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2013 Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The St. Louis Cardinals.

The Big Question: Can the Cards keep rolling?

The Cardinals have made the playoffs nine times since the start of the 2000 season and they have reached the National League Championship Series seven times in that span — securing three National League pennants and two World Series titles. And there is no end in sight for this run of success.

Yadier Molina is the best defensive catcher in baseball and has suddenly become a real offensive threat. Matt Holliday has hit .308/.389/.528 in 502 games since joining the Cardinals in a summer 2009 trade. Allen Craig is emerging as an elite slugger and Carlos Beltran had 32 home runs and 97 RBI in 2012.

And we’ve only scratched the surface on this club’s arsenal of heavy weaponry. Jon Jay (4.1) ranked just behind Josh Hamilton (4.4) and Adam Jones (4.6) on the center-field fWAR leaderboard last season. David Freese won the World Series MVP in 2011 then went on to post career-highs in home runs (20), RBI (79) and OPS (.839) in 2012. Matt Carpenter, who has made an incredibly smooth transition into the starting second base role this spring, batted .293/.372/.467 in 340 plate appearances as a utilityman last summer.

Albert Pujols is entering his second year in Anaheim and ace right-hander Chris Carpenter won’t ever pitch again, but the Cardinals organization is a well-oiled machine, and it’s greased up nicely for the 2013 season.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The rotation is missing Carpenter, but he made only three regular-season starts last year anyway. Adam Wainwright is two years removed from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery and Jaime Garcia has experienced no shoulder trouble in camp. Jake Westbrook had a 3.97 ERA in 174 2/3 innings last season and Lance Lynn posted a 3.78 ERA and 180/64 K/BB ratio in 176 frames. The final spot will either go to Joe Kelly, a solid sinkerballer, or Shelby Miller, one of the game’s top pitching prospects.
  • The bullpen took a hit this month when closer Jason Motte was diagnosed with a mild right elbow strain, but it’s not a long-term concern at this point and there’s enough high quality depth to keep things ticking in his absence. Mitchell Boggs, who registered a 2.21 ERA and 1.05 WHIP across 78 relief appearances last season, will fill in at closer. Setting Boggs up will be young fireballer Trevor Rosenthal, and behind him you’ll find a solid group of middle relievers and left-handed specialists. Kelly will presumably join the bullpen in a long relief role if he loses out to Miller in the race for the fifth rotation spot.
  • Rafael Furcal tried to rehab a torn ligament in his elbow this winter and it did not work out. He needs Tommy John surgery and will not appear in a game this season. Taking his place at shortstop will be Pete Kozma, who owns a nice-looking .303/.373/.506 batting line in 104 major-league plate appearances but a .236/.308/.344 batting line in 2,752 minor-league plate appearances. It’s highly likely that he will be exposed early on. Look for the Cardinals to launch a shortstop hunt by the end of June.
  • The Cardinals’ farm system is widely considered to be the best in baseball, and it’s about ready to spit out some potential game-changers. Oscar Taveras, a 20-year-old Dominican outfielder, hit .321/.380/.572 with 23 homers, 37 doubles and 94 RBI in 124 games last season at Double-A Springfield. Michael Wacha, the No. 19 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft, owns a 0.50 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and 59/6 K/BB ratio in 35 2/3 total spring and minor league innings. Kolten Wong should develop into a solid everyday second baseman and Carlos Martinez is a hard-throwing 21-year-old righty with great upside. Matt Adams had 18 homers and 50 RBI in 67 games last summer at Triple-A Memphis and will open the 2013 season on the Cardinals’ 25-man roster. And don’t forget the aforementioned Miller and Rosenthal.

Prediction: Second place in the National League Central, winners of a Wild Card spot.

Report: Blue Jays closing in on a deal with Jose Bautista

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on during batting practice prior to game three of the American League Championship aagainst the Cleveland Indians Series at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports that the Blue Jays are closing in on a deal with free agent outfielder Jose Bautista. This is not particularly surprising, as Bautista’s market has been slow to develop despite recent reports having listed the Orioles, Twins, and Indians as other interested teams.

Bautista, 36, is coming off of a lackluster 2016 performance. Over 517 plate appearances, the six-time All-Star hit .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI.

The Blue Jays needed to provide some clarity in their outfield as Ezequiel Carrera was listed first on the depth chart. Bautista, of course, will supplant him if and when the deal is finalized.

Collin McHugh calls out Donald Trump for criticism of John Lewis

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 30:  Starting pitcher Collin McHugh #31 of the Houston Astros watches from the dugout during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Astros pitcher Collin McHugh was among those who took to social media on Saturday after Donald Trump disparaged Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis on Twitter.

During NBC News’ “Meet the Press” interview on Friday, Lewis called Trump’s presidency into question, casting doubt on its legitimacy after the alleged tampering of the election results by Russian hackers. In response, Trump posted a series of tweets that criticized Lewis for not spending enough time “fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested),” despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Trump also accused Lewis of being “all talk, talk, talk – no actions or results.” The Congressman, whose efforts to further civil rights span over 50 years, served as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee from 1963-66 and is considered one of the six fundamental leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

McHugh was one of many to call out Trump on Twitter, defending Lewis and speaking directly to his own experiences in Atlanta:

Last year, McHugh was also one of several players to speak out on social media when Trump dismissed his own crude, misogynistic comments as “locker room talk” after an Access Hollywood video was leaked prior to the election.

I don't like to comment on politics publicly. I never feel competent or knowledgeable enough to say something that a thousand more well-informed people haven't already said. However, I feel the need to comment on the language that Donald Trump classified the other day as "locker room talk", given my daily exposure to it. Have I heard comments like Trump's (i.e. sexist, disrespectful, crude, sexually aggressive, egotistical, etc.) in a clubhouse? Yes. But I've also heard some of those same comments other places. Cafes, planes, the subway, walking down the street and even at the dinner table. To generalize his hateful language as "locker room talk" is incredibly offensive to me and the men I share a locker room with every day for 8 months a year. Men of conscience and integrity, who would never be caught dead talking about women in that way. You want to know what "locker room talk" sounds like from my first hand perspective? Baseball talk. Swinging, pitching, home runs, double plays, shifts. The rush of victory and the frustration of defeat. Family talk. Nap schedules for our kids. Loneliness of being on the road so much. Off-season family vacations. And most importantly, coffee talk! The best places to find quality #coldbrew. What's currently brewing on the #aeropress in the empty locker between me and Doug, affectionately known as #CafeStros? How strong do you need it today? Kid wouldn't sleep last night? I'll make it a little stronger for ya. Maybe Mr. Trump does talk like that in his country club locker room. Perhaps he's simply not privy to the kind of conversations that take place in other locker rooms. But as for me and my @astros team, our "locker room talk" sounds absolutely nothing like his. And I couldn't be more proud of that.

A photo posted by Collin McHugh (@cmchugh) on

While some applauded McHugh for his strong words on Saturday, the pitcher was quick to state that he doesn’t consider himself “anti-Trump,” just “anti-bullying and pro-respect.”