Just as quickly as the MLB season ended last year it is ready to kick back up again in 2014. Spring Training has been going on for some time now and as you look at the calendar you realize that opening day is just about a week away and you are ready for months of baseball every day.
The past two years I have done an NL Central preview where I get together with some of the best bloggers from around the NLC and get them to talk about their teams and what we can expect from them. As it was last year I will ask each of them 15 questions and they will give you the low down on what to expect in 2014.
The series is going to go in alphabetical order by the respective teams’ mascots. After the four previews from around the division there will be a three part series previewing the Pirates. The Pirates preview is, um, extensive.
The final part of the preview series is going to be the St. Louis Cardinals and today I will be talking with Nick from Cardinals Conclave and formally the write of Pitchers Hit 8th. If you are not doing so already give the dude a follow. He does great work and was nice enough to answer some questions.
Anyways, hit the jump for the preview questions for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals.
1) Before we get this start I must just state that I am not happy with the Cardinals. Somehow they cheated the Pirates out of playing for the World Series (not really) and I am going to irrationally dislike you as a part of that. So…take that!
CC: Duly noted.
2) Losing the World Series has to be a tough things for not only the team, but the fans as well. How did you feel about the Cardinals season in 2013.
CC: I feel like I have to be careful about how I answer this, because despite the running theme about BFIB, and all that comes along with that frequently mocked moniker there is certainly a HUGE amount of being spoiled as a Cardinals fan. By that I mean, I do not consider myself to be that long in the tooth – the Cards have played in seven World Seris in my lifetime. They have won two. Those numbers are unfathomable for many fans of other teams and yet 2013 did suck. Such a fun club, a great divisional battle, multiple fun and hard fought series in the playoffs only to arrive at getting dumped on by the Red Sox? Sucks.
3) A few moves took play this offseason with maybe the biggest coming with the trade of David Freese and Fernando Salas for Peter Bourjos and parts. Bourjos is an outstanding defender in center and you could say that the Cardinals really struggled there last year. What are your expectations from him?
CC: My expectations for Bourjos are tied to his health. He has had a difficult time staying on the field, and in my opinion that is the primary measure of his success in 2014. If he’s healthy he will represent a major upgrade to the Cardinals’ outfield defense and will compensate for a lot of defensive innings being played by bats in the corners. If he’s hurt, Jon Jay will see a lot more time and there will be more, shall we say… volatility. Bourjos has been great with the bat this spring, if that translates, it’s just another embarrassment of riches for the Cardinals and John Mozeliak.
4) What does the loss of Carlos Beltran mean to the team? He seemed to be a huge fan favorite in St. Louis in his time there.
CC: Carlos Beltran is a potential Hall-of-Farmer, so let’s start by saying that it’s difficult to measure, even at his advancing baseball age, what his 2014 was potentially worth versus absence for the Cardinals. What we do know, quantifiably, is that the Cards have a bunch of options, some of which won’t even leave Jupiter with the big club. Beltran, like Lance Berkman before him, came to St. Louis on a short-term deal at the end of a brilliant career in search of a ring. Both experienced a renaissance of sorts, one falling prey to old legs and the other cashing in on another deal that the Cardinals weren’t willing to pay. Beltran was a huge fan favorite in St. Louis, and as a former Cardinal now, I expect him to remain that way. Just business.
5) He isn’t with the big club yet but at some point this season Oscar Taveras is going to join the team. He is regarded as one of the best prospects in the minors. Tell the Pirates fans what this kid is all about.
CC: Enormous potential. Huge bat. Toolsy. And this spring, he frustrated the hell out of the Cardinals’ front office because he was hesitant to go full-speed on his surgically repaired ankle. Taveras has a wildly successful career ahead of him if he wants it badly enough. Strangely, for a guy argued by many as the top prospect in baseball, that has suddenly become a question. Is he reading too many of his own press clippings? Hesitant to jeopardize a future that may never come if he can’t get over being able to run out a ground ball? The expectation is that he still sometime in the middle of 2014 comes up and never looks back, roping line drives all over MLB. The only doubt now is seemingly his own.
6) Jhonny Peralta is also a Cardinal now. Good move in your eyes?
CC: Bhrilliant mhove. The Cardinals have not been in the past, nor do I expect them to be in the future, the keepers of all that is sacred regarding PED-allegation free behavior. The list is long. The mea culpas are many. Peralta improves the Cards by filling a role on a team that had really one glaring weakness. Simple.
7) Matt Adams is a big (literally) power hitter in the middle of the lineup. He struck out a good bit last year (25%) in 319 plate appearances. How much playing time is he going to get with Allen Craig also in line to play some first base?
