The St. Louis Cardinals won just twice in the opening week of their 2014 spring training exhibition schedule, but wins and losses matter little in spring training, and the Cardinals, with a 2-4-2 record, have excelled in the aspects of camp that truly matter.
Through seven games, the Cardinals players who know they’ll be with the big club on Opening Day have played well, with few exceptions, and those who drew mild concerns have already had a couple of positive moments to potentially give them a comfort level through the balance of March.
As with the regular season, the first week of the spring training schedule typically draws much more scrutiny than any other because people pay more attention since they are excited to have baseball back before the monotony of the season begins and games start to blend together in memory.
The Cardinals have survived with extremely few problems. Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia’s shoulder injury flared up again in the opening week of camp in February, but otherwise the Cardinals have been injury-free with the exception of closer Trevor Rosenthal, who pitched his first inning Saturday and held the Washington Nationals scoreless after he suffered a minor groin injury early in camp.
Elsewhere, the Cardinals have only players who are at or near the end of their rehab from more serious injuries.
Relief pitcher Jason Motte continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery to repair his injured right elbow in 2013, and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras made his much-anticipated first start of the spring Friday against the New York Mets in his return from right ankle surgery, and he promptly doubled on a ball to deep right-centerfield.
Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong also alleviated some fears about his offensive potential with a 3-for-4 day Friday in a 5-5 tie with the Mets.
The Cardinals vaunted young pitching staff has also made it through the first week with only minor road bumps.
Possible No. 5 starter Joe Kelly walked two Detroit Tigers hitters and allowed two runs in 1.2 innings Tuesday, but he also had two strikeouts and figures to be a stable pitcher for the Cardinals in 2014 no matter how they use him, whether as a starter or out of the bullpen.
Probable No. 4 starter Lance Lynn allowed five runs in 1.1 innings Friday in a split-squad game against the Miami Marlins, but any other Cardinals pitchers who allowed more than two runs total through the first week have been minor leaguers or non-roster invitees.
At this point, there is not much drama in Cardinals camp at all. All of the core players have performed well, especially Matt Holliday with his eight hits in nine at-bats, and newly signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who hit two homeruns Tuesday against the Tigers.
Those types of performances gives Cardinals management to focus more on the players on the fringe of a spot on the 25-man roster and those who it expects to remain in the minor leagues for at least the 2014 season, if not more.
But that situation also gives those minor leaguers an opportunity to play earlier in games and they therefore get more innings against opposing players who are already established in Major League Baseball.
The Cardinals have built an incredibly strong foundation that is now able to help the group of future Cardinals develop more quickly and maintain the level of excellence the organization has now sustained for four years.
It’s a cycle that builds upon itself, and the Cardinals currently have it as finely tuned as any team in the game.
They can’t get comfortable with what they’ve built, of course, but right now the only storms in Jupiter, Fla., come when the traditional mid-afternoon rain clouds pass over.