The best-run organization in the majors showed yet again last year why it deserves that title. The Cardinals made their third consecutive NLCS and won their second pennant in three years before falling to the Red Sox in the World Series. They tied with Boston for the best record in the majors at 97-65 and had the best Pythagorean win-loss at 101-61.
More importantly for fantasy purposes, they were an offensive juggernaut. They scored 783 runs and hit .269/.332/.401 as a team. They lost Carlos Beltran, but that just means a full season's worth of at-bats for both Allen Craig and Matt Adams. They also upgraded dramatically at shortstop, subbing in Jhonny Peralta for the light-hitting Pete Kozma, and they may get a boost by plugging in Kolten Wong for David Freese.
Add it all up, and the Cardinals are once again one of the best teams in the majors. As expected, they also provide a bounty to the fantasy community.
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
2. Kolten Wong, 2B
3. Matt Holliday, LF
4. Allen Craig, RF
5. Yadier Molina, C
6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
7. Matt Adams, 1B
8. Peter Bourjos, CF
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Michael Wacha
3. Shelby Miller
4. Jaime Garcia
5. Lance Lynn
Bullpen: Trevor Rosenthal (closer), Carlos Martinez, Jason Motte, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate, Joe Kelly, Seth Maness
Can Matt Adams sustain last year's production over a full season? Adams was part of the reason the Cardinals felt comfortable letting Carlos Beltran walk this offseason. In 319 plate appearances last year, Adams hit .284/.335/.503 with 17 homers, 14 doubles and 51 RBI. He'll take over as the everyday first baseman this year, with Allen Craig shifting to Beltran's old spot in right field.
There is a chance Adams gets overexposed in a full-time role. He had a 25.1-percent strikeout rate last year against a 7.2 percent walk rate and has whiffed 104 times in his 594 career plate appearances. His .337 BABIP doesn't completely square with his 19.4-percent line-drive rate, and his 21.8-percent HR/FB ratio would have tied with Ginacarlo Stanton for sixth in the league if he had enough at-bats to qualify. That power could be real, but we can't be sure until we see him do it again.
Having said that, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives in Adams' case. He spent most of the 2012 season at Triple-A Memphis, and hit .329/.362/.624 with 18 homers and 50 RBI with similar strikeout and walk rates. We may only have a sample of 600 plate appearances at the major-league level with which to evaluate him, but the power has been there going back through his minor league career. He'll be hitting in the middle of one of the league's best offenses and looks to have 30-homer potential.
Is the playoff Michael Wacha here to stay? Wacha didn't become a mainstay in the St. Louis rotation until September of last year, but the Cardinals likely would not have made it to the World Series without him. In nine starts, Wacha posted a 2.83 ERA, 3.25 FIP and 46 strikeouts in 54 innings. He did his best work in the playoffs, winning his first four starts by allowing just three runs in 27 innings. In those four games, he fanned 28 batters, walked seven and allowed just 10 hits. The Red Sox knocked him around for six runs in 3.2 innings in Game 6, but it's safe to say the 22-year-old impressed Mike Matheny and earned himself a spot in the 2014 starting rotation.
The question here is how will he handle a full workload? He tossed 180.1 innings between the Cardinals and Triple-A Memphis combined last year, including the playoffs. That can likely be considered an innings floor for him this season, assuming he stays healthy. Will he suffer the same fate that teammate Shelby Miller did in 2013 when he faded down the stretch after a borderline-dominant first half? Wacha did benefit from a .275 BABIP and 79.7 percent strand rate in the regular season, though a 16.7 percent line-drive rate, 25 percent strikeout rate and 44.3 percent ground-ball rate suggest there was more than luck behind those numbers.
Given what we saw from Wacha last year and the Cardinals' track record for developing pitchers, I'm willing to buy. He's the No. 35 starting pitcher on my board, in the same neighborhood as Johnny Cueto, Masahiro Tanaka and Kris Medlen.
Can Shelby Miller avoid the second-half swoon? You can't tell the story of the 2013 MLB playoffs without mentioning the Cardinals exiling Miller despite the fact that he was third in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Miller, of course, brought it on himself to a certain degree after the now-23-year-old struggled mightily in the season's second half. He had a 3.28 ERA, 4.59 FIP and 1.34 WHIP while striking out 7.47 batters per nine innings and walking 3.67 after the All-Star break. He essentially pitched like a replacement-level player in the final two-and-a-half months of the season.
However, that should not make you forget about what he did in the first half. Miller looked every bit the future ace, posting a 2.92 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 1.12 WHIP and 9.63 K/9. While he clearly hit the rookie wall, he still put up impressive numbers across the board, finishing the season with a 15-9 record, 3.06 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 169 strikeouts in 173.1 innings. Miller wasn't the first rookie pitcher to come undone in the second half, and he won't be the last. With a full major league season under his belt, the fantasy community should believe that he will only be better and stronger this year. I have him ranked 22nd among starting pitchers, ahead of guys like Homer Bailey and James Shields.
Oscar Taveras, OF -- No matter where you get your prospect rankings, you'll find Taveras in the top 10. He dealt with a nagging ankle injury last year, but still managed to hit .306/.341/.462 with five homers and 32 RBI in just 186 plate appearances. The Cardinals are deep all around their roster so they don't have to rush him up, but you can bet that you'll see the 21-year-old in St. Louis some time this season.
Matt Carpenter, 3B -- It was really hard to pick a bust on this loaded Cardinals' team, and Carpenter doesn't fit the traditional definition of the term. He confirmed his semi-breakout in 2012 with a .318/.392/.481 season last year. However, he's likely going to cost you a fifth- or sixth-round pick, and he doesn't give you any power from a position where fantasy owners typically rely on that. If he matches last year's numbers, he could be worth a pick that high, but he still forces you to build your roster in an unconventional way.
Shelby Miller, SP -- He elevated into the national consciousness last year, but this is the season that he will cement himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League.
NL-only guys to know
Kolten Wong, 2B: Wong struggled in limited duty with the Cardinals last year, but he hit .303/.369/.466 with 10 homers and 20 steals at Triple-A Memphis. He's my No. 10 NL second baseman and could eventually become a factor in mixed leagues.
Peter Bourjos, OF: The Cardianls acquired Bourjos from the Angels for David Freese. While they traded for him mainly because of his elite defensive skills in center field, he is also one of the best base runners in the league when he's healthy. If he can play 130 games, he could swipe 20-plus bags while scoring a ton of runs in this offense.
Jon Jay, OF: Last year's starting center fielder was squeezed out of the starting lineup in favor of Bourjos and Matt Adams, but he could get enough at-bats as the team's fourth outfielder to warrant a bench spot in NL-only leagues.
Jaime Garcia, SP: Garcia pitched well in nine starts last year, going 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA and 3.72 FIP. He suffered a torn labrum in May and missed the rest of the season. He has now undergone major shoulder surgery in addition, to Tommy John procedure and could eventually lose his spot in the rotation. Until that happens, though, he's a worthy NL-only league starter.