They’ve been here before. Doubted, facing adversity, in tough competition. But the St. Louis Cardinals always seem to find a solution whether it’s Michael Wacha stepping up, Trevor Rosenthal emerging or any other prospect after prospect filling a team void.
Here are the reasons the Cardinals won’t struggle: They won 100 games last year and had the best pitching staff in baseball. They’ve won at least 90 games three years in a row, making the playoffs every season since 2010. St. Louis is not conditioned for failure or even just a lack of overwhelming success, but this season could be the perfect storm for a team who finished with the best record in baseball last season.
Adam Wainwright is 34-years-old coming off of a major injury, Jaime Garcia is rarely healthy, Carlos Martinez is coming off of injury and Michael Wacha has allegedly been struggling to find his stuff this spring. Jhonny Peralta is already out for multiple months with his own spring training injury while Yadier Molina is trying to recover from his own health concerns from last season.
Though the Cardinals have outfield depth, they will need Matt Holliday to step up as a middle of the order bat. Holliday is 36-years-old and saw his stats fall from 2013 to 2014 before missing most of 2015 with injury. Jonathan Broxton seemed to find himself down the stretch for the Cards but struggled mightily through the first half of last season. At 31-years-old, the Cardinals’ reliever is not too old to revert back to his career stats, but it’s at least curious if you can completely disregard the larger sample size of last season with the Brewers when he was ineffective.
More importantly and crucial perhaps, the Cardinals have the 15th ranked farm system according to Baseball America, its lowest ranking since 2011. And while health, and in some cases, age, are internal concerns for a franchise which may not have the same cache of prospects ready to step up in the minors (St. Louis has just one prospect ranked in the top 100 and he is a reliever), their competition may be at an all time high.
The Pirates did not improve much in free agency, but could expect improvements from Andrew McCutchen with a healthy season, a step forward from Gregory Polanco, the addition of Jon Niese and the health of Jung Ho Kang.
The Cubs, meanwhile, improved the most in the National League, with a roster full of top prospects who have already performed, plus Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, Adam Warren and the return of Dexter Fowler.
With the Giants, Diamondbacks and Nationals all likely to be playoff competitive, the Cardinals have its toughest test in opposition and its biggest challenges from within.
If St. Louis is going to make the playoffs, it’s going to have to find its way.