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI as a rookie. However in the four years following he has failed to hit above .271 and topped his RBI totals just once. He did hit 27 home runs in 2012 but hit just 25 home runs combined in the following two seasons. Yes his move to leadoff spot may have resulted in a change of approach at the late which limited his power numbers but I don’t feel we will see a return to the 25 or more home run type season for him. What I do think Heyward will bring is outstanding defense, he is a Gold Glove winner, and a perfect number two hitter for the Cardinals lineup. If he hits .275 with 15-20 home runs while providing stellar defense I think it will be a good season.
The remaining players in the outfield include the consistent Matt Holliday and Jon Jay. Holliday is nearing the end of his contract with the Cardinals and is 35 years old. He often gets the heat from Cardinal fans, and I include myself as one of them although my feelings are not that he is no good but that he shouldn’t be considered one of top outfielders in the game. His numbers are always consistent, hitting around .295 with at t 20 home runs and 75 RBI. He is who he is, an above average hitter but as I’ve said not elite. Jon Jay meanwhile looks to be headed for his second go-around as the main center fielder. He was handed the job in 2013 and went on to have his worst season so we will see if he has adjusted this time around.
The Cardinal infield is the same as it finished in 2014 with Matt Carpenter, Johnny Peralta, Kolten Wong, Matt Adams, and Yadier Molina. For the Cardinals offense to succeed they will need more power from Matt Adams. Adams home run rate fell off last year and no other player on the infield has the true power team’s can count on. Yes Johnny Peralta hit 21 home runs , but that is nearing his maximum output. Yadier Molina is the unquestioned team MVP. The future Hall of Famer is 32 years old and slimmed down this season to take pressure off his knees. A healthy Molina is important not only for the offense but the pitching staff, and of course his defense behind the plate shuts down any opposing running game.
The Cardinals pitching staff is one of the better ones in baseball….if healthy. Ace Adam Wainwright is coming off back to back All-Star seasons but he 33 years old and battled an elbow issue late last year. Michael Wacha, a promising Wainwright clone, has a freak shoulder injury but looked remarkable this spring. John Lackey is a 36 old bulldog pitcher working for the veteran minimum contract and will give you a solid outing every time. The most dependable pitcher for the Cardinals may be Lance Lynn. The final rotation spot is a fight between the talented but oft injured Jaime Garcia, power arm Carlos Martinez, and prospect Marco Gonzales. I am not sure where the Cardinals will go with this spot but I would give it to Martinez. Martinez has had some struggles this spring but he also was unhittable last spring, so we have seen it doesn’t matter much in Mike Matheny’s decisions. Garcia simply is too injury prone and Gonzales ca use some additional seasoning in the minors.
My Division Picks (Reason Why)
NL East: Washington Nationals (Dominant rotation)
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals (To be a champ, have to beat the champ)
NL West: L.A. Dodgers (We will see if money can buy a title, super loaded)
AL East: Baltimore Orioles (This team just likes to score)
AL Central: Detroit Tigers (All-in before the window closes in a weak division)
AL West: Anaheim Angles (Quiet off-season but that’s good. A healthy year will be the difference)
- A-Rod: All eyes will be in New York on the return of Alex Rodriguez. A few years ago I would not have imagined a player unseating Barry Bonds as MLB’s top villain but A-Rod has a firm grasp on that title.
- The Chicago Cubs: The youthful Cubs are coming. They are young but talented. I don’t think this is the year for the break through but if half of their prospects live up the billing then the curse may be broken
- Florida Marlins: The Marlins are building around the premier power hitter in the game, Giancarlo Stanton. They have added to the lineup to give Stanton some protection and could be dangerous.
- Washington Nationals: Can the Nationals, the best team in the N.L. last year, finally make a run in the playoffs or will they sputter out once again?
- MLB Pace of Play: How big of a difference will the new changes to the game make?