2014 St. Louis Cardinals Free MLB Picks for Futures Odds with Season Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 2/27/2014
Is that decision not to sign Albert Pujols to a $240 million or whatever extension looking better and better each year for the St. Louis Cardinals or what? Pujols looks like a shell of his former self with the L.A. Angels, and the Cards haven't missed him. They reached the NLCS in 2012 and last year won 97 games -- St. Louis' most since 2005 -- and returned to the Fall Classic. The Cardinals lost to Boston in six games because they couldn't get David Ortiz out.
Perhaps no team in the majors is set up for more prolonged success than the Cardinals, who have one of the majors' deepest overall farm systems and a ton of stellar young pitching already on the big-league roster. That's why they didn't blink at not re-signing free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran this offseason. He remained very good last year, hitting .296 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs, but Beltran will be 37 in late April. At that age, you need the option of playing designated hitter. Plus, St. Louis was deep enough that it could fill Beltran's spot. Allen Craig will play right field, while Matt Adams will take over full time at first base, Craig's old spot.
The Cards' two biggest moves this winter were trading 2011 World Series hero David Freese to the Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos and signing shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Center field was the second-worst spot in the every-day lineup last season. Bourjos is injury-prone but is a decent slap hitter and brings speed and terrific defense. Freese seemed to be regressing, hitting just .262 with nine homers in 2013, and he was lousy in the playoffs. The Cards simply move Matt Carpenter from second base to third and insert top prospect Kolten Wong into Carpenter's spot at second. St. Louis signed veteran Mark Ellis as insurance in case Wong isn't ready.
The worst spot in the lineup last year was easily shortstop, and the Cardinals gave the former Tiger Peralta a four-year, $52 million deal for their only big free-agent signing. Some other players whined about this because Peralta essentially cashed in after getting suspended for steroids last year, but he's an offensive upgrade from what the team had.
Cardinals 2014 Projected Lineup
The Cardinals led the National League in runs by a ton -- 77 over No. 2 Colorado -- despite hitting only 125 home runs, which was 13th in the Senior Circuit. The Cards were No. 2 in average and led the majors in hitting with runners in scoring position. Craig nearly set the single-season record in that regard. St. Louis also led the NL in getting on base. This isn't the 1990s any longer where you can only win with three-run homers.
Carpenter will hit leadoff, and he's one of the most underrated players in the game. He was second on the team with a .318 average and led the club in hits and on-base percentage. Carpenter isn't at a typical leadoff guy in that he doesn't really steal bases. Cardinals shortstops hit only .222 with a .280 on-base percentage, four homers and 54 RBIs last season. Peralta hit .303 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs in 107 games during the regular season before he was booted for testing positive for PEDs. With Beltran gone it's important for Matt Holliday and Craig to stay healthy because the Cards don't have much power as it is.
Is Adams ready for a full-time role? He hit .284 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in 108 games last year. The big lefty struggled in the playoffs and rarely faced southpaws in the regular season. He hit only .231 against them when he did. Catcher Yadier Molina looked like a potential MVP and batting champion in July before injuries hit. I wonder if the team will hide him at first base occasionally to keep its most important player healthy. You can bet he will DH when possible in interleague games. The weak link of the lineup could be Wong at second as he hit just .153 in 59 at-bats, but Ellis is a solid alternative. If an outfielder or Adams struggle, the Cardinals have uber-prospect Oscar Taveras, who has been compared to Vladimir Guerrero, waiting in the wings.
Cardinals 2014 Projected Rotation & Closer
St. Louis finished fifth in the NL with a 3.42 ERA last season, and the rotation might be better in 2014. Adam Wainwright shows no signs of slowing down at age 32 (33 in August). Wainwright led the NL in wins (19), innings (241.2) and complete games (5) last year and was typically excellent in the playoffs for the most part. If not for Clayton Kershaw, he would have won the 2013 Cy Young Award. What could make the rotation truly scary is a full season of breakout star Michael Wacha. He was terrific in nine regular season starts and then the story of the postseason with his dominant performances. It's almost not fair the Cards have he and Shelby Miller already so good at such a young age.
Lance Lynn will be the fourth starter, but No. 5 is up in the air because Jaime Garcia is ailing again off last year's season-ending shoulder surgery. He visited Dr. James Andrews this week and apparently got good news in that he just had shoulder inflammation and not more structural damage. Joe Kelly is waiting if Garcia can't go.
St. Louis also got great news on flamethrowing closer Trevor Rosenthal. He was hurt early this week, but it was diagnosed as just a minor groin strain. He took over as closer late in the season from Edward Mujica and was unhittable in the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals Futures Odds & 2013 Trends
At Sportsbook.ag, St. Louis is the -180 favorite to win the NL Central again, +350 second-favorites to repeat as NL champion and +900 to win the World Series. The Cards have a wins total set at 91.5 (“over” -130 favorite). They were 79-75-8 "over/under" last year and 83-79 on the runline. Wainwright has a wins total of 15.5, with the over a -135 favorite. Carpenter is listed with a hits total of 169.5 (both -115).
St. Louis Cardinals Free MLB Picks and Betting Predictions
The Pirates and Reds both appear to have taken steps back this offseason, so I think the Cardinals are all but a cinch to win the NL Central. While the rotation should be as good if not better, presuming Wacha and Miller don't have sophomore slumps, the lineup might not be quite as good. The Cardinals were so good with runners in scoring position (.330) that it was practically abnormal (next-best team was at .282). That showed in the playoffs. Take over the wins -- I project 94 -- but no pennant this year as Washington and the Dodgers look better. I'm going under on Wainwright's wins (I say 15) and over on Carpenter's hits.
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