(BaseballSTL) --Go ahead, call me a homer. I've been a Cardinals homer since 1963. My earliest memories of being a Cardinals fan came on the day Stan Musial played his final game. I remember as a little kid watching on TV as he got a hit in his last at bat, a single into right field. Then being lifted for a pinch runner. I was wondering at the time why everybody was making such a fuss about it.
The next year, 1964, the Cardinals made their miracle charge to overtake the Phillies in the final days of the regular season to win the National League pennant. They beat the Yankees in the World Series, and I was hooked for life. Just like every other kid growing up in St. Louis.
Ever since that great '64 season, I've been picking the Cardinals to win the Pennant almost every year.
As the season gets started I have a hard time imagining how anything could possibly go wrong. It seems clear to me that the Cardinals are the class of the league. There were some lean years in the 70's and 90's when it was tough to justify my position, but not anymore.
The Cardinals have been a perennial contender for the entire 21st century. Their record of consistency is remarkable. Through two general managers and two managers, they've been able to maintain a quality club on a yearly basis.
This season will be no different. This may come as a surprise, but I'm picking the Cardinals to win the division again.
I believe this is now 40 consecutive years that I've picked the Redbirds to finish in first place. But I have some solid reasons for it this time. The Cardinals have the best lineup in the National League. They should be able to score plenty of runs.
Adam Wainwright is a year-removed from Tommy John surgery, and should be better than he was last year. Jaime Garcia had a great spring. Shelby Miller may contend for rookie of the year. Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook are healthy and should be able to round out the rotation.
Sure, the Cardinals have some injury issues with Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal already out for the season, but at no time in recent memory have the Cardinals been better positioned to deal with a rash of injuries.
Their minor league system has been rated the best in baseball. They have Oscar Tavares ready to move up and fill in for Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday, should one of them go down. They have Matt Adams ready to step in at first base should Allen Craig have an injury problem. They have Michael Wacha ready to fill in for a starting pitcher in case of emergency.
Injuries are inevitable, and the Cardinals are well positioned to plug in quality players to replace those that go down.
I realize the Reds finished nine games ahead of the Cardinals last season, and have been picked by most of the experts to repeat as Central division champs. But I'm picking the Cardinals to overtake them this year.
I'll go on the record as saying the Cardinals will go 91-71 and win the Central division.
Then they'll win the NLDS over Atlanta. Then they'll win the NLCS over Washington. Then they'll win the World Series over Toronto, in a sweep. I make a prediction like this pretty much every year, but this time I really mean it.