The Cardinals can win the Central despite popular belief
The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off an impressive 2015 season in which they won 100 games and finished 1st in the NL Central. However, after the offseason departures of Jason Heyward and other key contributors in the offseason, many experts have begun writing off the Cardinals as serious World Series contenders. These predictions come with valid reasons: The Cardinals have an aging core of veterans mixed with young players at key positions with a lot to prove, and they are playing in, arguably, the best division in baseball with the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates both being serious contenders. However, it would be foolish to count the Cardinals out. In fact, there are a couple reasons why the Cardinals can match their 100-win season from last year, even with the rising prominence of their rivals.
First, the pitching staff is absolutely stacked. After losing Adam Wainwright to a torn Achilles tendon for most of last year, he will be back and he will be the ace of this rotation. In his last 5 full seasons pitching, he hasn’t finished lower than 3rd in Cy Young voting in 4 of them. He will have another good year leading this rotation. Behind him, the other four starters in the rotation are all #2 quality pitchers. Last year, Jaime Garcia had an ERA of 2.43, Michael Wacha went 17-7, Mike Leake has a career WHIP of 1.271 (which is excellent), and Carlos Martinez had an ERA of 3.01. The bullpen will also be good and they have a lot of depth. Notably, they will have Jordan Walden (coming back from an injury in 2015), Seung-hwan Oh (acquired this offseason—best closer in Korean baseball history), Tyler Lyons (potential fill-in starter and inning eater), Jonathan Broxton (2.66 ERA in 2015), and, one of the best closers in baseball, Trevor Rosenthal (48 saves and a 2.10 ERA in 2015). If the offense can produce runs, this pitching staff can carry the team to a lot of wins.
Second, even though many fans are worried about the offseason departure of Heyward, Randal Grichuk has the potential to be a special player. At only 24 years old, Grichuk has showed plenty of promise, as the organization has hedged their bets on his success. Last year, in only 323 at bats, Grichuk had 17 homeruns and 47 RBIs. Hopefully with a full season of work, he can become a 20-25 homerun-a-year hitter (possibly even 30). If he and Stephen Piscotty can be consistent hitters at the plate for the Cardinals this year, they will have a formidable lineup without any glaring weak spots 1 through 9.
— Cards Nation (@CardsNation13) February 27, 2016
Third, and perhaps the most important reason why the Cardinals can match their 100-win season is their experience in the locker room. Even though the Cardinals may have lost key pieces this season, they still have all of the important veterans. Though injured at the moment, Yadier Molina will still a presence in the locker room and the heart and soul of this franchise. Matt Holliday is still there and his experience will help guide the two other young outfielders every day. Brandon Moss went into the postseason with Oakland before he came to the Cardinals so he too has this experience. Additionally, there are a number of other players who have been with the Cardinals for years and have had experience playing deep into the playoffs. There is something to be said about knowing what it takes to win and the Cardinals have that experience.
Trust me. Don’t count out the Cardinals. Even though though the hype in the NL Central will be around the Cubs, who will definitely be World Series favorites, the Cardinals will not be far behind. For a successful franchise like the Cardinals, there is no such thing as a “rebuilding year.” Though the window is closing on this aging core, the window is far from closed. The Cardinals have the pieces to have a very successful season. They will win with good pitching and smart hitting and they will hover around the 100-win plateau.