The St. Louis Cardinals narrowly missed out on their second World Series appearance in a row last year. And then, they missed out on the entire free-agent market.
They lost the likes of hitting coach Mark McGwire, pitcher Kyle Lohse, first baseman Lance Berkman and utility man Skip Schumaker. But, they gained southpaw reliever Randy Choate and infielders Ty Wigginton and Ronny Cedeno.
Some may consider their losses greater than their gains, but in this writer's opinion, the Cardinals are sitting pretty for a 2013 that will rival their 2012 season.
2012 vs. 2013 Offenses
The Cardinals are known for their stacked lineups.
The heart of their 2012 order: Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and David Freese.
The heart of their 2013 order: Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and David Freese.
See what I did there? The four core hitters from last year are still in place
While they lost Berkman's production, it's difficult to claim that his lack of presence in the lineup is going to affect the Cards because he spent a large portion of the 2012 season on the DL.
And although Schumaker's absence may be felt on the bench, Wigginton and Cedeno could combine to fill the void (Wigginton's career average is .263 and Cedeno's is at .247).
According to GM John Mozeliak, the offseason progress of Rafael Furcal's injury has been satisfying enough to assume he will be starting, which will put Pete Kozma back on the bench. And the Cards have been focusing on teaching Matt Carpenter how to play second base, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Should he succeed, that would put Daniel Descalso on the bench as well. A healthy Furcal and Carpenter are both historically more reliable at the plate than their counterparts.
And let's not forget the eternally underrated Allen Craig, who will also be receiving more playing time in 2013. In 119 games last season, Craig hit over .300 and approached 25 homers and 100 RBI.
But, they will definitely miss an influence off the field: Big Mac. McGwire played a big part in making the Cards' offense what it is today. In his second year as hitting coach, the Redbirds led the league in on-base percentage (.338), and were second in hits (1,526) behind the Texas Rangers.
But new hitting coach John Mabry is no stranger to the Cardinals or to McGwire's tactics, having played eight years with the team and having spent the past year as his assistant.
Verdict: The 2013 Cardinals offense is just as threatening if not more threatening than it was in 2012.
2012 vs. 2013 Defenses
As previously mentioned, the Cardinals' starting lineup isn't going to change much in 2013.
In 2012, the Cardinals ranked second in the National League in double plays turned (405), seventh in fielding percentage (.983), and were highlighted by their irreplaceable catcher Molina.
Again, one thing that could change is second base. Putting Carpenter at second would be an attempt at improving offense, not defense. Not only would Carpenter be inexperienced (having put in most of his time at first and third base), but sitting Descalso would mean benching a player known for his fielding.
That being said, the remainder of the Cardinals are one year older and wiser at their respective positions. Jon Jay is rapidly becoming a premier center fielder, and Freese looks a lot more comfortable at third these days.
My only other concern is an aging Beltran and Furcal. The former, especially, is notably less spry at this point in his career.
Verdict: If the 2013 Cardinals lag behind the 2012 Cardinals in any category, it will be this one.
2012 vs. 2013 Pitching
There are two notable differences in the Cardinals' pitching staff between 2012 and 2013. One involves starters, and one involves relievers.
First is the absence of Lohse, who has been one of their leaders in wins for the past two years with 14 and 16, respectively. And while his fate in free agency is yet to be determined, it seems clear that the Cards will be OK without him.
The projected 2013 starting rotation is as follows:
- Adam Wainwright, RHP
- Chris Carpenter, RHP
- Jaime Garcia, LHP
- Jake Westbrook, RHP
Potential fifth starter:
- Lance Lynn, RHP
- Shelby Miller, RHP
- Joe Kelly, RHP
Any team that has Wainwright and Carpenter as their co-aces is going to have a strong pitching staff. And for the first time since 2010 (excluding the last few weeks of the 2012 season), they will both be healthy.
When one of your potential starters (Lynn) won 18 games the year before, the rotation clearly has some depth.
Even if Lynn's 2012 win streak was a fluke, the Cardinals have an extremely talented pitching staff with plenty of young relievers who have stepped up to become reliable replacements for injured starters in the past.
And then, there are those who recently excited us in the majors for the first time. The 2013 season will surely see more of the highly anticipated Miller, who made his first major league start in the final game of last season, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. And Trevor Rosenthal will likely continue to stun with his 100 mile-per-hour fastball out of the bullpen.
In other bullpen news, the acquisition of Choate will provide some much-needed lefty support. It's no secret that the Cards had difficulties in that department with their only left-handed reliever for much of the year being a struggling Marc Rzepczynski. Choate brings with him 12 years of experience and a 4.02 career ERA.
Verdict: The 2013 pitching staff should exceed the 2012 staff overall.
Notable Prospects Who Could Make an Impact
Through all of this analysis, we have to remember that some pieces of the team have yet to be added, and some important names could make their debut in 2013.
Which Cardinals team is better?
Taveras certainly could be blasting his way onto the scene if his .321 batting average and his 23 homers in Double-A Springfield last season have anything to say about it.
Others to look out for include the aforementioned Miller and Rosenthal, as well as second baseman Kolten Wong who could prove to be the answer at that position, should Matt Carpenter fail in making the switch.
The 2013 Cardinals pack more overall power than the 2012 team. While fans may feel as if not much was done in the offseason, the Redbirds were actually able to accomplish what they set out to do: maintain one of the best teams in the NL while filling a couple of voids.
I see no reason why 2013 won't bring even more success for this historic franchise.