2015 Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

36 Comments

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 2015 season. Next up: The St. Louis Cardinals.

The Big Question: What will the Cardinals get from Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha?

Adam Wainwright posted a career-best 2.38 ERA in 227 innings last season, guiding the Cardinals to their second straight division crown and a fourth straight appearance in the NLCS. But he acknowledged to fans and reporters at the club’s annual Winter Warm-Up in January that he didn’t have the strength to open a can of soda by the end of the 2014 postseason.

Since returning from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in April 2012, the 33-year-old Wainwright has logged more innings (playoffs included) than any other pitcher in baseball. His right elbow needed a cleanup procedure back in late October and Wainwright had to be whisked away from Cardinals camp this spring shortly after arriving because he strained an abdominal muscle while trying to return a 45 lb. weight to a rack.

The guy is a workhorse — with the ribbons and medals and flowered saddles of a top-flight racehorse — but there are flashing neon signs that point to a full-on breakdown. Beyond the health stuff, look at his tumbling strikeout rate: Waino finished with a 7.1 K/9 in 2014 after posting an 8.2 K/9 in 2013 and an 8.3 K/9 in 2012.

And then there’s Michael Wacha, who appeared to be emerging as a co-ace to Wainwright in 2013 when he registered a 2.78 ERA and 1.098 WHIP over his first 64 2/3 major league innings before becoming the second-youngest player to be awarded NLCS MVP. Wacha had a 2.79 ERA through his first 15 starts last year until a stress reaction in his throwing shoulder put him on the shelf in mid-June. The 23-year-old right-hander returned in early September, but he did not look like the same dude and he eventually served up the meatball that ended the Cardinals’ 2014 postseason run. (Cardinals fans might not want to click on that link).

Wainwright and Wacha are both expected to be healthy, contributing members of the Cardinals’ rotation when the 2015 regular season begins and Wainwright will probably even get the nod on Opening Night against the Cubs, but you’d have to be wearing Cardinal-red-colored glasses to project 200 innings out of each of them.

What else is going on?

  • For all the doom and gloom presented in the paragraphs above, St. Louis is equipped with the kind of rotation depth to navigate around the loss of a front-line starter (though losing two would be a dagger for any team). Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, and Marco Gonzales are battling for one spot this spring and they all carry some level of promise. Martinez doesn’t have sparkling numbers in the major leagues, but he’s a hard-throwing 23-year-old righty with a nasty array of breaking pitches. Garcia is claiming that he finally feels healthy after being limited to a total of 16 starts between 2013-2014 due to chronic shoulder discomfort. The left-hander boasts a 3.50 ERA in 594 2/3 career innings and he has a 2.91 career ERA at pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium. Gonzales, the 19th overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, owns a 2.48 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9 in 145 1/3 minor league innings and has been the sharpest of the three in the 2015 Grapefruit League. One will slide into the rotation, one will probably head to the bullpen, and the Cardinals will likely stick the other guy at Triple-A Memphis as their “next man up.”
  • Lance Lynn and John Lackey are pretty good bets for 200-inning seasons with sub-3.75 ERAs. We could see a St. Louis rotation of Lynn, Lackey, Martinez, Garcia, and Gonzales at some point in 2015. That isn’t horrible, but it’s probably not a championship-level group either. The Cardinals have advanced to the NLCS in nine of the last 15 seasons — 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
  • Oscar Taveras was supposed to take over as the Cardinals’ starting right fielder in 2015, but he killed himself and his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo when he wrapped his car around a tree while driving drunk in the Dominican Republic last October 26. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak moved quickly to bring in a replacement, acquiring outfielder Jason Heyward and setup man Jordan Walden from the Braves on November 17 for right-handers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Heyward is expected to bat second for the Cardinals, behind Matt Carpenter and in front of Matt Holliday. It’s a great fit for the 25-year-old Heyward, who is due to become a free agent next winter. He registered an .849 OPS (131 OPS+) as a rookie in 2010 and he slugged 27 home runs as a 22-year-old in 2012. St. Louis will be hoping that Heyward — a terrific defender — can finally put it all together offensively, even if this only turns out to be a one-year rental.
  • St. Louis finished 23rd in the majors last season in runs scored. Teams like the Mets, Astros, and Marlins had more productive offenses. But that’s what happens when you don’t get a breakout year from any of your hitters and your luck with runners in scoring position dries out. On paper, the Cardinals’ lineup for 2015 looks as lethal as any lineup in baseball. Matt Carpenter takes great at-bats at the top. Jason Heyward can do it all. Matt Holliday still has some pop left in his 35-year-old bat. Matt Adams should be ready for a step forward in his age-26 season. Jhonny Peralta tallied 21 homers and 75 RBI last summer and led the team in WAR. Yadier Molina, an all-time-great defensive catcher, has slashed .307/.357/.460 over the past three years. Jon Jay put up a .372 on-base percentage in 2014. And second baseman Kolten Wong carries 20-homer, 20-steal potential into what will essentially be his sophomore campaign.

