Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cardinals 2015 Preview

2014 Record: 90-72, lost to San Francisco in NLCS 4-1
2014 Runs Scored: 619
2014 Runs Allowed: 603
Additions: Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle, Carlos Villanueva, Ty Kelly, Dean Anna, Mark Reynolds
Losses: Oscar Taveras, Daniel Descalso, AJ Pierzynski, Pat Neshek, Shelby Miller, Jason Motte, Mark Ellis, Shane Robinson

The 2014 season was an up and down year for the Cardinals. St. Louis spent much of the season behind the Brewers, until catching them late in the season. They didn't take full possession of first place until September 1st, which they held on to for the rest of the season. The Cardinals also scored 183 less runs in 2014 than they did in the previous season. In fact, the Redbirds only scored 16 runs more than they allowed last season.

Still, the Cardinals beat the favored Dodgers in the Division Series. This included beating NL MVP and three time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw twice in the series. This moved Mike Matheny's squad to the NLCS, where they faced the Giants for the second time in three years. Another dominant lefty awaited, Madison Bumgarner. The Cardinals lost to Bumgarner twice, and loss two more close games to blow the series.

It was a disappointing finish to the season, but the Cardinals went further than many prognosticators predicted them to. Still, this was a team with talented veterans and emerging young talent positioned well for 2015. Then some even worse news hit the Cardinals. Less than two weeks after their elimination, Oscar Taveras died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. The player who was supposed to be a big part of the Cardinals future was gone.

GM John Mozeliak quickly filled the void early in the offseason. The original plan was to let Taveras and Randal Grichuk compete for the right field job in spring training. With Taveras' death and the team's lack of offense, Mozeliak made a major move. He traded starting pitcher Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden. This is somewhat of a risky trade considering that Heyward is a year away from free agency, and the years they are giving away from Miller and possibly Jenkins.

Still, Heyward is a big upgrade in the short term. He is the best defensive right fielder in baseball, and will be an offensive upgrade from last year's right field production. Heyward hasn't developed into a superstar, but gets on base, has speed on the basepaths, and has power potential. Walden will be one of Matheny's top setup relievers, and replace Pat Neshek. I would imagine that the Cardinals front office intends to keep Heyward around, and will make a serious effort at that.

Offensively, I would expect this team to improve for 2015. I'm not saying they are going to lead the NL in runs scored like they did in 2013 or 2011. Still, this is a club that underachieved with the bat last year. Matt Carpenter has been this team's sparkplug since taking over the leadoff spot in April 2013. Carpenter had a solid season in 2014, but it was a significant drop off from 2013. Carpenter's line dropped from .318/.392/.481 (average/on base/slugging) in 2013 to .272/.375/.375 in 2014. It might be unrealistic for Carpenter to match his 2013 season, but I would expect him to improve on his numbers for 2015. He showed in the postseason that he can still hit for power. Carpenter had 4 doubles and 4 home runs in 8 playoff games last year.

While Carpenter is the Cardinals catalyst, there are two more important players in their offensive attack, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. Holliday struggled in the first half, but had his usual dominant second half. His splits were .265/.373/.389 in the first half, and .281/.367/.515 in the second half. He hit 14 of his 20 home runs in the second half. Holliday is now 35 years old, and may be on a slow decline phase. However, with his strong second half, I have hope that he will have a rebound year in 2015.

Molina suffered a thumb injury that cost him two months last year. It sapped him of his power, but he managed to hit .282 for the season. Maybe, Molina's power days are numbered and he'll never match his totals from 2011 to 2013. Then again, I would chalk that up to injuries. Molina is entering his age 32 season, and has caught a heavy workload during his 11 years in the league. Matheny would be wise to not to ride Molina so hard during the season. Give him an occasional day off, or even give him a spot start at first base on occasions. They need to keep Molina fresh for the postseason.

