St. Louis Cardinals (101-61)
Team Ace: Adam Wainwright
Breakout Player: Matt Adams
The Cardinal’s one weakness last season was their defense, and improving that aspect of their game was the top priority in the offseason. The Cardinals cut ties with Carlos Beltran in order to get younger, faster and to steal a few more runs in center field with Peter Bourjos. They moved Matt Carpenter to 3rd base to replace David Freese, and now have the combination of Mark Ellis and Kolten Wong at second base, both who bring consistent offensive production and top defensive skills. Also, by moving Allen Craig to the outfield, they have an opening for Matt Adams at first, which with the addition of Jhonny Peralta will try to replace Beltran’s bat in the lineup. Even if the Cardinals suffer some injuries in the outfield, middle infield or at first, they have options to replace them. Jon Jay always’s manages to steal at bats every year, and is a great piece in the outfield. Prospect Oscer Taveras looks like he’ll be joining the big team sooner rather than later, giving them even more versatility. And they still have Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, who played around 130 games each last season, riding the bench and ready to fill in at 3rd, 2nd, or short if needed.
The one person they can’t afford to lose is Yadier Molina. He’s the team’s centerpiece on defense, is a large reason for the pitching staff’s success, and is one of the league’s three or four best catchers offensively.
Lets break down the pitching staff. They have Adam Wainwright at the top, a perennial Cy Young candidate and the team’s unquestioned ace. Then, similar to the Rays, they always bring up at least one All-star caliber pitcher. First it was Lance Lynn, then last year Shelby Miller to start the year and Michael Wacha at the break. The fifth starter this year will be 25-year-old Joe Kelly, but in reality it could easily be closer Trevor Rosenthal or setup man Carlos Martinez instead.
The biggest strength and weakness for the Cards is their age. As great as they’ve been the last few seasons, their pieces still have the opportunity to grow as they reach their prime. That being said, there’s also a chance of inconsistency with young players, and just because they’ve been effective to start their careers doesn’t mean they can’t struggle’s when new situations are thrown at them, or injuries force them to fit into a new role.