The St. Louis Cardinals begin the 2014 season aiming to finish the job they left behind last October in Boston, MA. They are confident, talented and motivated. Losing a World Series after being up two games to one will do that for a team.
However, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will have to deal with expectations that come from winning so much and having most experts proclaiming the team the hands down unchallenged best team in the National League Central Division. How his team responds in Matheny’s third year will tell the tale for the Cardinals, who did not stand pat after winning 97 games last season.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak has built arguably the best organization in baseball as they continue to produce talent from their minor league system that is the envy of most in baseball. Consider for a moment National League Champions let all-star Carlos Beltran without much thought and will replace his bat in the lineup with young Matt Adams. Most teams on the verge of a World Series title would not consider letting someone like Beltran go. The Cardinals did because they could. Because Adams is much younger, much cheaper and quite capable of doing the job.
So with all the money Mozeliak saved by not signing Beltran he addressed the one big need his team had by signing shortstop Johnny Peralta to a four-year deal. Mozeliak also traded David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjous who instantly upgrades the defense on this Cardinal team. If the Cards had a weakness last year it was their defense and athleticism. Bourjos, rookie second baseman Kolten Wong and moving Matt Carpenter to third base should fix those problems immediately. Wong and Carpenter both offer defensive upgrades at their positions. Peralta does the same offensively at shortstop where Pete Kozma hit just .184 the last four months of the season.
So an offense that featured Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina and Carpenter gets a boost. It is easy to see why the Cardinals are such heavy favorites as they aim to finish the job left undone last season.
If the Cardinals do have a question mark it would likely come from the pitching staff. Not because of a lack of talent, there is plenty of that to go around as well but Matheny will be relying on a lot of young pitchers. Their ace, Adam Wainwright has made 185 regular-season starts as a major leaguer. His four teammates in the starting rotation have made just 136.
No. 2 starter Michael Wacha has the look of an ace someday but has not yet pitched a full season. Second year starter Shelby Miller won 16 games last season and posted an ERA of 2.84 but has had a lackluster spring with too many walks. Left hander Jamie Garcia is hurt again and is out for at least a couple of months while Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly complete the rotation. Lynn has been a starter for just two seasons and this will be Kelly’s first full campaign as a big league starter.
So as good as things look from the outside there are still questions. How Matheny motivates his team and handles this young staff will go a long way in determining whether the St. Louis Cardinals can finish the job they are aiming at.
Commentary by Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the St. Louis Cardinals