The sun is starting to peek through as the weather warms up, Spring Training 2016 is coming to an end. The Major League Baseball season is upon us as there will be four games this Sunday, April 3rd, 2016, or as baseball fans know it, Opening Day. The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates headline the first day of the season by facing off at 1:05 p.m. (ET) in PNC Park.
The 2015 season was a success, yet disappointment, for the Cardinals as they won the NL Central by finishing with 100 wins, just ahead of division foes, Pittsburgh and Chicago (who finished with the second and third best records in the entire league at 98 and 97, respectively). 2015 was a disappointment in the sense that they lost in the NLDS to their biggest rival, the Cubs in just four games.
The team was bolstered by a strong pitching staff with a league best 2.94 ERA, however, they will have to replace two starters from that rotation. John Lackey, who had possibly the best year in his long career in 2015, signed a two year deal with the Cubs during free agency. Lance Lynn is the second pitcher that will have to be replaced, as he had Tommy John surgery, which will force him to sit out the entire season. The two combined for 25 of the team’s wins with a 2.90 ERA, 342 strikeouts, and 9.1 WAR. The team will also have to replace outfielder Jason Heyward, who was one of the best hitters in an offense that struggled often.
The main off-season additions for 2016 include Jedd Gyorko (acquired in trade via SD), Mike Leake, and Brayan Pena. Normally a backup catcher would not make this list, but with Yadi having some slight health concerns plus with Pena (career .300 hitter), the Cardinals have a formidable backup catcher that can provide some offense off the bench when needed. The main addition from 2015 to 2016 will be someone who was already on the roster, Adam Wainwright. Wainwright tore his Achilles while batting early in the 2015 season that forced him to miss the majority of the season. With him returning to the rotation, it will lighten the blow of losing Lynn to injury.
Joining Wainwright in the rotation will be Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, and Mike Leake. Wacha led the team in wins last season with 17, as he finally got the run support he deserved, however unfortunately he wore down the last month of the season and limped into the playoffs. He ended up with the worst ERA of the starting staff, which is not bad when you realize it was 3.38.
There will be a lot riding on the health of Garcia and Martinez. Both put together phenomenal seasons last year, Garcia with a starter’s best 2.43 ERA except he only started in 20 games. In the past four seasons, he has yet to start over 20 games in a season, however has proved just enough for the Cardinals to keep him around in their organization. Carlos Martinez is one of the most promising, young arms in the league and surprised several folks with how dominant he proved he could be. John Mozeliak was prouder than anyone as he chose to keep Martinez over Shelby Miller the winter before. 2015 was the first year Martinez was able to get a full year of starting under his belt and he did not disappoint, finishing with a 14-7 record, 3.01 ERA, 184 strikeouts, and was elected to his first All-Star game.
The final spot in the rotation will be coveted by the highlight addition of the offseason in Mike Leake. He split the 2015 campaign with the Reds and Giants and put together a solid season with a 3.70 ERA. You would think after going from Great America Ballpark in Cincinnati to AT&T field in San Francisco, that one’s numbers would look better, however that was not the case for Leake. He struggled mightily in the second half of the season as the Giants failed to make the playoffs. Busch Stadium has done wonders for pitchers, including Lackey last season who put up fantastic numbers at home for the Cardinals. Mo and the front office hope Leake can duplicate the production they lost from Lackey.
Similar to the starting rotation last year, the Cardinals counted on their bullpen heavily throughout all season. Riding the arms of Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Seth Maness in most situations. Take Choate off the roster after he appeared in 71 games and only tallied 27.1 IP, and it looks like the Cardinals are on the right track. With the three major arms this season, will be Rule 5 Draft pick Matt Bowman, Seung Hwan Oh (FA Addition), Jonathan Broxton, and Sam Tuivailala.
A brief over the roles of these guys starts with Rosenthal as the closer. Rosenthal is another incredible, young talent on this team after a 48 save season. His fastball is one of the more untouchable pitches in the game and should continue to be that way this year as long as he remains healthy. Maness and Siegrist will see many innings as the first right and left handers out of the ‘pen. Siegrist may be used exclusively in the set-up role for Rosenthal, but the addition of Oh puts less stress on him as Seung accumulated 357 saves in an eleven year career in Japan. Matt Bowman is an interesting name that may not last much longer as it seems his spot on the 25-man roster opened up when Jordan Walden started having doubts about being available for the season opener with shoulder issues. Matheny’s crush for Broxton will have him see several innings this season, mainly work in the seventh inning is what I imagine. Tuivailala will be a flame thrower out of the bullpen as he has tremendous potential if he can ever find consistent control.
