The first track off Kamasi Washington’s 2015 album The Epic is entitled “Change of the Guard”. That same phrase is an accurate depiction of the situation in the NL Central. For nearly a decade, the St. Louis Cardinals have been the cream of the crop in the Central. However, in 2015 despite putting up the best record in baseball, the writing was on the wall. Chicago is emerging as the youngest and most talented team in the division if not the entire league. It was then quite fitting for the Cardinals best offensive player, Jason Heyward, to take his talents up I-55 and play for the rival Chicago Cubs.
The batters are becoming older and cornerstone ace pitcher Adam Wainwright isn’t getting any younger. St. Louis does have a top 15 farm system, however it might not be good enough, playing in the ultra competitive NL Central. This season will be a changing of the guard in the Central with the Cardinals having to battle for their spot in the playoffs.
St. Louis as always is strong around the diamond. Matt Carpenter will man the hot corner and he continues to be one of the top offensive threats for St. Louis. Carpenter hit 28 home runs last year, a number far likely to regress than improve. Jhonny Peralta at age 34 has batted above league average in four out of his last five seasons. Peralta has also been excellent defensively and continues to improve at short stop, the question of age will be answered in time though. Kolten Wong at second base continues to impress as he enters his third full season in the big leagues. Wong was terrible facing left-handed pitchers in 2015, hopefully he has improved against south-paws during the off-season. The Cardinals will likely stick with Matt Adams at first base but they could platoon Brandon Moss who will split time between the infield and outfield. St. Louis has some nice depth with the Jedd Gyorko pick-up during the off-season. He is an above replacement level utility player. Greg Garcia is entering his prime down in the minors and could help out the big club at some point this year.
An aging Matt Holliday leads the Cardinals weak outfield. Holliday dealt with a couple injuries that harmed his production last season. He posted his lowest ISO numbers of his career. Holliday is 36 years old and this might be his last great year. Randal Grichuk is your every day starter in left field. He’s a guy who hits the ball hard, strikes out a lot, and plays good defense. Expect a slightly improved year from the 24 year old. Stephen Piscotty will see his first full MLB season at the age of 25 after dominating Memphis for half of the year last season. He was good in 372 big league plate appearances, posting a .272 average and 11 home runs. The Cardinals have Thomas Pham and Brandon Moss to platoon the outfield. They also have some quality prospects in Nick Plummer who went 23rd overall in the most recent draft along with Charlie Tilson who has comparables of Brett Gardner, Billy Hamilton and Peter Bourjos.
The aging core is a constant theme with the Cardinals and Yadier Molina is no exception. A catcher is measured in half dog years and at 33 years old, one has to question how much he has left in the tank. Molina has been used on nearly an every day basis for his entire career. Molina certainly showed no signs of slowing down in 2015, throwing out 41% of attempted steals and hitting for a .270 average. His power and average were down but he was able to remain an elite receiver in 2015.
The Cardinals are hallmarked by Adam Wainwright who has been the staple of this organization for the past couple of years. Wainwright suffered an Achilles tendon injury last year but recovered quickly, pitching well as a reliever in the Cardinals post-season run. Wainwright is 34 years old but we expect another quality season from him if he can remain healthy. Jaime Garcia was St. Louis’ best pitcher in 2015 although he wasn’t able to play a full season with just 20 starts. Garcia should be able to provide at least that number of outings again and the Cardinals have the pitching depth to weather the eventual injuries. Michael Wacha might be the biggest question mark of this pitching staff. After entering the league like being shot out of a cannon, Wacha regressed heavily in the backend of 2015. His numbers suggest he is a better than average starter and the Cardinals have to hope that the collapse was only due to the fact that he started 30 games for the first time of his big league career. Look for Wacha to emerge strongly. The Cardinals signed Mike Leake to an $80 million dollar deal hoping to get a bounce back from his time in San Francisco where he gave up eight home runs in 55 innings pitched. Youthful Carlos Martinez rounds out the Cardinals starting rotation and he has electric stuff. Martinez was able to put in a quality start in seventy percent of his starts last season. He’s a guy that can throw 100 miles per hour when he needs to do so. Martinez might be the savior that propels them into a moderate playoff run.
St. Louis has a deep bullpen that is one of the best in the league. They feature the usual suspects of Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, and Kevin Siegrist. Jordan Walden was added to the lineup and was only able to make 12 appearances last season but if he can stay healthy, he is an above average reliever. Jonathan Broxton was signed during the off season and although his 5.89 ERA in 36.2 innings for the Brewers is nothing to get excited about, the 31 year old does bring a wealth of experience as a late inning option for the Cardinals. Prospect Sam Tuivaila received a taste of the big leagues last year and this kid looks like the future closer for the Cardinals. He’s a former infielder who can throw the ball 100 miles per hour. If all things go well, St. Louis looks to have a top level bullpen with immense depth.
The Cardinals current core of players is slowly running out of time in the stacked NL Central. They have been a legitimate World Series threat for the past five seasons and they’ve put together somewhat of a dynasty when one looks at their playoff appearances and World Series titles. They’re not going to be a 100 win team in 2015 though, nor are they likely to win the NL Central division. It’s going to be a long and battling season for Cardinals fans to watch but at the end they should still be playing well into October. We expect them to finish second in the NL Central.
Odds to win World Series: +1400