Our look at the NL Central teams, part of our continuing series previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season, concludes with the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the division last season.
The Cardinals won 100 games last season on the way to winning the NL Central, barely finishing ahead of the Pirates and Cubs, who won 98 and 97 games, respectively. The Cardinals may be taking a step back toward the other teams this season after losing OF Jason Heyward and SP John Lackey to free agency, with both of the players heading to the Cubs. They signed SP Mike Leake to help offset the loss of Lackey, but the Cardinals also made another “acquisition” in the starting rotation, without having to trade for or sign a player. That comes in the form of SP Adam Wainwright, who appears to be recovered from the torn Achilles injury that limited him to 28 games last season and on pace to take the mound as the team’s Opening Day starter in April. The injury news isn’t so good for SS Jhonny Peralta, who underwent thumb surgery earlier this month that is expected to keep him out of action for 2-3 months. Jedd Gyorko, who has played second base for most of his career, appears to be the leading candidate to fill in it shortstop while Peralta is sidelined.
Given the Cardinals’ 100-win season, it might surprise some people to find out that they had, largely, a below-average offense in 2015. The team’s .253 average matched the National League average, and the team ranked in the bottom five in the NL in both home runs (137) and RBI (619). Heyward, who is now in Chicago, led the team with a .293 batting average, but 3B Matt Carpenter was the most productive hitter overall for the Cardinals. He hit .272 with 28 home runs and 84 RBI. Peralta was next on the team in home runs and RBI, so his bat will be missed until he gets back to action a month or two into the season. Despite Wainwright — the team’s ace — missing the majority of the regular season, the Cardinals’ pitching staff led the NL with a 2.94 ERA, while their 62 saves also led the league. SP Jaime Garcia led the way in the rotation, with a career-best 2.43 ERA in an injury-shortened season that saw him make 20 starts. None of the Cardinals’ regular starters posted an ERA higher than 3.38 in 2015. Closer Trevor Rosenthal took care of business at the end of games, converting 48 of his 51 save opportunities while posting a career-best 2.10 ERA and striking out 83 in 68.2 innings.
The loss of Heyward is a below to an already average offense, but if OF Matt Holliday can stay healthy, after playing just 73 games last season that could help the offense if he can return to his 20-plus home run totals from most of his career. If young players like OFs Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty can build upon the success they’ve had in their short careers thus far, they can help make up some of Heyward’s production. Wainwright can provide a strong season at the top of the rotation if he returns to his pre-injury form. Young SPs Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez can put up good numbers if they can repeat what they did last year.
It’s not going to be easy for the Cardinals to repeat as division champions with the Pirates and Cubs both right behind them in the standings. I don’t expect them to win another 100 games, and with the additions the Cubs made this winter, some of which led to subtractions for the Cardinals, could be enough to help the Cubs leapfrog the Cardinals and win the Central.
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Source: http://www.stlouiscardinals.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com