Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 NL Central Preview: St. Louis Cardinals with @athooks

Just as quickly as the MLB season ended last year it is ready to kick back up again in 2013. Spring Training has been going on for some time now and as you look at the calendar you realize that opening day is this Sunday and you are ready for months of baseball every day.

Last year I was lucky enough to be able to do a NL Central preview podcast with a blogger from each of the division rivals and while I couldn't do a podcast this year (I dropped the ball and didn't realize the season was so close) but I was able to get together with a blogger from each NL Central team to answer 15 questions about their teams and how they think they will do in 2013.

The series is going to go in the order that the teams finished in 2012 and we will go with one preview a day ending with a pretty extensive Pittsburgh Pirates preview that I am working on.

The second preview of the series is going to be the St. Louis Cardinals and today we will be talking with Aaron from Cards Diaspora, the Cardinals blog on Bloguin. If you are not doing so already give the dude a follow. They do great work and were nice to come amuse me and answer some questions.

Anyways, hit the jump for the preview questions for the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals.

1) Last season was a typical season for the Cardinals. They lose some big names but keep winning and earned a playoff spot with 88 wins. Was last year what you expected from the Cardinals?

CD: 2012? If I were rational, I'd say 2012 exceeded expectations. Lose a hall of fame first baseman, hall of fame pitching coach and hall of fame manager and come within 1 win of the NL Pennant? Pretty good right?


These guys BLEW 2012! You know how hard it is to get to the World Series? (Rhetorical, you're a Pittsburgh fan. You know.) And to blow a 3-1 lead with 2 clinching games at home? Just makes me sick thinking about it. Let someone else talk 2012... I'm still not over it.

2) Something that I am sure disappoints Cardinals fans but doesn't disappoint any other NL team is that Chris Carpenter will not be playing this eason and might be done for his career. How huge is this?

CD: Chris Carpenter is a loss for the Cardinals... just not on the field.

He's the guts of the Cardinals. The guy that you wanted to take the pill when you're in a must win game. I love Chris Carpenter.

Dirty little secret, though? The Cardinals are probably better off with Shelby Miller or Joe Kelly in that spot in the rotation. Carp might have gutted out some wins that only a veteran can do, but the upside of developing a mid-rotation starter that can be good for the Cardinals the next 5 years? It's not going to be as bad as it seems on the surface.

I feel like I should apologize to Carp right now. Sorry. Still love you man.

3) Despite the loss of Carp the Cardinals seem to always have a solid staff. With Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, and Lance Lynn you have to feel good about having a chance to win every day, right?

CD: The Cardinals staff is going to be good. Throw in the aforementioned Miller or Kelly and the possibility of Trevor Rosenthal getting stretched out if needed and prospect Mike Wacha having a great spring that's making it hard not to include him in the roster and the Cardinals are going 8 deep to start the year.

4) The team seems to be pretty intact from last season for a team that scored 765 runs and was one of the best offensive units in the league. Is there a concern that as the team ages that they are going to slip or do you expect much of the same from the team this year?

CD: The offense should be a little worse from 2012. It'd be nice if Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina replicated their seasons in 2013, but I think you have to anticipate a little bit of a fall-off. On the other hand, Allen Craig and David Freese should be able to bring their stats up a tick to make up for that. I think you make a bigger point about Beltran...

5) Every year it seems like Carlos Beltran should decline but he played in 151 games last year and hit 32 home runs and is getting on base at nearly a .350 clip. What kind of water do you have down there in St. Louis?

CD: I don't know what Beltran was doing in 2012. Dude was really, really good. Way better than expected.

If the Cardinals get 75% of 2012 Carlos Beltran, they'll have made one of the best short-term, larger money gambles in a long time. Then again, we were saying this after 2011 with Lance Berkman and now he couldn't get a contract if he tried.

Wait, what? Oh. Oh no, Texas.

6) People talk a ton about how catchers can mold pitchers but Yadier Molina is the best in the game in that aspect. I think we all saw that in the WBC but his pitch framing is unreal. How much credit do you give his defense for how successful the pitchers have been through his tenure?

CD: Some, but not much.

Molina is the most under-appreciated player in MLB. You mentioned the WBC and I think that did help raise his profile a bit. But the attempted steals against him are the lowest in baseball (helps with the double plays) and his pitch calling makes the pitching coach all but a public mouthpiece to talk about what Molina is doing.

The Cardinals have a very average defense. And this year, they're going with a rookie at SS and a 2B that hadn't played there before this spring training. Think about that... no other team in MLB would EVER consider basically a middle IF with no experience, unless they had Molina.

