4 Steps the St. Louis Cardinals Must Take to Defend the NL Pennant

Corey Noles@@coreynolesCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2013

4 Steps the St. Louis Cardinals Must Take to Defend the NL Pennant

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    Matt Carpenter returns to the dugout after making the final out of the 2013 World Series.
    Matt Carpenter returns to the dugout after making the final out of the 2013 World Series.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The St. Louis Cardinals, while obviously disappointed, have a lot to be grateful for even after their 2013 World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox.

    There’s no doubt the sting of the loss is still quite painful, but the future is bright for the Cardinals.

    With the continued development of a series of key rookies and prospects, this team is built to compete for years to come. This wasn’t their only chance—in fact, it was quite the surprise to most.

    While no one doubted the Cardinals would be competitive in 2013, a World Series berth didn’t quite seem like a possibility.

    Taking into consideration the sheer number of rookies marched out by the Cardinals combined with injuries to multiple key players, the fact that they won the National League Central Division is quite the accomplishment.

    It also bodes well for their future.

    While several players will leave due to free agency, the Cardinals’ nucleus of quality starting pitchers and key veterans will remain mostly intact.

    The Cardinals are in a prime position to return to the World Series, but for that to happen, a few key steps will have to take place.

1. Upgrade at Shortstop

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The need to make an upgrade at shortstop stands above all for a reason—it’s the most glaring need.

    Defensively, Pete Kozma did a decent job at shortstop. He’s no Ozzie Smith, but he’s a decent defender.

    His bat is the problem. If Kozma could have hit at least .250, the Cardinals could have justified having him on the roster.

    Sadly, a team as competitive as the Cardinals need a shortstop with a better offensive line than .217/.275/.273. Expect a new shortstop on Opening Day 2014.

2. Solidify the Rotation

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The Cardinals spent 2013 with one of the best rotations in MLB despite the loss of Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. No other team in baseball has that luxury.

    While the 2014 rotation is, for the most part, already in place, the Cardinals will have the opportunity to reorganize a bit, putting them in a strong position to start the season.

    Assuming no one is traded—and frankly, that’s a bold assumption—the rotation will likely look like this:

    • Adam Wainwright
    • Michael Wacha
    • Jaime Garcia
    • Lance Lynn
    • Shelby Miller

    If one or more of those pitchers find themselves with new teams in 2014, expect Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez to fill the remaining slot. Either way, the rotation should be strong.

3. Bolster the Bench

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Cardinals' serious lack of bench depth cost them during the World Series in almost every game.

    To have a team worthy of competing in the World Series without a legitimate threat off of the bench is a dangerous formula and quite possibly cost the Cardinals their 12th World Series championship.

    The acquisition of Ty Wigginton prior to the season didn’t work out well for the Cardinals, but general manager John Mozeliak will need to be shopping early to strengthen the bench for 2014.

    If Carlos Beltran does not return, Matt Adams and Allen Craig will become everyday players and, as a result, neither will be available to pinch hit late in games.

    To make another late October run in 2014, it’s an issue the Cardinals will have to address.

4. Remember How It Feels to Lose

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Of all of the adjustments they will need to make, possibly the most important will be to never forget.

    They need to remember what it felt like to stand in the dugout and watch the Red Sox celebrate at their expense. They need to remember the feeling of having to face the media and answer to their defeat.

    While those memories shouldn’t consume them, they should keep them close by so they can channel that pain into passion and desire. Those memories should be the best motivation they have to keep their focus on not just a return to the World Series, but victory.

    This team has what it takes to win—and they had it in 2013. With the right adjustments, they should be even better when baseball returns for 2014.