Greetings! What a fantastic organization...
Projected Starters - Yadier Molina (C), Allen Craig (1B), Daniel Descalso/Matt Carpenter (2B), Pete Kozma/Ronny Cedeno (SS), David Freese (3B), Matt Holliday (LF), Jon Jay (CF), Carlos Beltran (RF)
On paper, the Cardinals offense doesn't look that potent, but then you realize that they scored 765 runs in 2012 (2nd in the NL) and you remember that they always seem to put it together. The big Spring development for St. Louis is the injury to Rafael Furcal (Tommy John Surgery) and they'll be replacing 531 PA's from last year with the Pete Kozma/Ronny Cedeno/Random minor league "glove" shortstop pu pu platter. That's certainly a blow for the Cards, but let's not forget that Furcal was only a 1.2-win player last year, and he didn't even run anymore. No panic needed. The core of this offense is a four-headed monster of Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, and Carlos Beltran. Molina has always been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, but he's now hit .305-or-better in back-to-back seasons and he had a major power breakout (22 homers) in 2012. At 30 years old, there's a possibility (likelihood maybe) that 2012 was his career year, but he's a top-5 option in baseball behind the plate. Holliday is as safe as it gets, as he's been a 5+ WAR player for six straight years, and I absolutely love him. His defense isn't awesome at this point, but he'll hit around .300 with power and he takes enough walks to have a .380-ish OBP. Craig and Beltran have injury concerns, but both guys were great last year. Beltran will be 36 years old in April, and he fell off in a big way in the second half of 2012. He still hit 32 homers for the year, but his age combined with recent injury history (didn't reach 100 games in either 2010 or 2011) make him a risk. Craig has never proven that he can stay healthy, but he mashed last year, hitting 22 homers with a .307/.354/.522 in just 119 games. If he gets 600 AB's? I think he's 30 homers with a .300 average. Rounding out the lineup, I really, really like Jon Jay, and he's a high-average bat with exceptional defense in center field and great speed (19 steals). David Freese is safe for 20 homers, at least one DL stint and a high-average, and the Descalso/Carpenter duo should be league-average at 2nd.
Projected - Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller
I'm all-in on Adam Wainwright. He may be my Cy Young pick (still determining) and he looked to be back to being the old Wainwright late last season after coming off of Tommy John. In the two seasons before the injury, he threw 230+ innings with an ERA between 2.40-2.60, and struck out 200+ in both years. He's a no-doubt #1 guy. After that, things become less clear. Lance Lynn had a good year (3.78 ERA), but his numbers after the break were much worse (4.32 ERA) and he's not proven as a long-term starter. Garcia is always injured and while he's posted 3 straight years with a sub-4.00 ERA, you have no idea whether he'll throw 20 innings or 200 innings. Westbrook is the "safe" guy, and you need that, but he'll never be more than a #4 starter or so. Miller seems to be in the driver's seat for the 5th starter job, and he's a huge prospect with elite stuff. If he can throw 180 innings, he could be a huge plus.
Projected - Jason Motte (closer), Mitchell Boggs, Trevor Rosenthal, Marc Rzepczynski, Edward Mujica, Randy Choate, Fernando Salas
Motte is a high-end option. He saved 40+ games last year with a low ERA and a booming K/9 of 10.75. The track record isn't terribly long, but I like him. The rest of the 'pen is very solid, but not spectacular. Boggs was fantastic last season (2.21 ERA) and Rzepczynski has solid since arriving in STL during the 2011 season. Rosenthal is the X-factor, as he's a really highly-rated prospect who they've decided to use in the bullpen (for 2012), and he was dominant in a small sample there last season.
Every year, St. Louis seems to contend and this year is no different. I have some serious concerns about the offense (regression from Molina, injuries from Freese/Craig/Beltran) and the back-end of the starting pitching (hello Jaime Garcia!), but it's an organization I trust, and they have depth. One thing to watch is that, if Beltran or Craig went down, the Cards have the #1 hitting prospect in baseball in Oscar Taveras ready to go in the minors. Stay tuned.
87-75, 2nd in NL Central