The transition of managers from Tony La Russa to Mike Matheny was hardly felt in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Matheny was not overly blessed with baseball talent but a hard-nosed player who crafted 13 years in the Majors as a catcher before concussions forced him to retire. When he took over the Cardinals, without missing the beat, they made the playoffs and took the Giants to Game 7 of the NLCS. Last year, they had a 2-1 lead over the Red Sox before losing in six games during the World Series. With one of the strongest farm systems, best on-field talent, and the brilliant Matheny, the Cardinals are poised for another long October run.
Since signing his big contract, Adam Wainwright has been nothing short of spectacular. The lengthy right-hander is one of the game’s premier pitchers and has a penchant for delivering in the clutch. He has won 19 or more games three of the past four years (discount 2011 because Wainwright had Tommy John surgery). Every time he takes the mound, the opposing team is at a disadvantage. Wainwright is the modern day Greg Maddux: pinpoint precision with his fastball, cutter and changeup. Most of all, Wainwright is a winner. He will make a case for this year’s Cy Young award. Behind him are Lance Lynn and a bunch of sophomore studs. The burly righty from Ole Miss has won 33 games the past two years. Like Wainwright, Lynn relies on hitting the corners. He only allowed 14 homers while throwing over 200 innings last year. As he gets more comfortable pitching in Busch Stadium, Lynn is only going to get better and is a solid starter. Even without much experience, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, and Joe Kelly have proven to be big-game talents. Miller won 15 games while Kelly joined the starting rotation midway through the year and posted a 10-5 record with a 2.69 ERA. Wacha proved most valuable in the playoffs winning his first four decisions including throwing 13.2 scoreless innings in the NLCS en route to MVP honors. At 21 and a series of big playoff wins, Wacha is reminiscent of a young Brett Saberhagen with the Royals. Wacha’s is going to be really good and with Wainwright leading the way, he has a great mentor to learn from.
Yodier Molina is the one of the best catchers in baseball. He knows how to call games for his pitchers and is a rock behind the plate. He posted career-highs of 80 RBIs and 44 doubles last year and has caught at least 136 games five consecutive seasons. Molina will be 32, almost the time when catchers tend to slow down after years of wear and tear on their knees. He will not put up career numbers but a good all-around year is expected. Matt Carpenter moves across the diamond to third base to make way for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. Carpenter led all of baseball with 55 doubles and ranked in the top-5 with 126 runs scored. His numbers will only get better as he gets comfortable in his new defensive role. Wong spent the off-season thinking about his blunder getting picked off to end Game 4 of the World Series but managed to earn a starting spot during spring training. Matheny has big plans for the young Hawaiian as he has potential to be an All-Star. Matt Holliday is penciled in as the team’s three hitter. Holliday is another proven player on the Cardinals roster. The veteran has eight consecutive seasons of 20 or more home runs. He is a career .311 hitter and consistently averages 35 doubles per year. He also rarely gets injured visiting the DL only once in 10 seasons.
The Cardinals will sorely miss the presence of Carlos Beltran in the lineup. Without Beltran, they do not have a proven run producer to protect Holliday, which is problematic as they make a run for the division. Unless Allen Craig or Matt Adams steps up, look for GM John Mozeliak to trade for a big bat. Wainwright and Wacha give the franchise every reason to stay atop the NL Central division. If the hitting heats up, St. Louis fans should be excited as the Cardinals are legitimate World Series contenders.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ .