MADISON, March 30, 2014 — Over the next few weeks this column will unveil MLB Power Rankings starting with the weakest team and working towards the strongest. Today the process continues by looking at number one, the St Louis Cardinals.
2013 Record: 97-65 with a +187 run differential.
Key Additions: OF Peter Bourjos, SS Jhonny Peralta, IF Mark Ellis,
Key Losses: RHP Jake Westbrook, OF Carlos Beltran, RHP Chris Carpenter, 3B David Freese, RHP John Axford, RHP Edward Mujica
Projected 2014 Lineup:
3B Matt Carpenter
2B Kolten Wong
OF Matt Holliday
OF Allen Craig
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
SS Jhonny Peralta
OF Peter Bourjos
Projected 2014 Rotation:
Best Case: The Cardinals rotation manages to slightly improve on last season’s 3.42 ERA, which was second in all of baseball. Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal anchor the back end of a bullpen that proves to be in the top ten in baseball. Adam Wainwright, now three years removed from Tommy John surgery, breaks through and wins his first Cy Young award.
As they did in 2013, the Cardinals offense leaves the rest of the NL in their dust after scoring 77 more runs than the next best NL team. When Allen Craig spends August on the DL the club promotes Oscar Tavares who shows why he has been compared to Vladimir Guerrero and tears the cover off the ball. Matt Holliday does what he has done four of his five years in St Louis and posts an OPS+ of 140. Matt Adams blossoms with an everyday spot in the lineup and hits 33 HR’s. The Cardinals run away with the NL Central as both the Pirates and Reds take a step back.
Worst Case: A year after seemingly everything went right for the Cardinals things start to go wrong. Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez both take a step back after being counted on for fulltime roles with the club. Jhonny Peralta looks like he did in 2012 posting an OPS+ of 82, while Peter Bourjos has an OPS+ of 80 leaving the bottom of the lineup largely unproductive. Kolten Wong scuffles in his first full year and is moved down in the order further shortening the lineup. The Cardinals win 86 games and finish third in the NL Central, just missing a wild card berth.
Prospect Watch: The Cardinals graduated so many players to the major league team that it is hard to believe that there is anything left, but their farm system remains strong. The top prospect in the system, and one of the top prospects in all of baseball, is OF Oscar Tavares. Tavares appeared in just 47 games last year due to an ankle injury, but he did post a .310/.348/.471 line. If Allen Craig cannot handle the outfield or if 1B Matt Adams struggles, Tavares could be in St Louis sooner rather than later. Pitcher Carlos Matinez and 2B Kolten Wong both contributed to the Cardinals playoff run last year, but will be counted on to make larger contributions this year and both should be up to the challenge. Stephen Piscotty, a right fielder, should be ready if called upon later in the year after spending 2013 in A and AA where he posted a combined .295/.355/.464 line.