[Editor Note: The past two seasons, David has joined me in Cincinnati for a Reds-Cardinals game and we're currently making plans for this year. In spite of my skepticism that no such person exists, David strikes me as a perfectly reasonable Cardinals fan. I was hoping he'd agree to share his perspective with us occasionally. Please welcome him to the pages of Redleg Nation. - SPM]
Greetings! My name is David Zavac, and I am a Cardinals fan from Toledo. I spend most of my time writing for SB Nation’s Fear the Sword, a Cleveland Cavaliers blog, where I am the editor. My first love, though, is baseball. I have known Steve for a number of years and am excited for the opportunity to dabble a bit in baseball writing.
While I am something approaching a die-hard St. Louis fan, I also grew up making trips down to Cincinnati with my dad to see Reds games. Johnny Bench was my first favorite player. I’ve probably seen between 25-40 games at Riverfront Stadium and Great American Ballpark over the years, and have never had a bad experience.
I plan on writing here about once a month and giving you a look at various aspects of the Cardinals organization from the perspective of someone who wants them to do well. The Cardinals have the reputation of having something of an arrogant fanbase, and I think it’s fair in some ways. What I can tell you as a Browns and Cavaliers fan is that I am much more comfortable with pessimism; it’s pretty rare I expect things to break the right way, even when much of my experience with St. Louis has involved exactly that.
With that in mind, the Cardinals enter the 2014 season with incredibly high expectations. The 2013 National League Champions are, at least on paper, prime World Series contenders. Catcher Yadier Molina is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and four of their six experts picked the Cardinals to win the whole thing. Today, I’m going to look at three areas that make me a bit skeptical that this team can really be that good.
1) The Cardinals are loaded with young talent. But man, is it young.
If the Cardinals are going to make a World Series run, it’s going to have to be on the backs of guys who are either unproven, or who have succeeded in a very small sample. Take Michael Wacha, for instance. The Cardinals plan on giving him the second start of the season in Cincinnati, which makes some sense. He was the 2013 NLCS MVP and has looked to be largely unhittable. So why worry? We are talking about a 22 year old with nine total regular season starts in the Major Leagues. He added five more starts in the playoffs, and was excellent, but how will he hold up taking his turn in the show over 162 games? His park adjusted ERA+ of 131 would place him in an elite level of pitching (this includes six games where he came on in relief). Can he sustain it?
There are cases like Wacha all through the Redbirds pitching staff and lineup. Kolten Wong looked overmatched in limited time in the Fall. Shelby Miller appeared to fade as the season went on in 2013, before disappearing completely in October. Can Matt Adams hold up for a full season at 1st base? Can the team expect anything of super-prospect Oscar Tavares? The answers to these questions aren’t likely to all be negative for St. Louis, but I do think they are somewhat open-ended.
2) The Cardinals won’t hit like they did with runners in scoring position like they did last year, right?
This honestly might be the question of the Cardinals’ season. The Cardinals absolutely shattered the single season Major League record of hitting .311 with RISP by hitting .330 last year. It happened in a year in which hitting with RISP was generally down. No other team hit better than .282 with RISP.
Allen Craig hit .454, and Matt Carpenter hit .390 with RISP. For a team that didn’t hit with a ton of home run power, and that lost Carlos Beltran, the question looms large: can this happen again? The answer is probably no. There might be something to the Cardinals approach at the plate that leads to good outcomes. Craig is a pretty good hitter. Carpenter’s year feels a bit like an outlier, but the Cardinals felt good enough about him that they gave him a contract extension.
But let’s say the Cardinals don’t keep up the hitting with RISP. Can Matt Adams provide consistent power? Will Craig’s slugging percentage rebound after a significant drop last year? The Cardinals are not a particularly fast team, though Wong and addition Peter Bourjos should help some. If the Cardinals don’t hit home runs, and revert to something approaching average with RISP, runs might be tough to come by.
3) Can the Cardinals long time pillars stay healthy?
Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright. Over the years, the pieces have changed around these guys, but they have provided stability to the lineup and rotation. If one goes down for an extended amount of time, the effect on the Cardinals might be deeper than WAR might suggest. That isn’t to say St. Louis would be lost without them. Adam Wainwright didn’t pitch a single inning in 2011 when the Cardinals won the World Series, and Holliday generally nurses a malady or two throughout the 162 game marathon.
But Wainwright pitched 241.2 regular season innings last season, and then added 35 more in the playoffs. That’s a pretty hefty bump from 198 regular season innings pitched in 2012 with 15 added in that year’s playoff run. Is he tired? Will he wear down this season? Lance Lynn, and Miller have shown signs of wearing down over the course of a season. Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha are new to being consistent members of a 5 man, Major League level pitching staff. The team may need Wainwright to be old reliable out there.
None of these issues are guaranteed to derail the Cardinals season. The experts are excited about this team for good reason. It’s well constructed, balanced, and talented. I’m excited for a fun Summer. What do you guys think?
[All stats used courtesy of baseball-reference.com, unless otherwise linked to.]