7) It used to be that you could sleep on Molina a little bit offensively, but not anymore. He is becoming as dangerous with the bat as he is with the glove. Last season he hit for a .315/.373/.501 line and while he had a pretty good 2011 season is this the offensive Molina you expect?

CD: And now that I'm doing polishing Yadi off, here's where things get real.

No. I don't expect that from a catcher. His stats will be down this year. I hope I'm wrong, but I think 2012 was a peak year for him at the plate.

Now he's still great to have up in pressure situations, because he makes contact in the upper 10% of the league, but in terms of the stats in aggregate, he exceeded anyone's expectations last year.

8) I didn't even get to talk about Allen Craig or Matt Holiday. Oh man, it must be nice, huh?

CD: You're making me feel much better about this team, thank you.

And yes, it's pretty nice.

Again, sorry.

9) Last season was the first for Mike Matheny and from what I noticed there was a lot of mixed reactions to him. What were your thoughts on his first year and do you think having a year under his belt will help him a lot this season?

CD: Coach Matheny did a good job in 2012. You know his coaching experience before last year? His daughter's softball team.

Seriously. That was it.

So to replace the best modern day manager in baseball history and take a team to the precipice of a World Series isn't a bad first effort.

He's got work to do to get better (i.e. quit calling bunts all...the...time...) but he's going to get better. There never has been a manager that managed more than one season who had his best season his first season.

10) What is your biggest question mark for the team in 2013?

CD: Shortstop.

Lost Rafael Furcal to surgery for the season. Signed Ronny Cedeno to be his backup and released him this week. Leaving Pete Kozma as the lone SS standing.

He's played in 42 MLB games. Ever.

So we're going to have to keep an eye on what's going on up the middle for the Cardinals.

11) Who is the diamond in the ruff that most non Cardinals fans should keep their eye on during the season?

CD: Matt Adams.

Buy cutting Cedeno and free-agent Ty Wigginton batting like .001, Matt 'Patch' Adams is going to probably get that last bench spot so Allen Craig can get spelled at 1B and go spell Beltran in RF.

He's a big boy. In fact, he kind of looks like the Big Boy from the restaurants all grown up. He's got a great eye and untapped power. Could be a sleeper stud for the Cardinals in 2013.

12) In terms of the minor league system what is your quick overview of what the Cardinals have right now? Along with a very deep major league roster the Cards are noted as having one of the best systems. It is a luxury but in your opinion is that almost a must with some of the age of the team?

CD: The. Single. Best. Part. Of. Being. A. Cardinal. Fan.

It's not that I want Jon Jay to do bad in 2013. Because I don't. BUTTTTT... if he happens to get off to a slow start and the Cardinals bring up Oscar Taveras (OF), I'm not going to complain.

Did I mention he's the next Mike Trout?

Throw in Mike Wacha (P), Carlos Martinez (P), Tyrell Jenkins (P) plus young studs like Shelby Miller (P), Kolten Wong (IF) and Trevor Rosenthal (P) that are already hanging around ready to bust through?

It's not not fun.

BTW, all of the guys listed are in the top 100 of Baseball Prospectus' 2012 or 2013 lists.

13) What are your predictions for the Cardinals in 2013?

CD: 89 wins. 1st place NL Central. Don't buy the Reds hype. Dusty Baker will never be able to beat the Cardinals. Ever.

14) As an outsider what are your thoughts on our Pittsburgh Pirates?

CD: The Pirates.

Oh, the Pirates.

Listen, I grew up with Bonds, Bonilla and Sid Bream's broken legs rounding third. Hell, in fact there was a time where it was MUCH cooler to be a Pirates fan than a Cardinals fan. I guess that doesn't mean anything other than I'm old. But still, I'm aware that it is actually possible for the Pirates to be good.

But it's time to trade Andrew McCutchen. They aren't paying guys to come in and play around him. And they aren't developing enough good players to come up through the ranks to support him. Get a haul for trading him now and move on with the losing streak.

Is that what you wanted to hear? No?

(Deep down, in places other NL Central teams don't want to talk about, it's probably better for everyone with the Pirates are good. The fans deserve a season like last year from Baltimore. I'm always amazed that people actually show up for games in Pittsburgh and Kansas City for things other than to drink beer outside.)

15) Any final parting thoughts for the Pirates faithful?

CD: Ok, ok. Don't trade Andrew McCutchen.

It was just an idea.

Settle down.

Before we leave for the day I just wanted to give a big thanks to Aaron. Always good stuff although when you have an organization like the Cardinals to follow it probbaly makes baseball a little more fun. Make sure that you give them a follow and read their blog. Top notch stuff.

Tune back in tomorrow when we get a preview for the Milwaukee Brewers with Ryan from Disciples of Uecker.

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