April 07, 2017

#STLCards: My season preview for the #Cardinals

OK, we're a couple of games into the season already, but nothing big.

I've already blogged about the new contract for Yadier Molina and the transition as No. 1 pitcher (though the team still won't say "ace") from Adam Wainwright to Carlos Martinez. (Red Satan has a new piece on that here.) Martinez got a contract extension in the off-season, too, of course.

So, with two major contract distractions eliminated, and the addition of Dexter Fowler to shore up outfield defense and add speed on the bases, what else do the Cards have locked up and locked down, and what could be problematic?

Corner infield slots should be good. I think Jhonny Peralta can make the defensive adjustment at third, and has the incentive of being in a contract year. Matt Carpenter will rake, wherever he's at. The D? Well that opening day error is a bit of cause for concern. (And error it was; Carp did field correctly, but bobbled the ball when thinking of second; one can't assume double plays, of course, but he never tried to go to second, so IMO, it's still an error, not a Jason Heyward hit.)

That, in turn, had other issues. On that same play, both Seung-hwan Oh and Kolten Wong committed mental/hustle errors by being slow to the bag at first.

And that leads us to the middle infield. Wong seems to be one of those "you gotta play to hit" guys. That said, even without manager Mike Matheny breathing down his throat (plus Matheny's dumb-ass idea of moving him to the OF last year) Wong needs a page from football, to pull an Aaron Rodgers and R-E-L-A-X more. His high intensity, mainly when guilt-tripping himself, is an issue. Between that and an inconsistent spring training, Jedd Gyorko has earned the semi-starting spot. Let's see exactly how Matheny, not known as a managerial genius, handles the details of the platooning.

Aledmys Diaz should be at least as good fielding shortstop this year as he was from May on last year, if not better. He may slip from last year's plate performance, but not that much. Gyorko and Greg Garcia offer solid backup here, as Garcia does at short and third.

The outfield? Dexter Fowler's personality and chemistry should help the Birds as a team do that Rodgers-type relaxing that Wong needs. He'll also bring speed to a lineup that had none outside of Wong last year.

I think Randal Grichuk will feel more comfortable this year, and a .270 or better, with .330 OBP or better, with 25 or more HRs, is certainly possible. I also expect fewer Ks. Those are both needed. It' called plate discipline; Grichuk is 25, and not quite yet too late to learn more of it.

Stephen Piscotty? Let's see how well he bounces out of whatever batting funk he's in.

The rotation? I "expect" 5 WAR out of Martinez. I'll gladly take 2.5 WAR from Waino, and 2 WAR each from Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha et al.

The pen? I'm still not totally sold on Oh as closer. His splitter was a bit off in the opener and it looked like the Cubs were deliberately laying off it. If he was a bit of a 2016 phenom, I guess the first option is moving back to Trevor Rosenthal.

And, of course Matheny's managerial yips have often been worst in his bullpen use.

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Where will the Cards finish? I've already voted in the polls at right — second in the division with a wild-card. I don't see them catching the Cubs, but I see definite improvement from last year, to the tune of 88-89 wins, perhaps a touch more. I expect them to win the wild-card game, then the division series, before losing the LCS. Hit me up with your votes.

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