30 Clubs in 30 Days: St. Louis Cardinals

Posted: March 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImageFew expected that the St. Louis Cardinals, champions of the world in 2011, would return to the postseason in 2012. With the retirement of Tony La Russa and the departure of Albert Pujols, the “red birds” were prognosticated to fall on hard times under new manager Mike Matheny.

Instead, St. Louis rose to the occasion, overcoming a mediocre 21-26 record in one-run games to capture the second National League Wild Card berth. The Cardinals then overcame NL East foes Atlanta and Washington before succumbing to the eventual World Series champions from San Francisco in the NLCS.

The St. Louis offense was able to survive the loss of Pujols thanks in large part to a lineup that stayed relatively healthy all season. Meanwhile, the depth that the franchise had built during the past decade of strong drafting provided Matheny with options to give his key players rest. Matt Holliday (.295-27-102), Allen Craig (.307-22-92), Yadier Molina (.315-22-76), and Carlos Beltran (.269-32-97) all exploded for monumental seasons in 2012. These four, along with 2011 NLCS and World Series MVP David Freese (.293-20-79), gave the Cardinals five players with 20 or more home runs.

The pitching staff, weakened from the loss of playoff hero Chris Carpenter (0-2, 3.71), was supplemented by a career year from Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86) and the emergence of 25-year old righty Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78). The return of Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94), who missed all of 2011 due to injury, provided the Cardinals with a spectacular trio at the top of their rotation. In fact, every single St. Louis pitcher who started a game held an ERA under 4 for the season.

The bullpen was perhaps the biggest mystery of all heading into the season. Closer Jason Motte (4-5, 2.75, 42 SV), much maligned during the 2011 season, continued to build on his spectacular postseason from the year prior. Right-hander Mitchell Boggs (4-1, 2.21) gave the Cardinals a quality setup man, something Philadelphia proved was all too important to the success of a major league team.

Five Year Review:
2012:  88-74
Lost NLCS to Giants, 4-3
2011: 90-72
Won World Series over Rangers, 4-3
2010: 86-76
2009: 91-71
Lost NLDS to Dodgers, 3-0
2008: 86-76

2012 Team MVP: C Yadier Molina: There were many deserving candidates on the 2012 Cardinals. But, none was more integral to the team’s success than their All-Star backstop. Molina, a five-time Gold Glove Award winner, was known more for his defensive prowess than his offensive capabilities prior to 2011. However, a switch was flipped that year, and Molina’s efficiency shot to career highs at .305-14-65 with an .814 OPS (previous career high: .749 in 2009). With Pujols bolting to Anaheim, the Cardinals not only needed Allen Craig to emerge as a bona fide MLB first baseman. But, they also required their current role players to become stars. Molina did just that, hitting .315-22-76 whilst also recording a career high 12 stolen bases. At 30, Molina is right in the heart of his prime, and should be set for another strong campaign in 2013.

2012 Team LVP: 2B Daniel Descalso: His postseason heroics notwithstanding (.316-2-6 in NLDS), Descalso was by far the weakest link in the St. Louis lineup in 2012. After a 2011 rookie campaign in which the then 24-year old hit .264-1-28 in 148 G; Descalso slumped to .227-4-26 in 143 G last year. His -0.2 WAR was the worst of any Cardinals regular, and his curious .200 AVG against righties as a left-handed hitter was head-scratching. The Cardinals could not count on Descalso to produce runs, as his miserable .118/.271/.153 triple-slash line with RISP suggested. St. Louis is going to try Matt Carpenter at second in 2013, although Descalso remains on the bench awaiting another shot at starting should the youngster falter.

Key Acquisitions

3B Ty Wigginton (Philadelphia Phillies)

Key Departures

1B Lance Berkman (Texas Rangers)
2B Skip Schumaker (Los Angeles Dodgers)
RHP Kyle Lohse (unsigned)
RHP Kyle McClellan (Texas Rangers)
LHP Brian Fuentes (retirement)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

CF Jon Jay – .287-8-52, 13 SB
1B Allen Craig – .290-22-81
LF Matt Holliday – .287-25-95
RF Carlos Beltran – .277-21-75
C Yadier Molina – .298-15-71
3B David Freese – .280-16-71
2B Matt Carpenter – .260-7-48
SS Pete Kozma – .223-3-24

RHP Adam Wainwright – 13-8, 3.31
LHP Jaime Garcia – 10-7, 3.59
RHP Lance Lynn – 11-9, 3.91
RHP Jake Westbrook – 10-10, 4.27
RHP Joe Kelly – 6-6, 4.32

RHP Jason Motte – 4-2, 2.77, 33 SV
RHP Mitchell Boggs – 3-2, 3.60

2013 Outlook:

The St. Louis offense, 1-7, is tremendously balanced. The loss of Rafael Furcal to injury forced the Cardinals to look elsewhere for production at short stop. Unfortunately, they have not found an experienced replacement just yet, so Pete Kozma will have to suffice at least early in the season. Their middle-infielders are questionable. But, other than that, the Cardinals should score plenty of runs once again.

The rotation took a hit with the loss of Kyle Lohse, who still can’t find a job at the price he and agent Scott Boras are demanding. But, 2012 rookie Joe Kelly, who really came into his own as a reliever during the playoffs, will look to replace the All-Star. Top prospects Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez wait in the wings in case the Cardinals need reserves as the summer months approach.

St. Louis should contend for a playoff spot once again. While they did not add any impact pieces in the offseason, the Cardinals’ farm system is rich enough to supplement most of their needs heading into the new season. Their infield is a concern. But, the rotation depth and bullpen stability that they showed in 2012 should be enough to propel them past 85 victories for the sixth consecutive season. I foresee the Cardinals winning between 86-92 games, competing for a coveted Wild Card berth in the process.

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