The Cardinals didn't do much this offseason primarily because there wasn't a need to do anything, with all the regulars back from last year's playoff squad except pitcher Kyle Lohse ... who let's not forget was the team's best pitcher, with a 16-3, 2.86 ERA season. There were cries to upgrade second base or shortstop, but prospect Kolten Wong is on his way at second and Rafael Furcal still has one year remaining on his deal. With other top prospects like outfielder Oscar Taveras and pitcher Shelby Miller ready and the team near its $111 million payroll of 2012, there was no reason for GM John Mozeliak to make a panic move and trade away some of his youngsters. That said ... Ty Wigginton?!?
CF Jon Jay
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Matt Holliday
1B Allen Craig
C Yadier Molina
3B David Freese
2B Daniel Descalso
SS Rafael Furcal
The Cardinals showed their offensive depth in 2012 when they survived the loss of Lance Berkman (97 plate appearances) to finish second in the NL in runs scored. Depth is once again a strength, with guys like Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams and Taveras more than capable of filling in.
That said, why an A- instead of an A? Three issues: (1) The heart of the order remains all right-handed, with the projected 3-4-5-6 hitters all batting from that side; they can all hit right-handers, but it does make it easier for managers to match up in the late innings; (2) Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday will be playing their age-36 and age-33 seasons, so age is becoming something to watch for those two; (3) They don't project to get a lot of offense from second base and shortstop.
On paper, it's still one of the best lineups in the NL and a solid defensive club, but not one without red flags.
Jaime Garcia/Shelby Miller
On the positive side, the Cards get Chris Carpenter back, Adam Wainwright will be pitching his second season after Tommy John surgery and Lance Lynn won 18 games in his first season in the rotation. On the other hand, Lynn is the returning starter with the best ERA at 3.78, and that ranked just 28th in the NL and 45th in the majors.
On paper, the team will miss Lohse, or at least miss his 2012 production. The team heads into 2013 without a clear ace. Maybe Wainwright turns back into one (he was much better in the second half, with a 3.28 ERA), or Lynn develops into one or Carpenter finds the fountain of youth at 38. But while the staff lacks a No. 1, it makes up for it in depth, with Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly and the rookie Miller all providing viable back-end options. The Cards ranked third in rotation ERA in the NL in 2012 and should be in the top five again.
The bullpen is deep, with power arms Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs at the back end. Rookie Trevor Rosenthal was impressive down the stretch, firing upper-90s heat, and while the Cardinals may return him to the minors to keep him developing as a starter, he would also be an immediate weapon in relief. Throw in a full season from Edward Mujica, plus lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Randy Choate, and the Cards have the talent to improve on a 3.90 bullpen ERA that ranked ninth in the NL. I'm cutting half a grade for lacking an ace and half a grade for Motte, who did blow seven saves and served up nine home runs in 72 innings.
Heat Map to Watch Wainwright's curveball remained as deadly as ever in his return from TJ surgery. In 227 plate appearances ending with the pitch, batters hit just .174/.221/.254, with two home runs. Lefties hit just .163 with one home run, 10 walks and 53 strikeouts. As you can see from his location, Wainwright gets his bender down and away most of the time. (Impressively, against right-handers, he also gets the curve down and away.) Good luck, hitters.
Hitters don't want to get into a two-strike count and face Adam Wainwright's big breaker.
As impressive as the Cardinals have been in the past two postseasons -- winning the World Series in 2011 and going to a Game 7 in the NLCS last year -- their regular seasons have been slightly less impressive, capturing the wild card in 2011 with help from the Braves' collapse and sneaking into the second wild card last year with 88 wins. And remember, life will be a little more difficult for all the NL Central teams without the Astros to beat up on. St. Louis went 21-9 against Houston the past two seasons.
But what makes the Cardinals impressive right now is their nice blend of veteran stars and up-and-coming stars, with a farm system Keith Law just ranked No. 1 in his organizational rankings. There's no reason the Cards can't win their first division title since 2009.