5 Reasons to Be Optimistic for St. Louis Cardinals' 2014 Season
Manager Mike Matheny has a strong cast on the field in front of him. With a deep bullpen, a strong rotation and a strong lineup, confidence is running high in St. Louis. The rest of the division failed to improve over the offseason.
The ace of the pitching staff, Adam Wainwright, is one of the best in the game. Yadier Molina just keeps getting better. Indeed, there is reason for optimism.
The following six points may be revisited by October as the reasons why the Cardinals are in the playoffs yet again.
Adam Wainwright Is 1 of the Best Pitchers in Baseball
The ace of the Cardinals pitching staff, Wainwright, is finally out from under the shadow of his mentor, Chris Carpenter. For the first time in his career, Wainwright will lead the team without Carpenter in the dugout for the entire season.
That seems just fine with him.
He shared as much with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently:
In baseball terms, what I want more than to be a name on a plaque or to be an All-Star is for people to look back and say he was a great leader of men, a great teammate, a great friend. Like how they talk about Darryl Kile here. If people were ever to talk about me in that same way, man, that would mean the world to me.
It doesn't hurt that he is one of the best players to toe the rubber, either.
Wainwright returns to the mound after a 2013 season that saw him at or near the top in most every statistical category for pitchers. It earned him a second-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting behind the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.
He continues to work on his approach, and despite walking four hitters in his first start of the season, he shows few signs of backing down. With seven innings of shutout baseball on Opening Day, he earned his 100th win of his career.
Wainwright on the mound every fifth day leads to a good share of optimism. Wainwright in the clubhouse working with the young pitchers and position players leaves very little room for a lackluster attitude.
The Depth of the Pitching Staff Is Amazing
Beyond Wainwright is a pitching staff that may be as deep as any other staff in Major League Baseball. As spring training drew to a close and Opening Day was looming, there were teams around baseball finalizing their rotations and deciding on fourth or fifth starters. The Cardinals were deciding on who would be their seventh relief pitcher.
The rotation was mostly set before the spring. While the team held a competition for the final spot in the rotation, it became clear that it may not have been a competition in the first place. Carlos Martinez resumed his role in the bullpen while Joe Kelly went to the rotation.
Meanwhile, Martinez is slated to be a starter for this team in the future. Trevor Rosenthal may still figure into future rotation concerns as well. Jaime Garcia may return from injury this season. The team continues to develop a seemingly endless group of young pitchers with a lot of promise.
The depth in the pitching staff is a strength of this team now and in the future. The fact that the pipeline of young talent continues to provide the major league club with suitable replacements keeps everyone optimistic at every turn.
Kolten Wong Had an Incredible Spring
The Cardinals made a clear statement when they traded David Freese this offseason: Kolten Wong was the starting second baseman. The problem for many people was the fact that Wong did not exactly show that he was ready at the end of the 2013 season.
Those concerns were quickly erased during spring training this year. Wong started the spring with no hits in his first 10 at-bats.
Then, he did a backflip and everything seemed to be just fine.
Wong posted a .375 batting average and a 1.080 OPS to pace the Cardinals hitters. His production helped remove some doubts about his abilities. It took some relaxation and some confidence, but it appears that Wong will be OK in 2014.
The more he continues to hit, the more optimistic St. Louis will become.
The Competition in the National League Central Is Unimpressive
The Cardinals will give a lot of reasons to be optimistic this season, but their competition is not keeping the excitement down in St. Louis. They seemed to improve this offseason while the rest of the division seemed to stand pat or step back a little.
The Chicago Cubs are rebuilding and are a few years from competing in the division. The Milwaukee Brewers are nearing a point where they can be considered contenders, but they are still a few pieces away from being there. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds seem to be the only contenders for the Cardinals' title, but they did not seem to improve.
The Reds continue to battle injuries to key players like Aroldis Chapman and Mat Latos. The Pirates continue to look for consistent power in their lineup. Meanwhile, the Cardinals found an answer at shortstop, added a solid option in center field and made adjustments to get other hitters like Matt Adams and Wong in the lineup daily.
Optimism is high in St. Louis. There are not as many reasons to be so optimistic in the other cities around the National League Central.
Yadier Molina Seems to Get Better Every Season
Yadier Molina is arguably the best catcher in baseball today. It is well known that when he first arrived in the major leagues, the Cardinals were willing to sacrifice offense to have him on the field. That same sacrifice is not true any longer.
Molina, 31, seems to be getting better with each passing year.
His batting average continues to rise as does his RBI totals. In 2011, he finished 21st in the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award in the National League. The following year, he finished fourth. Last year, he finished third. Offensively speaking, he just keeps getting better.
Defensively speaking, he shows no sign of slowing down. He won his first Gold Glove Award in 2008 and has won that award every year since.
When one of the best players at his position continues to improve, the rest of the league has reason to be concerned. His team, however, gains yet another reason for optimism.
There Are Plenty of Reasons for Optimism in St. Louis
The St. Louis Cardinals have plenty of reason to be excited for the 2014 season. The young players that they have at their disposal is enough to make almost any team optimistic.
Wainwright and Molina would give any team reason to be excited about its chances in a new season. A young second baseman like Wong that seems to be realizing his potential simply adds to that excitement. The depth of the pitching staff and the lack of competition within the division may allow the optimism to boil over.
It is a long season, and a lot can happen. Going into the 2014 season, the Cardinals have every reason in the world to be optimistic.