Prediction: If the Cards keep Wainwright and Wacha away from the disabled list, they’ll run away with the National League Central and march to their first 100-win season since 2005. If they lose one or both of those arms, the Redbirds will have some stiff competition in a division that doesn’t really have a bad team. I’ll guess Wainwright and Wacha combine for around 280 innings — just enough for first place in the NL Central.

Twins tie team record with 8 homers in 16-7 win over Angels

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Miguel Sano and Jonathan Schoop each hit two of Minnesota’s franchise record-tying eight home runs and the Twins hammered Matt Harvey and the Los Angeles Angels 16-7 Thursday.

C.J. Cron homered, doubled twice and singled twice for the Twins. Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario also homered for Minnesota.

It was the third time in franchise history – dating to their days as the Washington Senators – and second time this season Minnesota homered eight times. Before doing it April 20 against Baltimore, the last time it happened was in 1963 against Washington.

Schoop drove in four runs and Sano three as the Twins won six of seven on their road trip that began in Seattle and wound up with their first sweep in Anaheim since 1996. Minnesota, with the best record in the majors, hit 22 homers against the Mariners and the Angels while outscoring them 67-24.

There were a total of 11 home runs in this game, which was originally set for Wednesday but postponed due to unplayable field conditions following a pregame storm.

Angels first baseman Jared Walsh, who made five relief appearances in Triple-A this season, pitched for the first time in the majors. He gave up a run on two hits and a walk in the ninth.

The eight home runs also tied the Angels mark for most allowed. It previously happened in 2005 against Texas and 1996 vs. Oakland.

Four of the seven hits Matt Harvey (2-4) allowed in 2 2/3 innings went over the wall as the right-hander gave up eight runs for the second time this season.

Tommy La Stella hit his first grand slam in the ninth for the Angels, who have dropped four straight. David Fletcher and Brian Goodwin also homered for Los Angeles.

Minnesota broke open the game in the second inning with six runs, which included a three-run shot by Schoop and two-run drive by Polanco. Harvey was chased in the third after solo homers by Cron and Sano.

The Twins hit three home runs in the seventh to extend their lead to 14-2. Sano’s two-run shot and Schoop’s solo homer marked the sixth time the Twins had gone back-to-back this season. Kepler added a two-run drive.

Twins starter Martin Perez (7-1) went five innings and yielded two runs on five hits.

TOUGH DAY

Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun came up twice with the bases loaded but was unable to get a hit. He struck out in the third and grounded into a force out to end the fifth.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: DH Nelson Cruz (left wrist sprain) returned to Minneapolis. He is eligible to come off the injured list on Friday but manager Rocco Baldelli said they are still seeing how he is doing swinging during batting practice.

Angels: SS Andrelton Simmons (left ankle sprain) saw a foot and ankle specialist Wednesday and expects to remain in a walking boot for at least two weeks. . LHP Andrew Heaney (elbow) had a bullpen session before Thursday’s game and could make his season debut Sunday.

UP NEXT

Twins: Return home and open a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox. RHP Jose Berrios (6-2, 3.39 ERA) has seven or more strikeouts in his last four starts.

Angels: Conclude their home stand with three games against Texas. RHP Griffin Canning (2-3, 3.80 ERA), who became the second LA starter to go seven innings last Saturday against Kansas City, gets the call on Friday.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports