Today is opening day for the 2016 Major League Baseball season and that means it is time for the Gateway City to pull out their red shirts, dust off their caps, and get ready for some St. Louis Cardinal baseball! Soon enough the Best Fans In Baseball will be in mid-season form; second guessing the manager, giving standing ovations, and enjoying their Birds on the Bat.
But as we near the first pitch from Adam Wainwright, the question remains…what should we expect from the 2016 Cardinals? They are coming off yet another National League Central title and a 100 win season. They have a healthy Wainwright and an emerging Carlos Martinez in the rotation to go with a healthy Matt Holliday and emerging Randal Grichuck and Stephen Piscotty at the plate. But the Cardinals couldn’t make it out of spring training without losing three shortstops and a backup catcher. What does 2016 hold?
In all honesty, I think the Cardinals won’t defend their Central title. I believe the Chicago Cubs simply have too much talent. But that doesn’t mean I think the Cubs will win it all, we can cover that as the season goes on. So while I am not picking the Cardinals to win the Central, I have not given up on them. They still have a solid core but as we have already seen any team can be affected by injuries and that is my concern for the 2016 Cardinals.
Yes Wainwright, Holliday, Molina are all back. But guess what, they are all also a year older. The Cardinals have already lost Jhonny Peralta; one of their top power bats. The player most are expecting to lead the Cardinals in home runs this season, Grichuck, comes with the caveat that “well as long as he is healthy”. Even the emerging Carlos Martinez was shut down at the end of last season and back-up catcher Brayan Pena, who was supposed to take some wear and tear off Molina, is now out with a knee injury. Injuries are always a concern for any team, it just seems that the injury question is at the forefront for this year’s Cardinals and that is not typically a good thing.
So let’s assume the Cardinals escape without anymore serious injuries, fingers crossed. What can we expect from the Birds? The Cardinals once again lack much in terms of power. Outside of Grichuk there may not be another 25 home run man on the team. Matt Carpenter led the team last year but he isn’t a prototypical power hitter, Piscotty hasn’t shown that type of pop while Matt Adams and Brandon Moss may combine to reach that number. Matt Holliday’s time as a 25 home run man seem to be over. But that’s okay, teams can win without the long ball (although that threat does help despite what Mr. Sabermetrics may say); just look across the state at the Kansas City Royals.
Where the Cardinals can have success is if they work their at-bats. The Cardinals were one of the toughest teams to strike out during Mike Matheny’s first three seasons; ranking 11th in 2012, 5th in 2013, and 4th in 2014 before falling down to 17th last year. If the Cardinals can return to a team that works counts and puts balls in play, they can overcome lack of power. They are no longer a team with a superstar or two in the lineup, the days of the MV3 are done. It seems now that John Mozeliak has taken the approach of wanting a deeper, consistent lineup. Their hope is that a lineup of eight tough hitters can do the same amount of damage as a team with a potent middle of the order.
Where the Cardinals will hang their hopes this summer will once again be on their arms. The Cardinals starting staff should once again be a force for the long six month season; although it will be hard pressed to match last year’s historical team E.R.A. The rotation loses John Lackey but picks up a younger fiery competitor with more talent in Martinez, who should be able to shoulder the load. They also countered the loss of Lance Lynn, with a similar innings eater and more efficient Mike Leake. I am calling right now that Leake’s signing was one of the more underrated ones this off-season. I wanted the Cardinals to sign him since the winter started and I think he will thrive here. He may not be flashy but he can be counted on each and every start. Wainwright is back as the #1 man in the rotation and his leadership will be a welcomed return. He was a great cheerleader in the dugout last year, sitting out most of the year with an Achilles injury, but it always means more to see him out on the mound leading the team.
The bullpen is set up fine, even with the wasted trade two years ago for Jordan Walden. Despite what most Cardinal fans say, Trevor Rosenthal is one of the game’s top closers. He may not be automatic, but it is rare to find a Mariano Rivera for your bullpen. Kevin Siegrist and Seung Oh should give the Cards a strong back-end of the pen. I am still not a fan of Jonathon Broxton, but he does have experience and should be fine in limited duty. It is vital for Seth Maness to shake off his poor spring because he can be used in so many ways for the Cardinals.
There are three keys for the Cardinals to make it another Red October:
- Health- obviously this is the biggest key. Health to the pitchers, health for the hitters, heck even health for the coaches apparently. Nothing else matters if the Cardinals are not relatively healthy.
- Who’s on First- The Cardinals have an open spot at first base. During spring they have rotated Matt Adams, Brandon Moss, and Matt Holliday. Holliday is your biggest given with his career record, but has never played first. Moss and Adams have each had times during their career where they looked like the could be the proto-type power first baseman. However Moss battled a hip injury all last year and Adams seems to have fallen in love with being a 270 pound slap hitter. I still hold out hope that Adams can put it together and grabs the spot, pushing Holliday back into the outfield.
- Youth Movement- The Cardinals are in a bit of a transition stage. Their core of Wainwright, Molina, Holliday, and Peralta are all in their 30’s.The Cardinals need to start cultivating the players to take over for them. Carlos Martinez, at just 24 years old, showed signs of being a possible future ace. He has all of the pitches and the demeanor on the mound. Can he be the next pitcher in the line of Cardinals aces and take on the mentality of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter? Randal Grichuck and Stephen Piscotty are being looked upon to provide offense for the Cardinals. Grichuck simply crushes balls. He has some of the most powerful swings and when he is hot, is one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. You can live with his free swinging strikeouts because of the power he offers. If he could get on base a little more, that would be fantastic. Piscotty was Mr. Consistency last year. He never seemed lost at the plate. But where is his ceiling? He worked on his game to develop more power during his last year in the minors. What type of player can he be? Can he be a .290, 20 HR, 80 RBI guy? Is that enough for the Cardinals?
My expectations for this team are between 86-90 wins, and battling the Pirates for second place in the Central. That being said if the Cardinals can get into the playoffs, I think they are a dangerous team. They have the experience, the leadership, and handful of players who can rise to the occasion. We have been spoiled by the Cardinals over the last 15 years, and I am going to be greedy and hope that stretch continues. Let’s Go Cards!