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The Potential For History: The 2014 Cardinals

As the 2014 season gets underway today, I’m going to write a column that’s either going to be mocked now, or more likely, in six months, or it’s going to be praised now, or more likely, in six months.

It’s something I think that many in St. Louis and around baseball are aware of, but it’s something that’s not being discussed as casually as perhaps it could be…maybe because it’s like saying the words “no-hitter” in the sixth inning of a “no-hitter.”

But, I can’t help but see its potential, and therefore, since I don’t subscribe to magical forces in the universe or superstitions in the game of baseball or anywhere else, I want to discuss it:
Adam Wainwright
The 2014 Cardinals have the rotation, lineup, and depth (both at the Major League and minor league levels) to break organizational records for wins, baseball records for wins, and go down as one of the greatest teams ever.

Now this isn’t Mike And Mike Prisoner of The Moment shit. For those of you who listen to The Ryan Kelley Morning After, you know I think the over/under for Cardinal wins in Las Vegas---set at 90.5---is #freemoney.

I’m observing it from a big picture, 162 game sample size.

When you trot out Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly every game, you have an advantage no other team in baseball has. And when you have a guy like Carlos Martinez ready to go in that rotation if/when the injuries arrive, you have an advantage no other team in baseball has.

And it’s the rotation, quite bluntly, that is the main reason for my belief that this team could make history from a win total perspective…and from a place in baseball lore perspective.

Wainwright, Wacha, Miller, Lynn, Kelly…with Martinez waiting.

I’m aware of sophomore jinx stories. Or fear of way too many innings from the previous year impacting performance the next year. They’re worthy of being entered into the analytics for handicapping the range of outcomes for this team. And, as always, injuries are the ultimate variable that could blow this scenario out of the water.

But, to start the year, you’re throwing out---on a daily basis---five starters who all would be making a case to be in the top two pitchers on more than 75% of the teams in MLB. And there’s that guy in the 8th inning who may be better than any of them when it’s all said and done.

You can have a bad offense and win a World Series if you have the starting pitching.

The 2001 Diamondbacks would be a perfect example of that. The two-headed monster of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson carried a team that had 36 year-old Matt Williams, 36 year-old Steve Finley, and 37 year-old Mark Grace as its 4,5, and 6 hitters to 92 wins and a World Championship.

You know who their third starter was? Or their fourth? Or their fifth?

I didn’t either.

Per BaseballReference.com, those three starters were Brian Anderson (4-9, 5.20 ERA), Robert Ellis (6-5, 5.77 ERA), and Albie Lopez (4-7, 4.00 ERA).

Look what two great starters can do for a team.

Imagine what four or five can do.

In Derrick Goold’s story in the Post-Dispatch on Sunday, he quoted a scout with 30-plus years of experience who said about the 2014 Cardinal pitching: “I’ve never seen anything with one team like it before.”

And we haven’t even talked about the lineup yet.

With Carpenter at third, Bourjos in center, and Peralta at short, the Cardinals upgraded offensively 38% of the lineup. The production in CF, SS, and 3B should be better at each position. The fact that the team won 97 games last year with the lack of production from those positions is relatively stunning. Now, one can most definitely make a case that there’s risk of a decline at second and right with Wong replacing Carpenter and Craig replacing Beltran, but I’m of the opinion that the potential drop-off in offensive production from Wong and Craig vs. their 2013 predecessors will be outweighed by the combined increase in production from Carpenter at third, Bourjos in center, and Peralta at short vs. their 2013 predecessors.

And even if something goes awry, and even if there’s an injury to Holliday, Bourjos, Craig, or Adams, there’s an outfield of Taveras, Piscotty, and Grichuk down in Memphis…or as John Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch, an outfield at AAA that some MLB teams would rather have than what they’re fielding this year at the Big League level.

There’s a shutdown closer, a shutdown 8th inning guy, and someone who closed out a World Series less than three years ago about ready to join them. From the left side, Kevin Siegrist---another potential future starter---and Randy Choate join in the fun and games. Siegrist carried a 1.00 ERA through Spring Training while Choate had a 1.13 ERA.

This potential juggernaut is not without flaws. The final two pieces in the bullpen (Seth Maness and Keith Butler) are question marks after putting up hideous Spring Training numbers. And, if the Cardinal starters either can’t get deep into the game or won’t be allowed to go deep into the game for innings-monitoring purposes, Maness and Butler will have to be used…and have to be better than they’ve been in February and March. In other words, just because they’re two of the last spots on the roster doesn’t mean that their potential weakness is irrelevant to the club’s success.

Same with the bench.

The Cardinals start the season with the following on the bench:

-Tony Cruz
-Daniel Descalso
-Pete Kozma
-Jon Jay
-Shane Robinson

It sure doesn’t feel like it’s improved much since October. But, Mark Ellis’ start to the year contributes a bit to the feeling of “ohmywordwhocouldpossiblybeaneffectivepinchhitterlate.”

An emergence from Oscar Taveras would’ve helped, but the emergence of Stephen Piscotty could help…and soon. And, even if Piscotty, Grichuk, or Taveras aren’t up here to start the year, by the time October rolls around, my guess is that at least two will be around. So, I keep my bench concerns in that long term context.

And therefore, let me reiterate my position at the beginning of this column: the 2014 Cardinals have the potential to break regular season records. As far as what goes on in October, well, we’ve seen first hand---on both sides of the coin---how much of a crapshoot that can be. The 2004 Cardinals were the best team in baseball all year long, and they got swept out of the World Series. I still hold the 2009 Cardinals with the Cy Young candidate duo of a healthy Wainwright and Carpenter as one of the best Cardinal teams I’ve seen…and they, with the help of the infamous Holliday Drop, got swept out of the NLDS. The 2011 Phillies were a supposed lock to win the World Series, and the Cardinals eliminated them in the NLDS.

I can’t handicap a month.

But, long term, big picture, 162-game sample size?

Barring some way above the league mean for games missed due to injury, the 2014 Cardinals have the pieces in place to put up a monster win total.

I’m not talking just 100 wins. I’m talking 110-plus. I’m talking 2001 Seattle Mariners’ territory. That team won 116 games.

The combination of the Cardinal talent and the questionable National League Central lend itself to fertile ground for grandiose win totals.

Perhaps 25 years from now, baseball fans will look back on this team like historians look back on the 1998 Yankees (114 wins and a World Championship), the 1975 Reds (108 wins and a World Championship), or perhaps the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.

(I had no idea about these guys until looking up the best teams in baseball history…and found out this Red Stocking bunch went 69-0 in 1869. #peskyredstockings).

Or, perhaps in six months, you’ll revisit this column and throw it in my face…either mocking me for the boldness of my 2014 Cardinal projections or blaming me for the Cardinals failing to live up to the hype.

But, if I’m your financial advisor, I would instruct you to move a substantial percentage of your cash in on the over of 90.5 wins for the 2014 Cardinals. Las Vegas underestimates them because of the lack of superstardom and/or a presence on one of the coasts. Fine. Take advantage of it. You might be able to cash that winning ticket by Labor Day.

Log-in to post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.


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