The Cardinals have a strong core coming back this season but will likely be without ace Chris Carpenter for the entire season. This sounds like deja vu, as they were told the same fate prior to last season. Carpenter returned to make 3 starts in September and being part of the postseason rotation. It is unclear whether that is a possibility this time around. Their 16 game winner and leader in 2012 NL winning percentage Kyle Lohse is still a free agent with the Cardinals unlikely to bring him back. However, the Cardinals bring back a core of strong starting pitchers led by free agent to be Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94). Jake Westbrook (13-11, 3.97), Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.98) and Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.97) give the Cardinals a dependable four with Shelby Miller likely to land the 5th spot. Miller, 22, made 1 start last season and appeared in a total of 6 games, posting a 1.32 ERA with 16 Ks in 13 2/3 IP. Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly are top pitching prospects that can be expected to start or relieve this season, as both contributed in last year's postseason run.
I would expect Rosenthal (0-2, 2.28 with 25 Ks in 22 2/3 IP) to contribute as a reliever if he is not put in the rotation this season. His high 90s fastball and nasty secondary pitchers could set him up to close or be a dominant starter. Jason Motte (4-5, 2.75, 42 saves) will remain the closer for the distant future. His 2012 season (86 Ks in 72 IP) does not get a lot of attention. Edwin Mujica (0-3, 3.03, 70 games) and Mitchell Boggs (4-1, 2.21, 78 games) will be the primary set up men from the right side. Mujica pitched to a 1.03 ERA in 29 games after he was acquired from the Marlins last season. Marc Rzepczynski (1-3, 4.24, 70 games) and free agent Randy Choate (0-0, 3.03, 80 games) will provide manager Mike Matheny with two dependable options from the left side. I expect Rosenthal to make a huge impact this season.
John Jay will be the starting CF again this season, but the question is for how long? Oscar Tavarez (the number 3 overall MLB prospect according to MLB.com) is expected to be ready this season. Jay (.305, 4, 40 in 105 games) has proven he can hold the job, but is more likely to be the odd man out with Carlos Beltran (.269, 32, 97) and Matt Holliday (.295, 27, 102) the other starting OFs. Allen Craig (.307, 22, 92 in 119 games) will be the starting 1B, as his slugging percentage remains one of the highest in the game even with the limited ABs. Yadier Molina (.315, 22, 76) had his best offensive season as the team's catcher. David Freese (.293, 20, 79) will man 3B with Matt Carpenter (.294, 6, 46) expected to make the transition from the OF/ 1B role to starting 2B. Skip Schumaker did it previously and before that Kelly Johnson with Atlanta, so it can be done, especially one with the bat of Carpenter.
SS is the main hole in this offense. Rafael Furcal's season may be over before it started and the team just released Ronny Cedeno. This means the team will go with a combo of Pete Kozma (.333, 2, 14 in 72 ABs) and Daniel Descalso (.227, 4, 26). Kozma was a weak hitting minor league INF before he came up last September and hit. The Cardinals will be in a market for a middle infielder especially with Carpenter needing a late inning defensive replacement. The Cards lineup should look like this: Jay CF, Beltran RF, Holliday LF, Craig 1B, Molina C, Freese 3B, Carpenter 2B, Kozma/ Descalso SS. Veteran Ty Wigginton comes in to back up on the corner INF and OF, with Shane Robinson, Adron Chambers and back-up catcher Tony Cruz finishing off the bench.
The Cardinals are always equipped fro September, when they seem to play their best baseball. The young pitchers could make the rotation one of the best in baseball or they can quickly miss the veterans in Chris Carpenter and Lohse. Vegas has their over/ under at 85 1/2, and I think they are right on. I have the Cardinals at 86-76, 2nd place in the NL Central, just like last season. Unfortunately, that will not be enough to make the postseason. The Cardinals won 88 games last season, so the difference is that little.