The Cardinals might have the division's best middle infield. Jhonny Peralta got off to a slow start, but picked it up later in the year. He finished with a club record 21 home runs for a shortstop. He also exceeded expectations on his defense. At second base, Kolten Wong enters the season as the entrenched starter. Wong finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .249 with 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Wong didn't fully get going last year until after a stint in the minor leagues and the disabled list. With Wong fully confident in his abilities, this could be a breakout season for him.

Another young player the Cardinals are looking for improvement from is Matt Adams. Adams seemed too focused on beating the shift, and it sacrificed his power. He hit only 15 home runs last year, which is two less than he hit in 244 less plate appearances during the 2013 season. The Cardinals are also concerned about his lack of walks. They brought in Mark Reynolds to be a right handed compliment, but the Cardinals need Adams to step up. This is the guy with the most power potential on the team.

At center field, Jon Jay enters the season as the team's starter. Last season, Jay entered the season with an undefined role, but his play pushed his way into the lineup. Jay isn't a flashy defender, doesn't have breakaway speed, nor is he a power hitter, but he does get on base. Peter Bourjos returns after an up and down season last year. Bourjos could be a key contributor this year if he can pick up his hitting. Bourjos has the raw talent that Jay doesn't have, but only hit .234 for the Redbirds last year. He enters the season in a fourth outfielder role.

Matheny has many different options on setting his lineup. Carpenter has been a very good leadoff hitter, but could be moved down to the number 2 or 3 spot, if needed. Jay and Heyward have experience in the leadoff role as well, and there has been rumblings of Wong leading off if he got his OBP up. Heyward may also be a middle of the lineup hitter, if his power increases. Spring training will play a big role on Matheny figuring out the right lineup mix this year. The offense was down last year, but it was league wide. The Cardinals are banking on a rebound this season.

Defensively, this could be one of the best Cardinals teams since the Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen era. Heyward comes with the reputation of an elite defender. When paired with Bourjos in center, the Cardinals would have two outfielders that could cover a ton of ground. Wong and Peralta are very good up the middle. Wong could have a Gold Glove in his future. Carpenter has re-adjusted to his natural position at third base, after some early problems last year. As always, Molina's defensive contributions are vital for this club. He is a great framer of pitches, works good with the young pitching staff, is good at blocking balls in the dirt, and still has a cannon for an arm. He shuts down the opponents running game.

The Cardinals bench will be slightly different this year. Mark Ellis and Daniel Descalso are gone, and the team added a couple of Rule V guys to compete for a utility infield spot with Pete Kozma and Greg Garcia. Shane Robinson was let go in the offseason, and the club could see more of Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty at some point this year. Tony Cruz returns as the backup catcher. Cruz, Bourjos, and Reynolds are locks to make the club, with two bench roles up for grabs.

In the rotation, the Cardinals still have plenty of depth, despite the trade of Miller. Adam Wainwright anchors the staff, and is coming off one of his best years. There are some concerns about his elbow and his inning workload, but Wainwright has proven to be a horse. This is a guy you can count on for 200 plus innings, a sub-3 ERA, and close to 20 wins.

Lance Lynn made a huge step up last season. Lynn won over 15 games for the third straight season, and reached the 200 inning mark for the second straight season. The biggest improvement was Lynn's ERA which dropped to 2.74, which was 9th in the National League. After Lynn, the Cardinals will go with John Lackey in the third spot. Lackey came over in a midseason trade that involved Joe Kelly and Allen Craig last July. He is a veteran presence in the rotation, and is in the final year of his contract.

The Cardinals can probably depend on their first three starters, but there are some question marks in the back end of the rotation. Michael Wacha missed most of the second half due to his shoulder. If Wacha's shoulder is healed, then the Cardinals will be in good shape. The 2013 NLCS MVP was encouraged by a pre-spring training bullpen session. For the fifth spot, it looks like the team will go with Carlos Martinez. Martinez has filthy stuff, but there are questions about his ability to go deeper than 5 innings.

