I know what you’re thinking.
“Hey moron, haven’t you heard? The Cardinals are stacked!”
You know what? You’re absolutely right. According to MLB.com the Cardinals have the 6th best lineup in all of baseball heading into this year. They also have the 5th ranked pitching rotation in MLB. The bullpen is loaded with young arms, the bench is improved, and Oscar Taveras is a bullet in the chamber just waiting to be fired.
Every analyst, writer, and bleacher report “journalist,” will tell you how good the Cardinals are going to be this year. In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend,” there is reason for caution when looking at this Cardinal team.
- The rotation – Since you already think I’m an idiot, I may as well further it by saying that the same rotation that MLB.com ranked 5th in baseball is reason for a lot of concern this year. Adam Wainwright is a certified ace, no doubt about it, nothing to worry about there. Lance Lynn (as much as some hate to admit it) is also no cause for concern. 200+ innings, 15+ wins, and an ERA in the mid to high 3’s, is a solid and valuable piece in the bullpen. After that, I’m not terribly comfortable. Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller are both top prospects, and both have looked dominant (at times) so far in the majors. Here is the cause for concern, Miller made only 13 quality starts in his 31 games started last year. He is a two pitch pitcher that often loses command of his fastball. Shelby led the majors last year in pitches/plate appearance with a whopping 4.11. Unless Miller can learn to put away hitters, command his fastball, and add a third pitch to his arsenal, I’m not sold on him as the Cardinals’ number two starter. Michael Wacha, the darling of every Cardinal fan last October simply gives me pause due to his lack of experience. The Cardinals will rely heavily on Wacha who has only made 14 major league starts. There really is no flaw to Wacha’s game; he has incredible command, and a changeup that would have Babe Ruth swinging out of his shoes. If I’m going to nit-pick, much like Miller, Wacha is a two pitch pitcher, which could eventually come back to haunt him. Lastly, Jaime Garcia is hurt again, surprise! Garcia has yet to win more than 13 games in a season as a major leaguer; he has also never surpassed the 200 inning plateau. He has only made 29 starts the past two years combined, and has had recurring shoulder and elbow issues. Time to move on. Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez will likely fill in the 5th spot in the rotation. We know what we are getting in Joe Kelly, five to six innings and two or three runs every 5th day. Martinez has tons of upside, but still needs polishing. I would go with Kelly due to consistency and experience. Handing the ball to Martinez is loading up your rotation with inexperience and youth.
- Scoring runs –The Cardinals hit the 4th fewest home runs in the major leagues last year. They relied purely on clutch hitting, and driving in RISP (runners in scoring position) to score runs. Hey, they set the all-time record for batting average with RISP so that’s not a bad strategy. Well it wouldn’t be, if BA with RISP was a stat that translates from year to year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. I’m sure there is something to be said for the Cardinals approach as a team boosting this stat. Shorten up your swing, just try to put a bat on the ball, go with the pitch, all those other hitting clichés. It’s as simple as this, chances are that Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday are all bound to have drop offs from last year’s clutch hitting. In fact ZiPS projections, done annually by ESPN’s Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborksi) don’t project the Cardinals to have a single .300 hitter on the roster. If that’s the case, the Cardinals better hit a lot more home runs or we may not be looking at the offensive juggernaut we saw last year.
- The infield – 1st and 3rd base are set. Matt Adams projects to be a monster at 1st for the Cards, and Matt Carpenter will man the hot corner without a problem. The concern is the middle infield. If Kolten Wong is the big time prospect he is projected to be, Cardinal fans have nothing to worry about. The scouts don’t always get it right though, and Wong has yet to prove that he can hit at all at the major league level. Wong’s slash line in 62 plate appearances last year was a putrid .153/.194/.169. Wong enthusiasts will ignorantly cry about his .191 batting average on balls in play (baBIP) claiming that is the reason for Wong’s struggles. If you’re looking for something to blame for the Hawaiian 2nd basemen’s lack of hitting, look no further than his inability to hit the ball hard. His line drive percentage was 19, only one below the league average, but in perspective Wong hit only eight line drives out of the infield in 62 plate appearances. His speed is a weapon, so hitting the ball on the ground isn’t the end of the world, but Wong is going to have to hit better for the Cardinals to be successful. Moving over to the other side of the bag is newly acquired SS Jhonny Peralta. Because of how poorly Pete Kozma hit last year, some are crowning Peralta as the next Babe Ruth. Slow down a minute folks, Peralta hits only .268 for his career with a career .755 OPS, that is lower than Jon Jay’s career .757 OPS, and the Cards felt the need to upgrade over Jay even at the expense of David Freese. Peralta was even last year in defensive runs saved, Pete Kozma saved eight, so defensively its a downgrade. None of this is to say that Peralta won’t far exceed the production of Kozma, but he is no baseball playing savior. Not to mention that he is one PED violation away from missing 100 games.
- Baseball is hard, parity is rampant – This could be labeled some lame excuse but history shows it to be true, especially in the NL Central. The last time a NL Central team won back to back division titles was 2007-2008, by the Cubs of all teams. In fact, no NL team has won back to back division titles since 2010-2011 when the Phillies did it. Constant success is a difficult thing to obtain, even under great leadership. “The Cardinal Way,” is spoken highly of, but it hasn’t brought the Cardinals back to back division titles since 04-05. Hopefully the Cardinals break that spell this year, but baseball is a hard game, and winning is even harder.
This isn’t a post to say that the Cardinals will finish last in 2014, or even that they will finish 2nd. All of you that called me a moron at the start of this post are right; the Cardinals are stacked this year. It is ignorant to overlook the flaws of this team though, because they are there. Every team has flaws, and every fan base need their expectations tempered at times.
In all honesty this was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. Finding flaws in a team like the Cardinals isn’t easy. This information doesn’t necessarily reflect my own opinions, but rather provides an alternative outlook on this team going forward.
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and look for my next post, Why the Cardinals WILL be Successful in 2014.
It’s not crazy, It’s Sports