(BaseballStL) -- Spring training - for those who are not already there in Florida right now - begins in earnest this week. KMOV will be there for the duration starting on Tuesday providing content on News 4, KMOV.com and our BaseballSTL app. This should be a very exciting time as the Redbirds, yet again, expect to compete in the NL Central and challenge for a World Series title.
Here's how I see Spring Training 2013 shaping up:
-- Who steps up within the starting rotation?
Pitching wins in baseball. It's been true for a hundred years (minus the steroid era, that is) and should continue to be true for a hundred more. Good pitching simply beats good hitting. That's why having a balanced offense is nice, but let's be honest. If you want to determine a team's outlook for an upcoming season you start with the pitching. Specifically, the starting pitching.
The Redbirds just lost Chris Carpenter and his unquestioned leadership for the year - probably forever - and chose not to resign Kyle Lohse. While a lot of talent remains, due in large part to the number one farm system in baseball, the potential for major issues is certainly there.
First of all, Adam Wainwright needs to be Adam Wainwright. He started slow in his first year after Tommy John surgery (7.32 ERA in April) but gained steam and looked like his old self by the end (7 IP, 4 H, R vs the Giants in Game 4 of the NLCS). With questions surrounding virtually everyone else in the rotation this man needs to be the rock. He has to be Adam Wainwright circa 2009 and 2010. There's no way around it.
We know pretty much what to expect out of Jake Westbrook (he's an upper 3/lower 4 ERA guys through and through) but that's where the certainties end. Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia and whoever comes out of the Shelby Miller/Joe Kelly/Trevor Rosenthal competition will have questions surrounding them. Lynn and Garcia have top of the rotation stuff, no question about it. Lynn won 18 games last year and went to the All Star game. But conditioning led to fatigue late in the year and affected his performance. That can't happen again. Garcia is as good as anyone, too, but no one knows how his shoulder is going to respond.
Then there's the kids. Dynamic arms. Terrific upsides. But completely and totally untested over the course of a full grueling season.
Wainwright can't do this himself. He needs at least a couple of those previously mentioned names to step up and be consistent contributors for the full year. The question is, who will they be?
-- Will the offense remain healthy enough to hit?
Don't get me wrong, put all eight of those everyday guys on the field and runs will be scored. I don't think anyone questions that. What will be questioned, however, is how often all eight of those guys actually stay on the field. Some, like Matt Holliday and Jon Jay and Yadier Molina, don't have significant medical histories. Sure, they've had fluke injuries but nothing to suggest they're compromised coming into this year.
The problems come in right field and shortstop primarily. And I don't think we can totally forget about third base either. First of all, Carlos Beltran will be 36-years old in late April and has had knee issues that have hobbled him the last few years. Yes, he's been healthy enough to receive 1,067 at-bats over the last two years, but it's something that could just go at any minute. Kind of like Lance Berkman a season ago. Will Beltran be available enough to be that force in the #2 hole?
SS Rafael Furcal is a gigantic question mark too. At 35 years of age, he didn't see the field after tearing a ligament in his right elbow in late August. The Cardinals insist he's fine. Yet that's something we won't know for certain until Furcal gets on the field regularly in Florida. If he's out? That leaves Ronnie Cedeno, Pete Kozma or Ryan Jackson as depth. Jon Jay's taken control over the leadoff spot, so that limits the pressure on whoever lines up at shortstop. It's really just a defensive position. However, with the ground ball staff this team possesses, having an above average defender there is critical.
And 2012 was the first year David Freese played in more than 100 games and received more than 500 at-bats. His heroics of October 2011 - and the ability of this organization to view him as their 3rd baseman of the future - were mitigated slightly due to his complex medical history. Last year was a good stepping stone to show he can indeed play a full season. But he's got to do it again. He's got to be available to this team on a daily basis. Or it won't matter how many big hits he gets in the clutch.