Monday, April 4, 2016

2016 Pre-Season Profile: St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals every year seem to find a way to win their division no matter how competitive it is.  Will 2016 continue their dominance?

Last Season
My 2015 Prediction: 2nd in NL Central, WILD CARD, lose in NLDS
2015 Result: 100-62, 1st in NL Central, lost in NLDS
Really?  Of all the teams in the league, the Cardinals come out with the best record in baseball?  The NL Central boasted the three best records in baseball in 2015, and the Cardinals found their way on top of the pile ahead of the Pirates and Cubs.  Their season came back down to earth quickly in playoffs though, as the Cubs knocked them out pretty quickly in the NLDS.

2016 Additions / Subtractions
The Cardinals seemed to be connected to most of the high profile outfielders on the market this offseason.  They first wanted to hold on to Jason Heyward, but he chose to sign with the Cubs instead.  They were said to be going hard after Alex Gordon, but he chose to stay in Kansas City.  John Lackey also left, signing with the Cubs also.  When it came down to it, the Cardinals offseason moves really consisted of just one signing and one trade: they signed Mike Leake to replace John Lackey and traded John Jay for Jed Gyorko.  That's about it.  Everything else they plan on handling from within.

Most Important Hitter
Yadier Molina
The Cardinals pride themselves in being able to win with any lineup.  They truly practice the motto, "Next man up."  This is best exemplified by the fact that they won 100 games last year without their ace Adam Wainwright, and they plan on moving forward this year without a big priced free agent to replace Jason Heyward.  With all that said, there is one player on that team that is irreplaceable, and that is Yadier Molina.  He makes this club what it is.  The pitching staff is as good as it is because they throw to Molina.  He is like a coach on the field at all times.  He was pretty banged up last year, and almost didn't start this season due to injury.  He is getting older, entering his age 33 season.  He needs to stay healthy for the team to be great.

Most Important Pitcher
Adam Wainwright
It is weird to say that the most important pitcher is a guy that missed most of a 100 win season last year, but it's true.  Adam Wainwright is the guy that makes this rotation great.  The young kids like Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha pitched great in his absence, but Wainwright is the proven ace needed at the top of that rotation.  He is getting up there in age, entering his age 34 season.  He is also coming off a torn Achilles injury.  Although it is not an arm injury, it can affect your pitching.  He needs to come back and be the perennial Cy Young contender once again, especially considering how strong their division is.

Player to Watch
Alex Reyes
As if the Cardinals weren't pitching rich already, 5 of their 8 top prospects are pitchers; fresh arms ready to go.  The best of the group is Alex Reyes, a 21 year old kid that should be ready to contribute in time for a playoff push.

2016 Prediction
3rd in NL Central
I think this is finally the year the Cardinals come down to earth a little bit.  Every team around them got significantly better this offseason.  I don't think the same can be said for the Cardinals.  The Pirates and Cubs have passed them up.  There wasn't much separating this group last season.  I think the Cardinals will be at the bottom of the three this time around.  With as much as other teams have improved around the league, I think it is very possible the Cardinals are on the outside of the playoff race also.  Then again, they are the Cardinals.  Maybe they win the World Series this year instead.

Fearless Predictions
Matt Holliday ends the 2016 season as a bench player.
Matt Holliday has quietly been one of the better players in baseball over the last decade.  He has been a model of consistency.  However, last year he was hit with the injury bug in 2015 and started to look old when he was out there.  With the youth movement in St. Louis, and the pressure put on them by division rivals, look for Holliday to end up on the bench by the end of the season if he struggles at all along the way.

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