St. Louis Cardinals Should Maintain Offseason Focus On Pitching
The St. Louis Cardinals reached the National League Championship Series for the third consecutive season and won the NL Central Division title for the second year in a row. They did so in spite of an often anemic offense that drew most of the ire from a fan base that had seen the team lead the league in scoring the year before.
The Cardinals had a down year in almost every offensive category in 2014. They were 26 points off of their .269 team batting average in 2013 and scored 164 fewer runs, which placed them tied for 23rd in Major League Baseball with the NL East bottomdwelling Philadelphia Phillies and made them the only team to finish lower than 14th in runs scored to reach the playoffs.
Their 105 home runs were also the second fewest in Major League Baseball, ahead of only the American League champion Kansas City Royals.
The fact that the Cardinals won their division in spite of all those statistics seems to suggest the Cardinals should spend the winter with a singular focus to improve their lineup and offensive production for the 2015 season.
However, their success with a pitching-and-defense first model also proves why they should spend the offseason in search of how to improve a pitching staff that led the team to the postseason with a 3.50 earned-run average and is stocked with more young pitchers with high potential then about any team in the game.
It probably sounds counterintuitive, but the Cardinals are in a better position to return the same lineup from Game 5 of the NLCS to Opening Day in April than they are to bring back the same pitching staff.
Spring-training battles will surely occur if for no other reason than to push all players to be properly prepared for the upcoming season, but the Cardinals’ lineup could already be set for 2015.
After he won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove award earlier in the week, Yadier Molina is obviously the starter at catcher, the infield should be set with Matt Adams at first, Kolten Wong at second base, Matt Carpenter at third base and Jhonny Peralta ready to begin the second year of a four-year contract he signed after the 2013 season.
The outfield is also likely to remain the same, especially after the team lost potential right-field starter Oscar Taveras in a fatal car crash Oct. 26 in his native Domincan Republic. Matt Holliday is still a mainstay in left field, Jon Jay rebounded from a dismal 2013 to post a .303 batting average and return to his spot as the No. 1 center fielder on the depth chart and Randal Grichuk becomes the most likely player to take over the full-time right field position after he became the starter throughout the playoffs and no longer has competition for the spot from Taveras.
So, the Cardinals should turn their attention back to the mound, specifically the one in the bullpen because that is the aspect of the game that had the most glaring breakdowns as the team’s season came to an end.
The Cardinals have talent among their relief corps, no doubt. Right-hander Seth Maness regained his groundball-inducing form to become the first-choice middle reliever, Carlos Martinez is a flamethrower who could be the eighth-inning setup guy for incumbent, 24-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal.
Right-handers Jason Motte and Pat Neshek appear likely to leave in free agency, but the biggest questions are on from the left side. Veteran Randy Choate has one year left on his three-year contract but struggled down the stretch, Marco Gonzales became an effective long-relief pitcher late in the season but is just two years removed from college and has yet to pitch a full major-league season, and Sam Freeman was good for stretches during the season but wildness has plagued him throughout his brief career and may have been the determining factor that left him off of the NLCS roster in favor of a third catcher in A.J. Pierzynski.
The Cardinals have other young lefties such as Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Nick Greenwood and John Gast, but each of those players has either battled significant injuries in recent years or not even pitched enough in a single year to remove their rookie status.
An offensive boost from the bench is also a necessity headed into 2015, but the Cardinals have already shown many times before they can survive with a weaker bench if they have a pitching staff that gives the starting lineup a consistent chance to win games.
So, while big-money names such as the Colorado Rockies’ outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki might be more fun to dream about, the Cardinals would have a more efficient offseason if they targeted pitchers such as lefties Andrew Miller of the Baltimore Orioles in 2014, Franklin Morales from Colorado or even Scott Downs, who finished the season with the Royals.
The Cardinals probably won’t win any Hot Stove League awards for any of their announcements if they take a bullpen-first approach to the offseason, but those types of moves would put them in better position to win real trophies at the end of the 2015 season.