CC: I love Matt Adams. It’s partially the underdog story of him, but also because he could be the first MLB player to be the official player of mayonnaise. Not Miracle Whip. Not Hellman’s. Just mayo. All kidding aside, he’s going to strike out a lot. He’s going to have a ton of shifts played against him (to which Matheny is responding by literally having Adams practice bunting toward third base, imagine that scene for a second) and he’s going to see a lot of LOOGy’s. Adams has been focusing on hitting better against lefties this off-season and spring and has seen varying levels of success – which is to say, improvement at least. Barring injury or some breakout by Taveras that won’t keep him down any longer, I expect Adams to see a majority of playing time at first base for the Cards. That’s one of the biggest things being overlooked by folks looking in on the Cards this off-season, IMO. Adams at first and Craig in right field isn’t just some ploy to get one or the other more at-bats, it’s more likely the regular lineup.
8) On the pitching side of things Jaime Garcia is coming off shoulder surgery. Is he expected to be ready for the start of the season?
CC: This question just proves how large of a dunce I am, since we all now know the answer to this question. He won’t be ready for the start of the season, chances are he can show up and pitch at some point during 2014, but frankly I assume that Mozeliak and company are planning for another year without him and assuming any contribution will be icing. Garcia is perhaps the most frustrating Cardinal of the last four or so seasons, tantalizing with excellent stuff – stuff called the best on the team by its players – and not being able to translate and/or stay healthy. Big Garcia fan here, just want to see him put it together for one full season.
9) Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller were nothing less than outstanding last season. Do you see some regression from one or both of them?
CC: I’d guess likely both. If anything, there’s little chance Wacha can live up to the expectations being placed upon him following his superb 2013 post-season. Miller should be more stable, having more experience and seasoning under his belt, but it remains to be seen how the World Series “snub” of 2013 plays on his psyche. These two are both big-time pitchers, I expect success, just maybe not the dizzying level being attached to both.
10) It seems like there are unlimited big arms in the pen. The one guy that is especially outstanding is Trevor Rosenthal. I know he is penciled in as one of the go-to guys but has there ever been discussion about him converting to a starter?
CC: Lots. Lots of discussion about him being a starter. That’s how he came up, that’s what he wants to do, and there’s a tiny part of me that thinks the Cardinals still want that for him – but if we’re honest with ourselves, he was ridiculously successful in the closer role in 2013, he has the makeup and “type” for that role, and the way things are going, it’s not as if being a closer is going to hamper his earning potential. He’ll be in the role for 2014 at the very least. If and when another arm shows that potential, (maybe Carlos Martinez?) then I could see Rosenthal getting his opportunity to start.
11) A guy that gets a lot of heat from the Cardinals is Lance Lynn. Is that off base and/or fair?
CC: He absolutely gets a lot of heat, and it depends on who you ask if it's justified or not. I think that if his seasons looked differently - and by that I mean he mixed in some stinker starts throughout a lot of good ones, instead of a strong first half and weak second half - that the view of Lynn might the much different. As it stands, I'm happy to have Lynn and his contributions at the rate he's being paid.
12) Obviously the Cardinals are very good on both sides but which sides (pitchers or hitters) has the advantage. Which would be the overall strength of this team?
CC: The pitching, as has been the focus for the Cardinals for a long time. The depth on the pitching side is pretty remarkable. That's not to say they won't score a lot of runs, and adding Peralta was obviously a move toward that goal, but pitching will definitely carry this team through some rough patches at the plate this season.
13) Who is going to be the biggest wild card this year for the Cardinals? Who might be overvalued heading into the year?
CC: I think the wild card is the fifth starting pitcher. It's Joe Kelly for now, and I think he's certainly proven he can handle the role, but you also have Carlos Martinez really pushing him. There's still a potential Jaime Garcia comeback from injury. There are other arms ready and waiting to come up from Memphis. I can't imagine Mike Matheny sticking too long with a starter in that role that's struggling. Overvalued, I'd say Matt Carpenter. As much as I'd love for him to put up another 7-ish WAR season, I just am not confident we'll see that. If he settles in around 4-5 WAR, I'd obviously be ecstatic.
14) What are your overall expectations for the team this season and what do you see their record being at years end? Another World Series push?
CC: The expectation is to win the World Series. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that. I think this club could win 95-97 games in the regular season, win the NL Central, and while it's hard to consider a season like that a failure, I think there will be some seriously disappointed folks - both fans and surrounding the club alike - if they don't reach the World Series.
15) Last year the Pirates finally broke “the streak” and then made the playoffs. Great times. What are your thoughts on them this season?
CC: I love the Pirates. I hope the Royals can break through this season too. I'm a sucker for underdogs. Problem with the Pirates as a Cardinals fan, is they're not quite underdogs anymore, are they? It's great for the division, and I hope they can see repeat success from their pitching staff to make this a great summer race. I don't think Cincy and Milwaukee did enough in the off-season to truly "catch up," if you will, to the Cards and Pirates. Should be a fun season!
I would just like to take the time to thank Nick for taking the time to answer the questions. Give him a follow and make sure to read the blog.
That does it for the other teams in the NL Central. Also today we are going to be looking at the Pirates pitchers preview which will be followed by the predictions and observations tomorrow. Monday is opening day, get pumped.