ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (NL Central)
2013 record: 97-65 (first by 3)
Projected 2014: 91.5
World Series odds: 6/1
Key additions: J. Peralta, P. Bourjos
X factor: Matt Carpenter
Projected starting lineup: Infield: C – Y. Molina; 1B – M. Adams; 2B – K. Wong; 3B M. Carpenter; SS J. Peralta. Outfield: LF – M. Holliday; CF – P. Bourjos; RF A. Craig.
Starting rotation: A. Wainwright, M. Wacha, L. Lynn, J. Garcia, S. Miller.
Closer: T. Rosenthal
The St. Louis Cardinals have become the gold standard for consistency, especially impressive when you consider the hits they take through free agency.
The Cardinals went to the World Series without Albert Pujols and now Carlos Beltran leaves for the Yankees. Through change and transition, St. Louis just seems to find a way to re-invent itself.
This offseason the Redbirds looked to solve its major weakness at shortstop signing Jhonny Peralta, a somewhat controversial pickup from Detroit considering that he was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs.
That said, Peralta is a major improvement from what they had a year ago. The other major transaction involved a deal with the LA Angels that brought Peter Bourjos over for former World Series hero David Freese.
Bourjos moves into the centerfield slot Beltran held, while Alan Craig goes from first base to right field and Matt Carpenter shifts from second base to third. Carpenter was catalyst for the Cards a year ago, batting .318 with 199 hits and a .392 on base percentage.
Postseason hero Michael Wacha anchors a solid starting pitching staff led by past Cy Young winner Adam Wainwright, who won 19 games and had a stellar 2.94 ERA with 219 strikeouts.
Trevor Rosenthal, another postseason hero, takes over as the full-time closer after winning that role late last season. Rosenthal throws 100 mph consistently out of the pen.
Yadier Molina is the premier catcher in the game outside of San Francisco where Buster Posey lives. Kolten Wong has been a nice surprise this spring and won the second base job with Mark Ells (Dodgers) backing him up.
LVH has the Cardinals projected to win 91 games, six less than last season when they put together a six game winning streak to hold off the Pittsburgh Pirates by 3. This season again figures to be a three-team battle in the Central with the Cards, Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.
Bottom line: The early schedule is demanding with the first nine games against the Pirates and Reds including the opening six on the road. If St. Louis comes back home with a winning record, it should be steady as she goes.
On deck: Tampa Bay Rays
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].