NL champions have arms, depth for another run
ST. LOUIS (AP) Last October, the St. Louis Cardinals were sufficiently flush with arms that they carried rookie Shelby Miller and deposed closer Edward Mujica in ceremonial roles and made it to Game 6 of the World Series against Boston.
After leading major league rookies with 15 wins, Miller was limited to one postseason inning due to concerns about a heavy workload. Mujica was used only in mop-up duty after mid-September.
The National League champions are perhaps even deeper, across the board, entering opening day March 31 at Cincinnati. The team that tied for the major league high with 97 wins has a surplus of viable candidates.
”I think we have the potential to be great,” said ace Adam Wainwright, who won 19 games and finished second in NL Cy Young balloting. ”We just have to go out there, not listen to the hype, and perform.”
The 32-year-old Wainwright qualifies as the grizzled leader of a rotation that could include three members coming off big rookie debuts. Michael Wacha was a postseason sensation and the NLCS MVP, Miller went wire-to-wire as the fifth starter and Carlos Martinez, who’s had an impressive spring, moved into the setup role when fellow rookie Trevor Rosenthal took over as closer.
Wacha and Martinez are 22, Miller and Rosenthal just 23.
There’s also 15-game winner Lance Lynn, who struck out 10 in four innings of his last spring training start, and lefty Jaime Garcia could fit into the mix sometime in April coming off shoulder surgery. And don’t forget Joe Kelly, another rookie who won 10 games and was the rotation’s strongest starter much of the second half.
And one of the National League’s best lineups, too.
Much is expected from a loyal fan base that extends several states, and that’s OK.
”Our expectations,” Lynn said, ”are higher than theirs.”
Five things to watch for with the Cardinals:
BULGING BULLPEN: Kelly could get pushed to relief, where the cast is every bit as crowded. Former closer Jason Motte is expected back from reconstructive elbow surgery in April perhaps as a setup man. Lefty Kevin Siegrist was nearly untouchable with an 0.45 ERA, fellow rookie Seth Maness led the league in double-play balls induced and veteran Randy Choate is among the game’s best situational lefties.
LINEUP HEADACHE: Scoring might not be affected by the departures of Carlos Beltran and 2011 World Series hero David Freese. The farm system developed prospects itching for a chance to fill those holes at right field and third base, and the front office landed a major offensive upgrade at shortstop signing Jhonny Peralta to a free agent deal.
Allen Craig moves to right field making room for Matt Adams, a power bat from the left side and getting his first regular duty at first. Coming off a breakout year in which he also learned a new position, Matt Carpenter moves from second base to familiarity at third to clear a spot for rookie Kolten Wong, a .300 hitter in the minors who struggled last fall but didn’t lose support from the front office. If Wong falters, veteran Mark Ellis is a solid alternative. Carpenter led the majors in hits, runs and doubles at leadoff and Peralta could be a No. 2 hitter with occasional pop ahead of Matt Holliday and Craig, whose .454 average with runners in scoring position led the majors.
DEFENSIVE STOPPERS: Catcher Yadier Molina is a Gold Glove winner six years running that few opponents dare to run against, plus he’s a calming influence on all those kids on the mound. His much-improved bat is a bonus.
”He just keeps finding whatever he thinks is a weakness and tries to make it a strength,” manager Mike Matheny said. ”I’m excited to see what’s next. There’s a rare few that are just driven non-stop to excellence.”
Speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos was the objective in the Freese deal with the Angels, unseating Jay as the starter. Bourjos has been hampered by injuries but when healthy adds a much-needed base-stealing threat. Plus, he’s considered among the top defenders at his position.
BENCH OPTIONS: Jay started the last three seasons in center. The light-hitting combo of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma shared shortstop last season and one or both will add experience coming in cold. Shane Robinson was the best overall outfielder in his first extended action, plus proved himself pressure-proof at the plate.
WAITING GAME: Depth is sufficient enough that there’s no rush to get top everyday prospect Oscar Tavares into the mix. Tavares’ timetable has been set back by a broken ankle that cost him the second half of the season last year at Triple-A Memphis and he battled minor injuries this year in camp before getting optioned to the minors last week.