The Cardinals established themselves as the top NL team last season, both with their regular season performance and their dominance in the postseason. The emergence of RHP Michael Wacha (4-1, 2.78, 15 games, 9 starts in the regular season, 4-1, 2.64 in 5 postseason starts) and RHP Trevor Rosenthal (2-4, 2.62, 108 Ks in 75 1/3 IP) gives the team much built on for the 2014 season. Rosenthal takes over as closer for RHP Edward Mujica (2-1, 2.78, 37 saves), who signed with the Red Sox. The team also lost starting RF Carlos Beltran (.296, 24, 84), who signed a free agent deal with the Yankees. The Cardinals signed free agent SS Jhonny Peralta (.303, 11, 55) immediately after free agency started and make a deal with the LA Angels, sending 3B David Freese (.262, 9, 60) to Anaheim for CF Peter Bourjos. Bourjos was injured last season and prepared to take over as the Cardinals starting CF.
Last season's starting CF Jon Jay (.276, 7, 67) is likely to be the team's 4th OF, with star 1B Allen Craig (.315, 13, 97) moving to RF. The emergence of 1B Matt Adams (.284, 17, 51 in 108 games) left the Cardinals with a conundrum as they entered the World Series with two starting caliber 1B. Letting Beltran go allows the Cardinals to A.) Play both Craig and Adams every day and B.) Allow top overall prospect Oscar Tavaras to make his debut when he is ready.
The lineup looks interesting with Craig moving to RF and 2B Matt Carpenter (.318, 11, 78, 126 RS, 199 hits) moving to 3B. The team signed free agent 2B Mark Ellis (.270, 6, 48), but he will be backing up Kolten Wong (9-59, 32 games) who will be the team's starting 2B. LF Matt Holliday (.300, 22, 94) and C Yadier Molina (.319, 12, 80) round out the projected batting order. I'd line up the Cardinals like this: Bourjos CF, Carpenter 3B, Craig RF, Holliday LF, Adams 1B, Molina C, Peralta SS, Wong/ Ellis 2B. Wong, to me, has to prove he can hit at the MLB level though his defense is expected to be very good. The Cardinals bench is led by Jay, Ellis, Daniel Descalso, Shane Robinson and Pete Kozma. Tony Cruz returns to be Molina's backup catcher.
Lost in the shuffle of Wacha's unbelievable postseason run was the fact that RHP Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94 in 34 starts, 5 CGs, 2 SHO, 219 Ks in 241 2/3 IP) became (once again) one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. RHPs Shelby Miller (15-9, 3.06, 31 starts) and Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97, 33 starts, 198 Ks in 201 2/3 IP) both won 15 games solidifying the top 4 spots in the rotation. RHP Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.67, 37 games, 15 starts) also pitched very well in the postseason last year in his 4 starts. LHP Jaime Garcia is fresh off Tommy John surgery and will join the team within the first month or so of the season (if not sooner).
The transformation the Cardinals bullpen was expected to go through this season got off to a good start in the 2013 postseason. Rosenthal had 4 saves in the postseason, which was more than he accumulated in his two big league season. RHP Carlos Martinez (2-1, 5.08, 21 games, 1 start) was manager Mike Matheny's top setup option, pitching the 8th inning in the postseason series. He had 11 Ks in 12 postseason games. LHP Kevin Siegrist (3-1, 0.45, 45 games) and Sean Maness (5-2, 2.32, 66 games) also got themselves some experience pitching after the regular season. Veteran LHP Randy Choate (2-1, 2.29, 64 games) and RHP Keith Butler (0-0, 4.05, 16 games) are likely to round out the Cardinals bullpen.
The Cardinals pitching and the thought of both Adams and Craig being in the same Cardinals lineup give the team a much clearer outlook than I saw going into the 2013 season. I mean, there were some questions about Wainwright getting back to form after his 14-13, 3.94 2012 season. Not only did Lynn pitch well, but Miller, Kelly and Wacha all should be givens going into 2014. I feel confident that this team should win the NL Central again, and I think it will be easier than it was last season. Vegas agrees with me, as they have the Cardinals with a 90.5 O/U. I will take the over, with the Cardinals finishing at 93-69, 1st place in the NL Central division. Unfortunately, similar to the Red Sox, I see the Cardinals getting beaten in the LDS this season.