There are some other options if the team needs another starter. The Redbirds were rumored to be in the market for a big name starter in the offseason, but those rumors turned out to be unfounded. Lefty Marco Gonzales will be the first option if another starter is needed. Gonzales won two games out of the bullpen in the NLDS against the Dodgers last fall. He is a fast riser like Wacha, debuting a year after being drafted. Tyler Lyons is another possibility, if needed. Jaime Garcia returns for the final year of his contract, but who knows what to expect from him? Garcia hasn't pitched a full season since 2011. Any contribution Garcia gives should be looked on as a bonus at this point.

The bullpen was somewhat of a trouble spot last year. Trevor Rosenthal epitomized that inconsistency. Rosenthal was dominant in 2013, but was up and down in 2014. Rosenthal blew 6 saves and lost 6 games during 2014. His strikeout rate decreased, and his walk rate increased. The Cardinals desperately need Rosenthal to find his 2013 success.

Jordan Walden was acquired in the Heyward trade, and has closing experience. He was a All Star closer for the Angels in 2011, and has been Craig Kimbrel's top setup man for the past two seasons in Atlanta. Walden will be taking the role that Pat Neshek had last year. Walden looks to be Matheny's insurance in case Rosenthal has any problems this year.

With Martinez moving to the rotation, and Jason Motte also leaving via free agency, that leaves Seth Maness as the lone right handed holdover from last year's bullpen. Matt Belisle and Carlos Villanueva were picked up in the offseason as low cost bullpen options. Mozeliak is hoping that he can find another Neshek. Another option is rookie Sam Tuivailala, who will compete with Belisle and Villanueva for a bullpen job.

From the left side, the team has many options. Veteran Randy Choate returns after a shaky postseason. Sam Freeman had a breakout year last year, after several years of shifting from the minors to the majors. Gonzales could be an option, but the club would prefer him to be in the rotation (which could start him in the minors). Nick Greenwood and Kevin Siegrist are other options for the bullpen. Siegrist is the most intriguing option. He was dominant in 2013, but struggled mightily in 2014. If Siegrist gets it going, then the Cardinals will have a very good late inning option.

The Cardinals enter spring training with a very solid ballclub. There are very few holes, but a couple of potential problem areas. Mozeliak has proven that he will address a need in the middle of the season, if need be. The NL Central is possibly the toughest division in the major leagues right now. The Pirates were a playoff team last year, the Brewers led the division for five months, the Reds won't be as injury bitten, and the Cubs are improving. The Cardinals are one of the most talented teams in the majors, and should make another run at a championship this year.

Expected Lineup

3B Matt Carpenter
RF Jason Heyward
LF Matt Holliday
SS Jhonny Peralta
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
CF Jon Jay


CF Peter Bourjos
MI Mark Reynolds
C Tony Cruz
IF Pete Kozma
OF Randal Grichuk/IF Greg Garcia


RH Adam Wainwright
RH Lance Lynn
RH John Lackey
RH Michael Wacha
RH Carlos Martinez/LH Marco Gonzales


RH Trevor Rosenthal
RH Jordan Walden
LH Sam Freeman
LH Randy Choate
LH Kevin Siegrist
RH Seth Maness
RH Matt Belisle/RH Carlos Villanueva

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Cubs Expectations Aren't Based in Reality

There has been a lot of buzz about the Chicago Cubs this offseason. The high profile additions of manager Joe Maddon and left handed pitcher Jon Lester will do that. Another reason for the optimism is the talented prospects the Cubs have. Expectations for the Cubs are sky high for an organization that hasn't won a World Series since 1908. Las Vegas has given the Cubs 14-1 odds to win the World Series, the same odds as that perennial winners like the Red Sox and Cardinals have. Maddon and Team President Theo Epstein expect the team to contend this year. Even first baseman Anthony Rizzo thinks that the Cubs are "World Series worthy."

Cubbie fans are set up for more disappointment if they think 2015 is going to be their year. This ball club has finished in last place the past five years. Last year's record of 73-89 was their best record in five years. Maddon will be the Cubs third manager in the Epstein era in four seasons. It took 88 wins for the Giants to win the last wild card spot last season. Even if everything goes right, are the Cubs going to be 15 games (or more) better than last year?

