Covering the Bases: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals season was filled with tragedy and triumph in more ways than one. Though they finished seven wins shy of their 2013 total of 97 wins, the St. Louis Cardinals were able to grab the division lead from the Pittsburgh Pirates by two whole games in 2014, and made a valiant effort at yet another National League pennant, but came up just short. Like many teams, there were a few key players to the Cardinals success in 2014. With a few key free agents possibly leaving the team, will they be able to copy their success in 2015? For this upcoming season to go well, there are a few things that need to happen. Through all of the success in 2014, there was one person that should not be forgotten: Oscar Taveras. That’s just a reminder that nothing is guaranteed. Not even baseball.

The Cardinals didn’t start off so hot, but were able to sneak past the Pittsburgh Pirates for a division title. When they started off 14-14, the fans in the St. Louis area were sent into a frenzy. “Can we really compete for a title? Where are they headed after this?” are just a couple of examples of what the (self-titled) Best Fans in Baseball asked themselves after a mediocre start to the season. What’s befuddling is that Saint Louis posted monthly records of three games above .500 or less every month, with the exception of a 17-9 September, still managed a 90-win season. I’m no mathematician, but that math doesn’t add up. It does, and that just goes to show how in baseball, you take it one month at a time.

The thing that really pushed them through was their hot September. After the September the Cards had, it seemed that they would be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs. They took care of the Nationals with such ease, only to be knocked aside in the NLCS by the World Champion San Francisco Giants.

Even though the Cardinals failed to make the Fall Classic, they, well one player, were the talk of the MLB. During Game Two of the World Series, the baseball world suffered a horrific loss. Oscar Taveras, one of the Cardinals bright young stars, was killed in a car crash in his home country of the Dominican Republic. It’s just a good reminder that not everything in life is a guarantee.

With the help of a few key players, the Cardinals were able to sneak into the playoffs. A team not known for their offense yielded just one Gold Glove award winner in Yadier Molina. Also noteworthy is that Yadi also won the National League’s Platinum Glove, which meant that there would be two Platinum Glove winners in the Show Me state, the other being Royals left fielder Alex Gordon. One player that revitalized his career in the 2014 season was Jon Jay. Jay played 140 games for the Cards in 2014, while posting a line of .303/.372/.378. Though he wasn’t much in the power department, he was what people would call a, “Run Creator.”

On the pitching side of things, the main man was Adam Wainwright. Though a lot of, “Did he really groove a pitch to Jeter?” stories arose, at the end of the day, he was still one of the National League’s best pitchers. With an ERA of 2.38 and an ERA+ of 154, Wainwright was a no-doubter when it came down to who to choose for the All-Star game.

Justin Masterson, Pat Neshek, and Jason Motte are the big three Cardinal free agents who will not be back. Masterson came over at the trade deadline from Cleveland, and never really panned out. In six starts for St. Louis, Masterson went 3-3 with a 7.04 ERA. With a 5.88 ERA in 2014, that marks the highest ERA of his career by 2.11. He has signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox. As far as Pat Neshek and Jason Motte are concerned, these two guys were a huge part of the Cardinals bullpen success. Neshek’s ERA was 1.87, and his ERA+ was near 200 (at 197). Neshek is off to San Diego. Motte, although not as successful, still had an above average season with an ERA of 2.75 and a 10.8 K/9 ratio.

To repeat the success they had this season in 2015, several things need to happen: Yadier Molina needs to stay happy and healthy. Molina was hurt for a good portion of the season with a thumb injury and an oblique injury. Not playing Yadi every day, even though he is one of the best defenders in the Majors, would benefit the club greatly. With AJ Pierzynksi on the free agent market, the club will need to find a solid backup catcher. The other key to success is to replenish the bullpen. At this point, Jason Motte might be the best available option, though he is 32 years old.  The Cardinals have already made strides to improve other key areas on their team starting with the outfield.  They agreed to send Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves to the Lou for Right Fielder Jason Heyward.  They also agreed to contract terms with the strikeout prone yet powerful Mark Reynolds.  Expect Reynolds to platoon first base with Matt Adams to save Adams swings during the dog days of summer.

St. Louis had their fair share of heartbreak on and off the field in 2014. They often struggled to find an offensive identity, and the division was out of their control for very much of the season. Because of a late September surge, they were able to squeak in with a two-game division lead in the NL Central. The Cards had their way with the Washington Nationals, only to suffer gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of the San Francisco Giants. Just like many times in life, things continued to snowball for STL when they lost their prized young outfielder Oscar Taveras. To win in 2015, despite heavy hearts, would mean so much for the entire organization and its fan base. They have the makings of a fantastic 2015 season, but do they have the mental and physical strength to be champions?

 

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