So your first memory of the 2015 MLB season probably is of the World Series, with Kansas City beating the New York Mets in five games. Thus, perhaps just off the top of your head, you assume those were the two best teams in the regular season.
That would be wrong.
The St. Louis Cardinals had 100 regular-season wins, five more than any team. They were the first team since the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies to reach triple digits. The Cards won the NL Central, easily MLB's best division last year, by two games for their third straight division title and advanced to the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. St. Louis did it largely on the strength of its pitching staff, which led the majors with a 2.94 ERA (only team under 3.00) in 2015. Alas, the Cards were pretty beaten up when the postseason rolled around. They were clobbered by the young sluggers of the Chicago Cubs, who took the NLDS in four games. That was the first-ever playoff series between the bitter rivals.
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This offseason has been rather unusual in St. Louis. You would have to say this has been probably the best-run franchise in the majors for a while. It doesn't have the truly big money to spend like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers yet continues to win. The Cardinals have missed the playoffs only four times this century. So perhaps the front office knows better than I do, but it was strangely quiet this winter despite some glaring holes.
The Cardinals open the season on Sunday, April 3 at Pittsburgh.
Cardinals 2016 Projected Lineup
St. Louis ranked just 24th in runs last season and hit only 137 homers, which was 25th and one spot behind the small-ball Royals. I'm not sure this year's lineup is better.
The big loss was outfielder Jason Heyward. He led all regulars with a .293 average last season while hitting 13 homers with 60 RBIs and 23 steals. OK, not huge numbers overall, but Heyward played Gold Glove defense and led the position players in wins above replacement. The Cardinals wanted Heyward back and reportedly offered him around $200 million over eight years. But Heyward decided to sign for less with the Cubs and ticked off the Cardinals by saying he did so because the Cubs' core players were young and on the rise and the Cards' were on the downside of their careers. I think he's right.
I'm still shocked the Cardinals didn't add one of the bevy of free-agent outfielders that were out there, but this franchise rarely spends big free-agent bucks. St. Louis likes to build from within. The only major position player additions were Jedd Gyorko, who is a backup infielder, and Brayan Pena, who will back up catcher Yadier Molina. Speaking of Molina, he was hampered late last season by torn ligaments in his thumb and had to have another surgery after the season. He's availability for Opening Day is up in the air. Outfielder Matt Holliday and first baseman Matt Adams are coming off injury-plagued seasons themselves. Adams played in only 60 games last year and Holliday 73.
At this point, the team's best every-day player is All-Star third baseman Matt Carpenter, and he will continue to lead off this year. Carpenter upped his power stroke last year and hit 28 homers with 84 RBIs. Swinging for the fences dropped his average some (.272) and his strikeouts rose (151). Stephen Piscotty will bat second and play right field. He was great as a rookie, batting .305 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 63 games. Holliday plays left and bats third. Center fielder Randall Grichuk hits fourth. He also was good as a rookie, batting ,276 with 17 homers and 47 RBIs in 103 games.
The rest of the lineup: Jhonny Peralta at short, either Adams or Brandon Moss at first base, Kolten Wong at second and Molina behind the plate. Clearly this lineup is hugely dependent on those two young outfielders proving they weren't one-year wonders. Holliday and Molina appear trending downward.
Cardinals 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
That the Cardinals led the majors in ERA was pretty impressive considering ace Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles' tendon in April and missed most of the season. He made it back late and pitched out of the bullpen. He might have started Game 5 of the NLDS had there been one. Wainwright is healthy now.
But the Cardinals lost two key members of that rotation this offseason. John Lackey was the most consistent guy with 13 wins and a 2.77 ERA, but he also chose to sign with the Cubs. Lance Lynn had been super durable and consistent, but he's out for 2016 following Tommy John surgery. Lynn was 12-11 with a 3.03 ERA last season.
The rest of the rotation behind Wainwright will be good young right-handers Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez (he was shut down late last season with shoulder fatigue so keep an eye on that), lefty Jamie Garcia (great in 2015 but injury-prone) and free-agent addition Mike Leake, who spent last season with the Reds and Giants. Leake is nothing special, but you can generally count on six innings and three earned allowed from him each time out. The Cardinals did make a big offer to free-agent David Price, but Boston trumped that offer by many millions. So Leake was the fallback plan.
Closer Trevor Rosenthal is one of the best in the business, saving 48 games with a 2.10 ERA last year. The Cards did add Korean reliever Seung-hwan Oh to boost the bullpen depth.
Cardinals Futures Odds & 2015 Trends
At BetOnline , St. Louis is +1400 to win the World Series and +700 for the National League pennant. The Cards have an "over/under" wins total of 87.5, with both at -110. St. Louis doesn't have a player on the prop to lead the majors in homers, nor should it. The Cards were 81-81 against the spread last season and 66-85-11 O/U. On the moneyline, they were +2247 units on the year.
Cardinals 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects St. Louis to finish 84-78 and tied with Pittsburgh at second in the NL Central, 10 games behind the Cubs. I do think this team is behind the Cubs and Pirates in the division. I also believe it will make a move during the season if need be. Losing in St. Louis isn't acceptable. But as this club stands, go under that wins total and no playoffs.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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