NL Central champion Cardinals tire of Cubs talk, ready to go
ST. LOUIS (AP) Throughout the offseason, St. Louis Cardinals players heard plenty about how good the rival Cubs were going to be.
They are feeling a bit neglected after leading the major leagues with 100 victories and outdistancing Chicago to win their third straight NL Central title last season. Long ago, they moved on from losing Jayson Heyward and John Lackey to the Cubs.
''People can say what they want but when teams come in to play us they want to beat us,'' said closer Trevor Rosenthal, who set a franchise record with 48 saves last season. ''They want to beat us for a reason because they know we've had success in the past. It's good to be on that side.''
Ace Adam Wainwright wrinkles his nose when the subject comes up.
''We'll deal with the Chicago Cubs when we play the Chicago Cubs,'' Wainwright said. ''I am very, very excited about this team.''
The degree of difficulty goes up early because Cardinals are a bit nicked up heading into Sunday's season opener at Pittsburgh, another team expected to be in the mix for the division crown.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta could miss half the season with a torn ligament in his left thumb and his replacement, Ruben Tejada, will begin the year on the 15-day disabled list with a quadriceps issue. That leaves the job in newcomer Jedd Gyorko's hands for now. Set-up man Jordan Walden won't answer the opening bell due to recurring shoulder woes that sidelined him virtually all of last season.
Some other things to watch for with the Cardinals, who have made the postseason a franchise-best five straight years with two World Series appearance and one title in that span:
CROWDED FIRST BASE
Brandon Moss has $8.25 million reasons to believe he'll have a major role. He's not concerned about the competition: Matt Adams and Matt Holliday.
''I think we all prepare the same way, get ready to play every day. Then when you're put in the lineup, you play,'' Moss said. ''Whether that's more often than not or less often than others, it doesn't really matter.''
The 32-year-old Moss was the clear front-runner in the offseason, a year removed from hip surgery that limited his power stroke. Even in a down year, he combined for 19 home runs with Cleveland and St. Louis. Holliday elbowed his way into the conversation, eager to add versatility in the final year of his long-term deal. Adams also has looked good, quadriceps woes behind him and learning to bunt for hits to foil the shifts.
Holliday will get the majority of his time in left. But there are three up-and-comers, with Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham all capable of hitting 20-plus homers. Barring a deal, manager Mike Matheny will have a daily lineup conundrum. Moss is versatile, too, able to play corner outfield, and promises to be patient.
''I've played left and right and first,'' he said. ''Anything. I just want to be a big part of this team.''
Perennial All-Star catcher Yadier Molina is ready to go coming off two surgeries to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. The Cardinals say it every year but at some point they will have to give Molina rest during the season. New backup Brayan Pena is expected to get more playing time.
Rosenthal was ridden hard last year. Setup men Kevin Siegrist (81 games) and Seth Maness (76), too. There is an abundance of closeout candidates now. Seung Hwan Oh was so dominant closing in Japan and Korea he arrived with two nicknames - ''Stone Buddha'' and ''Final Boss.'' Johnathan Broxton also has closing experience. Long reliever Tyler Lyons made eight starts in 2015.
Even after getting out-bid by the Red Sox for David Price and losing Lance Lynn to reconstructive elbow surgery, there are plenty of quality arms. Free agent pickup Mike Leake could get results similar to that of Lackey, and is much younger. Wainwright healed rapidly from a torn left Achilles tendon last April in time to make the postseason roster, and in four of previous five healthy seasons had two 20-win seasons and two 19-win seasons. Michael Wacha won 17 games and Carlos Martinez is back strong after getting shut down late last season amid shoulder woes. Jaime Garcia's array is among the most baffling in the majors.
''Hooo, man, it's amazing,'' Pena said of Garcia. ''You have to be ready.''