The NL Central is one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Going into the season, the Cardinals are clearly a better team. The Pirates were a playoff team last year. The Brewers were division leaders for five months of the season, until a September collapse. The Reds were plagued by injuries last year, but were a playoff team three out of the four previous seasons. That said, the Cubs aren't going to be a doormat anymore. I believe they will show some improvement, and possibly make a run at .500 this coming season. How do they compare with the rest of the division?


The Cubs traded for former Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero this offseason. Montero was an All Star replacement for Yadier Molina last season, but had a down year. Now 31, Montero may not be the same hitter he was from 2009 to 2012. He is a defensive upgrade from Wellington Castillo, but his offensive numbers weren't much different than Castillo's(except for OBP). Russell Martin departed the Pirates via free agency, but this division includes Molina, Jonathon Lucroy, and Devin Mesoraco.    Cubs-4th best

First Baseman

Anthony Rizzo had a breakout season last year, making his first All Star team. Rizzo was second in the NL with 32 home runs and fourth in OBP. He is also a good defensive first baseman, and has emerged as one of the league's best at first. In the Central, only Joey Votto can compare to him. Votto is coming off a season in which he missed 100 games. When healthy, Votto is an on base machine that plays good defense. I think Votto has a comeback year this year, and will give him the benefit of the doubt.    Cubs-2nd best

Second Baseman

Javier Baez is the likely starter at second for the Cubs. He has a lot of power, but struck out 95 times in 213 big league at bats. Baez hit only .169 and is not a patient hitter. That said, Baez hit 37 home runs in the minors in 2013. If he can adjust to big league pitching, he has star potential. That said, he has a lot to prove. That's why the Cubs traded for Tommy La Stella as a back up plan. Right now, it is hard to place Baez ahead of any division rival at second. Brandon Phillips has been the division's best second baseman for years, but Neil Walker has probably overtaken him. Kolten Wong finished third in ROY voting, and could make a major leap forward this year. Even Scooter Gennett has to be considered better than Baez at this point.    Cubs-5th best


It seems like Starlin Castro has been playing forever, but he will only be 25 this season. Castro has already made three All Star teams in that span. The Cubs also have Addison Russell waiting in the wings in the minors. The Cubs will hold on to Castro this year, but a trade or position switch could be in the future. Castro looks to be the second best shortstop to the Cardinals Jhonny Peralta.  Cubs-2nd best

Third Baseman

With the Cubs trade of Luis Valbuena, they have opened up third base for 2013 top pick Kris Bryant. Bryant crushed 43 home runs combined in Double A and Triple A. Chicago isn't sure if Bryant is going to be a third baseman or left fielder, but will likely start him at third this season. Maddon has experience with rookie third baseman, with Evan Longoria in 2008 with the Rays. This division also has All Stars Todd Frazier, Matt Carpenter, and Aramis Ramirez. Josh Harrison was also an All Star as an outfielder, but will replace Pedro Alvarez, who moves to first base. Ramirez is now 36, and posted his lowest OPS since 2010. Right now, it is hard to place Bryant. He has the talent to be the best third baseman in the league, but could also be the worst. Right now, I can only put him above Harrison, and he could move ahead of Ramirez. Cubs-4th best

Left Fielder

Chris Coghlan took over as the team's left fielder, and had his best season since he won the 2009 Rookie of the Year. Coghlan has been up and down throughout his career, and have Junior Lake and Arismendy Alcantara as backup options. This is a weak spot for the Cubs, and their rivals are all better at this spot.   Cubs-5th best

Center Fielder

Alcantara was pegged at center, but the trade for Dexter Fowler changes those plans. Alcantara could be sent down for more seasoning, but will likely make some contributions to this year's team. Fowler gives the team a temporary fix and upgrade. Still, this division contains elite center fielders Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gomez. It also contains Billy Hamilton and the Cardinals duo of Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. Hamilton is the fastest player in the league and plays great defense. He isn't that much of a hitter, and is caught stealing more than he should be. There is a big gap from McCutchen/Gomez and the rest. It's really a coinflip on this one.   Cubs-tied for 3rd with STL and CIN