Some arms that can have a huge impact on the staff this season includes: Marco Gonzalez, Tim Cooney, Alex Reyes, Miguel Socolovich, and Tyler Lyons.
Browsing through the positions players, the Cardinals will enter the season with Yadier Molina (136 GP, .270, 4 HR, 61 RBI, 1.4 WAR) behind the plate despite his health being a question after thumb surgery in the offseason. Molina was able to play in nearly half of Spring Training and seems ready to go Sunday afternoon.
Going around the horn, it looks like Matt Adams (60 GP, .240, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 0.3 WAR) is the front runner for the first base slot despite missing 100+ games last season, however throw in Matt Holliday (73 GP, .279, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 0.8 WAR) to the equation practicing at first in the offseason. Holliday moving positions can potentially lengthen his career and allow him to spend the rest of it in St. Louis if the first base experiment works out. Another vying for this position could be Brandon Moss (.250, 4 HR, 8 RBI w/ STL).
The middle infield situation got a little groggy when news came out of last year’s starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.275, 17 HR, 71 RBI, 1.8 WAR) being sidelined for two to three months with a torn thumb ligament. Replacing Peralta’s offensive production will be tough, but with recent signing Ruben Tejada also being placed on the disable list to start the season, it looks like FA acquisition Jedd Gyorko (.247, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 0.6 WAR) will get plenty of opportunity to prove his offensive worth in which he was signed for. Second basemen Kolten Wong (.262, 11 HR, 61 RBI, 2.2 WAR) is fresh off signing a five year contract extension, which is good news for the Cardinals as he has had flashes of excellence thus far; he just needs to prove to be more consistent at the plate. Behind the starters to start the season, the candidates will be Greg Garcia or Aledmys Diaz.
The best overall player on this team that has been knocking on the door of being elite is starting third basemen, Matt Carpenter (.272, 28 HR, 84 RBI, 3.9 WAR). Carpenter turned the corner when it comes to hitting for power last season, but his consistency at the plate dropped during stints. For this team to have success, Carpenter needs to continue his strong plate discipline and find ways to get on base.
The Cardinals strong point in the past few seasons has been the outfield yet this year, they may be a little thin with Holliday possibly seeing time at first. They will be tasked to replace gold glove Jason Heyward in right field after he turned to the dark side and went north to Chicago. Replacing his bat in the lineup should not be a big deal with Stephen Piscotty (.305, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 0.9 WAR) most likely being the everyday RF. Piscotty had a nice rookie campaign and looks to continue to progress. Piscotty is one of my personal favorite Cardinals, due to his young age, 24, and tremendous potential. Randal Grichuk (.276, 17 HR, 47 RBI, 3.1 WAR) looks to be the prime candidate for center field as he brings the most to the lineup offensively with his power. According to Statcast, only four players hit the ball harder than Grichuk did last year (Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Sano, and Greg Bird). A little more disciple and Grichuk can propel the Cardinals offense to scoring more runs after a disappointing 3.99 runs per game in 2015. Matt Holliday should be the opening day starter in left field, however Tommy Pham (.268, 5 HR, 24 RBI) may be inclined to see some time in either left or center when Holliday plays first. Pham provides some pop to the lineup with some excellent speed and a knack for making clutch plays.
The 2016 season is an interesting one, as this is the first time in many years that the Cardinals come into the season as an underdog in the division. Plenty of reason for the Cardinals to have the chance to compete for the division crown, but regardless, a playoff spot should be their destination in October. The World Series is always the Redbirds goal, and this year is no different, however if Matheny falls short once again in the playoffs, there may be some birdies chirping about a possible replacement. Last season was a fine piece of work put together by Matheny and if he can repeat the same regular season success with this year’s pieces, he may be looking at NL Manager of the Year. Below I offer a lineup and pitching rotation I’d like to see on opening day and through the season.
LF Matt Holliday
RF Stephen Piscotty
3B Matt Carpenter
CF Randal Grichuk
1B Matt Adams2B Kolten Wong
SS Jedd Gyorko
C Yadier Molina
P Adam Wainwright
Adam WainwrightCarlos Martinez