Mar 23, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman K. Wong (16) dives into third base on a steal during a game against the Houston Astros at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
With only six days left until the season kicks off here are six quick thoughts that are running through my head about the impending St. Louis Cardinals season.
How does this team stack up against the NL Central?
The bottom line is that we’re going to find out an answer to this question very quickly. The Cards open with 15 straight inter-division games, including 6 against the Cincinnati Reds, a team that many view as their chief rival for the Central crown despite their current injury situation.
Nothing would make me happier than to see a strong start right out of the chute, and see a standings gap materialize early on as a result.
Can Matt Carpenter pull a repeat of last season’s historic numbers?
Carpenter seems to think so, having told reporters during spring training that he wants to do even better. I’m not sure how that’s possible after he finished the season 4th in the NL MVP Race on the strength of a season that saw him hit the most doubles and score the most runs in all of baseball, but it’s going to be fun watching him try.
The Cardinals are banking on solid production out of him after signing him to a 6 year, 52 million dollar extension this spring. His work ethic is said to be second to none, and that’s a good thing because the last thing anyone wants to see is a player get rewarded and then lose the edge that brought the huge pay day his way in the first place. Carpenter doesn’t seem like that type of player, but it will still be interesting to see if he presses early to try and validate that huge deal in the eyes of the fans.
Will the home run numbers rebound or will the Cardinals hitting approach stay the course?
The Cardinals posted historic numbers batting with runners in scoring position last season. That number came with a price, however, as the power numbers dropped precipitously. Here’s hoping a few more balls leave the yard this season, but not at the expense of the refined team approach that led to St. Louis finishing third in MLB in runs scored (783). They were the only National League team to appear in the top 5 in runs scored despite finishing #27 in MLB in home runs (125). Seeing the long ball is nice, but seeing runs cross the plate is even nicer.
Will Jhonny Peralta’s range prove problematic to the left side of the Cards defense?
It’s possible, but I don’t think it will be as bad as some people think it will be because he may not have to cover as much ground as most fans would expect a typical shortstop to cover. With Matt Carpenter sliding over to 3rd base there is a chance that the range he exhibited at 2nd base last season will transfer over to the hot corner, and he’ll be able to mask some of the expected range deficiency that most believe is coming with Peralta manning shortstop.
The Cardinals finally have a speed element in their lineup, but after years of station to station play and taking an extra base when it’s warranted will manager Mike Matheny actually turn them loose as some think he should? Fans are constantly clamoring to bring back the days of Whiteyball, and for once the Cards actually have a shot at adding a base stealing threat back in to their offensive arsenal. I anticipate them running a bit more, but somehow I think it will be implemented just as judiciously as they do most everything else these days. They won’t run just to run. They’ll run when the exact right opportunity presents itself.
What is this team’s ceiling?
Vegas thinks it’s around 90.5 wins according to Bovada. This team seems capable of much, much more. I’m not telling you to run out and drop your life savings on the over in a Las Vegas sportsbook, but getting to 100 wins seems entirely possible provided the pitching staff stays healthy throughout the season.
Looking around the rest of the league, I see no reason why the Cardinals don’t make it back to the World Series. They have the arms to win the race, and they’ve added the offense that they lacked last October to finish the job.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.