As the Cardinals inch closer and closer to the start of the 2013 season, it's hard not to wonder what lies under the surface that could throw a wrench into the Cardinals' hope for a postseason appearance.
The lineup is pretty close to set and only the fifth spot in the rotation is open. But as fans draw back their memory to the 2011 spring training and remember Adam Wainwright's season coming to a close before it began, it brings uncertainty to what seems like a sure thing today.
This piece isn't meant to bring doom and gloom to what appears to be a possibly great season for the Cardinals, but rather a dose of what could possibly make them stumble along their way.
But one thing is for certain: Even if some of these possible issues creep up, the Cardinals are a bunch who can find a way to overcome and prevail.
This is always a risk with the Cardinals, especially when your team has four position players in their 30s at the start of the season (Molina, Holliday, Furcal and Beltran) and three starting pitchers in their 30s as well (Wainwright, Westbrook and Carpenter).
Cardinals fans know of the injury history of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Wainwright missed the entire 2011 season with an elbow injury and Chris Carpenter missed almost the entire 2012 season with an unusual neck injury. The Cardinals' success in 2013 will go as Wainwright and Carpenter go.
Carlos Beltran is on the downside of his career, but had a pretty darn good season for the Cards in 2012. He hit 32 home runs and drove in 97 runs at age 35. His knees seemed to have held up well, and the Cardinals have rolled the dice that Beltran doesn't turn into the 2012 version of Lance Berkman.
Berkman had a similar year to Beltran's in his first year with the Cardinals in 2011 en route to a World Series championship. However, 2012 was not kind to Berkman. He only played in 32 games and hit two home runs. Berkman tried multiple times to get back on the field, but it just didn't seem to happen.
Hopefully the injury bug stays away, but with history and age not on the side of a few key Cardinals, it shouldn't be a surprise to see someone go down for a period of time.
It seems in baseball that the year after a big season is always subject to a letdown. The superstars in the game usually don't let that happen, but for a guy who just experienced success, it can be a daunting task to repeat.
Take, for instance, former Cardinal outfielder Ryan Ludwick. He had an All-Star season in 2008 for the Cardinals. He hit .299 with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, had an .966 OPS and won a Silver Slugger award. His 2009 season showed a significant drop off in many areas. He hit only 22 home runs and still drove in 97, but his OPS dropped almost 200 points to .775.
By the middle of 2010, Ludwick found himself shipped to Cleveland at the trade deadline.
There are a few Cardinals who could find themselves in a down year after a successful 2012 campaign. Carlos Beltran makes me nervous due to his age. Hopefully Beltran will avoid the season Lance Berkman had at age 36 due to injuries.
Lance Lynn has letdown written all over him. His inconsistency at the end of 2012 makes all Cardinal fans nervous. He did win 18 games last season, but it is highly unlikely he can replicate that kind of success in 2013. He fell apart in the postseason and got shellacked in both of his NLCS starts, including a possible closeout game in St. Louis.
It would be great if all of the Cardinals could replicate or improve from their 2012 seasons, but reality says someone will have a down year.
Mike Matheny is the ultimate human being when it comes to character, integrity and honesty. He will always do what is right, no matter the cost.
That said, Matheny finds himself in a precarious situation, like many other Americans, with his real estate ventures turned south.
A recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlined Matheny's recent financial struggles and his path to make things right.
Having to deal with the burden of paying back millions of dollars pales in comparison to leading the Cardinals on the field. Matheny did a great job of keeping those issues out of the locker room last season. But as this information became a lot more public, it may be difficult for Matheny to keep the boundary lines of baseball and personal life where he currently has them drawn.
However, if there is anyone who can juggle this situation, it is Mike Matheny.
The past two seasons, the Cardinals have had to makeup serious ground in August and September to barely sneak into the playoffs.
There seems to come a time where teams who seem to "flip the switch" at the last minute can't find the switch anymore. This could very well be the Cardinals if they don't get off to a good start. Luck and the universe can't always be on your side.
For the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Cardinals found the switch in August and pushed their way onto the playoff stage culminating with a World Series championship in 2011 and within one game of the series in 2012.
With a semi-aging roster, it would wise for the Cardinals to find the switch early, turn it on and sustain it throughout the season should they want to make a third straight playoff appearance.