Cardinals Spring Training Wrap-Up: Opening Day Preview

Joey Schneider

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Today marks the first Monday since October 28, 2013 in which Major League Baseball officially resumes for all thirty teams. Falling only two games short of their twelfth World Series title last year, the St. Louis Cardinals have made several offseason changes to reassure their spot as one of baseball’s most elite teams.

Spring Training Wrap-Up

Finishing with a 11-13 record in preseason may not appear impressive for a reigning World Series champion, but the considering the team won only two of its first eleven spring contests demonstrates the Cardinals’ ability to make adjustments. Many questions loomed for the Redbirds coming into spring training, mainly pertaining to Michael Wacha’s development after playoff stardom, Kolten Wong’s credentials as starting the potential second baseman, and the durability of household name catcher Yadier Molina. While the Cardinals tried to address these frequent concerns among others over spring, many pleasant surprises became evident in the team’s Grapefruit League matchups.

Five Takes From Spring Training:

-Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter signed a contract extension worth $52 million over six years, giving him the option to stay with the Cardinals until 2020. Despite hitting only .178 in spring training, last year’s NL second baseman silver slugger award winner will transition to his natural position (third base) for 2014.

-The Cardinals’ bullpen had their fair share of struggles in Spring Training, costing the team nine losses in preseason. While young hurlers Seth Maness and Keith Butler gave up 20 runs over 21 1/3 innings (8.44 ERA collectively), they still won the last two bullpen spots by committee.

-Minor league invites also gave the Cardinals the opportunity to consider financial bargain options. Pat Neshek’s impressive spring will allow him to fill in Jason Motte’s vacant role (currently recovering from Tommy John surgery), while recent invites David Aardsma, Scott Moore and Ed Easley will start the year at the Cardinals AAA affiliate Memphis Redbirds.

-Prized prospect Oscar Tavares was assigned to minor league camp fairly early, allowing other young hitters to show potential. Outfielder Stephen Piscotty was particularly impressive hitting .342 with one homer and 8 RBIs, while Randal Grichuk (acquired in Freese deal) showed poise at the plate with 5 doubles and 3 RBIs. Both will be starting outfielders in AAA Memphis.

-Shortstop Pete Kozma may be running out of time to impress the Cardinals, who were actively trying to shop him after hitting right at the Mendoza line (.200) this spring. The 2012 NLDS hero would’ve likely started the year in Memphis if veteran infielder Mark Ellis had no problems with his sore knee.

Opening Day

After spending about 1 ½ months in Jupiter, Fl., the St. Louis Cardinals begin their 2014 season with a six-game road trip featuring two competitive Central Division rivals in the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. Fans can watch Opening Day on Fox Sports Midwest at 3:10 p.m. today, even though the Cardinals’ home opener doesn’t take place until April 7, 2014.

Expected Opening Day Lineup:

Matt Carpenter- 3B

Jhonny Peralta- SS

Matt Holliday- LF

Allen Craig- RF

Yadier Molina- C

Matt Adams- 1B

Kolten Wong- 2B

Peter Bourjos- CF

Adam Wainwright- P

Bench: Pete Kozma-SS, Daniel Descalso-IF, Jon Jay-OF, Shane Robinson-OF, Tony Cruz-C

Five-man rotation: Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly

Bullpen: Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate, Pat Neshek, Seth Maness, Keith Butler

Disabled List: Jason Motte-RP, Jaime Garcia- SP, Mark Ellis-2B

Five Questions Heading Into Regular Season

-Two of the Cardinals longest-tenured pitchers, Jason Motte (Tommy John surgery recovery) and Jaime Garcia (left shoulder inflammation), will both start the year on the disabled list. Both will likely return at somepoint leaving fans to wonder, what type of roles will both specialists have later on in the season?

-Garcia’s injury opened the door for Joe Kelly to claim the fifth starter role, even though his competitor (Carlos Martinez) had a statistically better spring. After finishing with a 2.69 ERA and 10 wins last year, how will Kelly fare with a more solidified role in 2014?

-Trading David Freese helped the Cardinals improve their speed and defense with the acquisition of Peter Bourjos. The newcomer accumulated 12 hits and a .405 OBP over spring and boasts great defensive range in the outfield. How will Bourjos’s skills affect the team’s bench outfielders with similar abilities (Jon Jay, Shane Robinson) and the development of other outfielders in the Cardinals’ farm system?

-The Cardinals’ offense collectively enjoyed a career year last season, driving in over 745 runs and hitting .330 with runners in scoring position. How will offensive leaders like Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter approach hitting in clutch situations this year knowing the offense shattered many statistics in 2013?

-Interleague matchups include all five AL East teams this year in addition to in-state rival Kansas City Royals. This scheduling will allow the Cardinals to witness several interesting things like the rematch of the previous World Series (Boston Red Sox), Derek Jeter’s final year (Yankees) and only their second time visiting Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles). How will the Cards make adjustments against arguably the strongest division in the American League!

*The Cardinals will play 162 games this season. For more info and news updates, be sure to check out the Cardinals website. Play ball!

*Spring Training Photos by Joseph Schneider

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