Right Fielder

Of all the Cubs prospects to make their debut last year, Jorge Soler looked the best. The Cuban hit 5 home runs and .292 in 24 late season games. It could be a battle between Soler and Bryant for NL Rookie of the Year in 2015. This division includes established right fielders like Jason Heyward, Ryan Braun, and Jay Bruce. Heyward is the best defensive right fielder in baseball, and came over to St. Louis in an offseason trade. Braun is coming off a down year, and there are questions on how good the post-suspension Braun will be. Bruce has some questions surrounding him as well, due to injuries. Still, both of these two players have a track record that leads to expectations of a rebound. The Pirates also debuted a top prospect, Gregory Polanco last year. Soler looked more impressive than Polanco in 2015, with Polanco struggling in the big leagues.   Cubs-4th best(could move up)

Starting Rotation

The addition of Jon Lester certainly improves the rotation. Lester split last year between the Red Sox and Athletics, and had one of his best seasons. Epstein's familiarity with him was a key factor in luring him to Chicago. While this is an exciting move for the team, Lester is just one pitcher. The team is relying on Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, Liam Hendricks, and Edwin Jackson to complete it's rotation. Arrieta had a breakout season at age 28 last year, posting a 2.53 ERA. However, Arrieta only pitched 156.2 innings. Wood was an All Star in 2013, but his ERA ballooned to 5.03 last year. His rebound would give the Cubs a second lefty and a good middle of the rotation starter. Hammel returns after being traded away last year to Oakland. Hendricks pitched well in 13 starts after his call up last year, and has the edge over Jackson for the last spot.

The Cubs depth after Lester is questionable, and is clearly behind other teams in the division. The Cardinals have the best rotation in the division, led by Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn. There are some questions with Michael Wacha's shoulder, Carlos Martinez's readiness, and even Wainwright's elbow. John Lackey returns for 2015, and the team also has young lefty Marco Gonzales and oft-injured Jaime Garcia as other rotation options. No other team can match the Cardinals pitching depth and quality.

The Reds also have a formidable rotation led by Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey. They traded away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, but still have Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani in their rotation. The Pirates subtracted Edinson Volquez, but brought back AJ Burnett and retained Francisco Liriano. The biggest key for Pittsburgh's success is the development of Gerrit Cole. Cole has top of the rotation stuff, and could make a leap forward this season. Milwaukee traded away Yovani Gallardo to open room for Jimmy Nelson, but now are thin on depth. The Brewers have a rotation with solid, but not spectacular pitchers like Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, and Wily Peralta. I think that the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates rotation is clearly better than Chicago's right now. The Brewers have a more balanced rotation, but lacks the ace that the Cubs have. I would rank those two rotations about even.   Cubs-tied for 4th with the Brewers


The Cubs went with Hector Rondon as their closer last year, and he saved 29 games. Pedro Strop and Neil Ramirez were his primary set up relievers, and Jason Motte joins the team as a free agent. The Pirates have the most bullpen depth in the division, and have a good lefty/righty late inning combo with Tony Watson and Mark Melancon. The Reds are lacking bullpen depth, but have the division's best closer, Aroldis Chapman. Trevor Rosenthal had an up and down season for the Cardinals last year, but they also have good depth. Milwaukee is still working on their bullpen, with Jonathon Broxton and Jim Henderson being their internal closing options right now. There are talks of bringing back Francisco Rodriguez or trading for Jonathon Papelbon. Bullpens are usually one of the last things that teams figure out. Relievers can be inconsistent from year to year. The Cubs look to have more depth than in the past, but lack a shut down reliever like Chapman.

While the Cubs should be excited about their future, playoff and World Series talk is premature. I wouldn't expect the Back to the Future prediction about the Cubs winning the 2015 World Series to happen. It is unrealistic to think that all of their rookie stars are going to break out this year. This was a team 12th in runs scored last year, and 13th in runs allowed. The NL Central is a tough division with four other quality teams in it. Despite the optimism by Maddon and Rizzo, this team is likely at least a year away from serious playoff contention.