Hold on a minute, not so fast. It is only March and the Cubs haven’t actually won the World Series yet, despite media reports to the contrary. Let us start by reminding the hometown faithful of the following things:
The Cardinals won an awful lot of baseball games last year. More than the Cubs, actually.
The primary reason we won so many games was due to an exemplary performance by our pitching staff.
Our pitching staff may very well be better this year than we were last year.
While the pitching staff is the main reason to be truly optimistic about the 2016 season, it is not the only reason. Most people look at the Redbird offense and start to quiver with fear, but that fear is unfounded. Remember, our offense was horrible last season and we still won all those games. This season, there are a number of players due for a bounce-back. All told, we are actually predicting the Cardinals offense to be better this year than it was in 2015.
Yes, you read that correctly. We are predicting that the Cardinals offense and pitching will be better than it was last year. The defense might take a step back due to some key losses, but the impact there will be minimal.
Obviously, the Chicago Cubs are a good baseball team. They were surprisingly good in 2015, and they are better on paper this year. However, they are also the Chicago Cubs and they have a very, very long history of failing to meet expectations. The rest of the National League Central Division looks decidedly worse.
In a nutshell, our prediction is that the Cardinals will win 90-plus games this year and will win the National League Central. Matt Holliday will lead a resurgent offense and still be oddly disliked by a large percentage of fans. Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez will dominate as the best one through three pitchers on any team in baseball. Brandon Moss will rediscover his power and fill the void that was first base on the 2015 team. The biggest overall breakout performance will come from Kolten Wong.
The Cubs will be fierce competition, but they will lose out in the end, which is exactly the way the baseball gods intend it to happen. Cheer up Cardinals fans, 2016 is going to be a super fun ride.
ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES
Generally, we have formatted this column so that arrivals and departures were each their own individual space, but we are combining the two this year in order to illustrate why the 2016 Cardinals have a high likelihood to be even better than the 2015 Cardinals.
Jason Heyward fled the Redbirds for the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. We cannot sugarcoat it; this was a significant loss. However, the 2016 Cardinals are effectively replacing his offense with the healthy return of Matt Holliday. From a straight offensive standpoint this should end up in the Cardinals favor. The departure of Heyward also clears room on the roster for Tommy Pham.
Baseball – always in love with crazy amounts of statistics – has this great one called “exit velocity.” Exit velocity is basically the speed at which the ball leaves the bat on a hit. Last year, Tommy Pham was top five in all of baseball on this fun little stat. To put it simply, when Pham hits the ball, he hits it very, very hard.
John Lackey also joined the Baby Bears in Chicago. Lackey was awesome for the Redbirds in 2015 to be sure, but he is not that far removed from a time when he was eating fried chicken and drinking beer for the last-place Red Sox. Who are we replacing Lackey with? How about one Mr. Adam Wainwright. The healthy return of our staff ace and inspirational leader will more than make up for the loss of Lackey.
Obviously, the injury bug has already bitten the Cardinals this year. Workhorse starting pitcher Lance Lynn will miss the entire season following Tommy John surgery, and shortstop Jhonny Peralta will be out until June with a torn thumb ligament. To replace Lynn, the Cardinals brought in free agent Mike Leake.
Leake is a consistent innings eater who uses location and smarts more than overwhelming stuff [think Woody Williams]. Peralta is trickier to replace because he was a strong player both offensively and defensively. It is best to look at the replacement for Peralta’s offense coming from a different position altogether.
Brandon Moss joined the Cardinals midway through the year last year, and never fully got healthy. This year, Moss looks fully rehabbed and should be able to replace Peralta’s offense. The defensive replacement for Peralta may end up being youngster Aledmys Diaz, or it could be a solution from another team such as the recently released Ruben Tejada of the Mets.
The Cardinals also added super-utility player Jedd Gyorko, who may play a role in replacing Peralta and brings big offensive upside, as well as Japanese phenom Seung-hwan Oh [aka “The Final Boss”] to shore up the bullpen and Brayan Pena as a new backup catcher.
It is an annual tradition in this section of the Cardinals Season Preview to mention how important Yadier Molina is to this team. So here we go again; without Yadi this pitching staff and ball club simply are not the same.
Now, moving on to the less obvious examples of key contributors. This is the year when last year’s “youngsters” need to become this year’s seasoned professionals. In the outfield, that means Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk must be able to be counted on for a full season, rather than just come on as the pleasant surprises they were last year.
Grichuk is probably the best athlete on the Cardinals, and has the power to be a 25-plus home run guy. His contact rate needs to improve a bit, but his biggest improvement needs to come by staying on the field.
Piscotty is what the old timers like to call a “ballplayer.” There is absolutely no flash in his game; he does nothing at an elite level and everything at a high level. Cardinals fans are destined to love this guy.
The pitching staff has mirror images to these two as well. Carlos Martinez is the rotation’s version of Grichuk. Every pitch could be a highlight reel but Martinez has to grow into the ability to take the mound every five days for a full season. Michael Wacha is more akin to Piscotty. He is a fundamentally flawless pitcher with an arsenal of B pitches, but not really a “go to” A pitch, save for maybe his changeup [but that doesn’t make for a very exciting highlight reel].
The other critical contribution needs to come from a player we will simply call “the bench.” The one place the Cardinals have struggled in recent years is to get consistent impact from non-starting positional players. This year, Jedd Gyorko, Brayan Pena, Tommy Pham and Matt Adams need to fix that. If they can produce, this bench has the potential to be more impactful than any we have seen since the Whitey-ball era.
All in all, 2016 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for the Cardinals, no matter what the major media sources might be trying to tell us.
Adam Wainwright: 18 wins, 2.80 ERA
Michael Wacha: 14 wins, 3.40 ERA
Mike Leake: 15 wins, 3.80 ERA
Jaime Garcia: 13 wins, 2.90 ERA
Carlos Martinez: 15 wins, 3.10 ERA
Tyler Lyons: 4.50 ERA
Kevin Siegrist: 2.50 ERA
Seung-hwan Oh: 3.20 ERA
Seth Maness: 4.50 ERA
Jonathan Broxton: 3.50 ERA
Jordan Walden: 3.00 ERA
Trevor Rosenthal: 2.10 ERA
Yadier Molina: .270, 8 HRs, 60 RBI
Brandon Moss: .260, 12 HRs, 50 RBI
Matt Carpenter: .280, 16 HRs, 60 RBI
Jedd Gyorko: .250, 10 HRs, 40 RBI
Kolten Wong: .265, 10 HRs, 40 RBI
Matt Holliday: .280, 18 HRs, 80 RBI
Randal Grichuk: .265, 25 HRs, 70 RBI
Stephen Piscotty: .290, 12 HRs, 50 RBI