JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) – The Cardinals are in the final stretch of Grapefruit League games, with only six contests remaining. There have been injuries, a new signing and enough competition to keep things interesting. While definitive conclusions are hard to draw from spring training, some themes are beginning to take shape.
1). This team may have difficulty eclipsing last year’s mediocre .253 team batting average, which placed them in about the middle of National League teams. Worse, the Cards have much less power than last year, if that is possible. Jason Heyward (.293, 13 homers) is gone and so are Mark Reynolds, Peter Bourjos, Tony Cruz and at least half a season of Jhonny Peralta (.275, 17 homers). That effectively eliminates about 30 percent of the 137 home runs hit in 2015 with only Jedd Gyorko as a power addition.
It’s just spring training and players don’t make that final push toward the regular season until the final week or so. But to date, nothing is in evidence to suggest the Cardinals will have anything other than a singles/doubles offense.
2). Mike Leake will be effective this year and, if a prediction is in order, should win 12-15 games. Leake needs a solid defense behind him, but he is the kind of pitcher who could thrive in the heavy air of Busch Stadium, much as John Lackey did last year. Busch could take the best part of a run off Leake’s career ERA (3.88). He will be a more than adequate fifth starter and will easily replace Lackey’s innings and wins.
3). The pitching staff – both starters and bullpen – looks stronger than last year, with one big “if.”
Adam Wainwright is back, Leake is solid and Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia and Carlos Martinez are as good or better than any club’s middle starters. The bullpen has been upgraded with the addition of The Stone Buddha, Seung-hwan Oh. Oh may be an additional eighth inning set-up man for Trevor Rosenthal, giving Mike Matheny a chance to avoid running Kevin Siegrist into the ground again. Siegrist appeared in 81 games last year and three more in the playoffs. By the end of the season, it is doubtful he could even comb his hair or wave goodbye.
The “If” of course is injuries, as all three middle men in the rotation have a history of injury-shortened seasons. All three seem fine as of now, and in fact Martinez looks better than he ever has. Inevitably, one of the three will likely miss time, thrusting Tyler Lyons into a starting role, an uninspiring scenario (5-9, 4.75 ERA in the majors). With an outside chance at a starting role later in the year might be reclamation project Jeremy Hefner, who was a starter for the New York Mets in 2012 and 2013 but underwent two Tommy John surgeries. At 30, he’s on his last round-up but with regular minor league work, could make a spot start later in the year.
4). As the poets might say, Whither Matt Adams? The big left-handed first baseman is a full season removed from 2014 when he hit .288 and 15 homers, plus a three-run bomb off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs that broke the Dodgers’ heart. Injuries last year limited him to a mediocre performance over 60 games, but at 27, he would seem to be in the flower of his career. Apparently not. He is splitting time at first with Brandon Moss, a pleasant individual hoping to close out his career with one final lunge toward glory and Matt Holliday, which is a tableau Cardinal fans would not enjoy. Holliday is stiff, immobile and lacks the fluidity of a major league first baseman.
Adams this spring is working on bunting to the left side to defeat the shift, with some success. That is nice to see, but first basemen get paid to hit the ball over the fence, not bunt. The Cards really need to sort out this issue. Adams seems unsure of his role and platooning seldom works over the course of a season.
5). Spring training is too long. This is not the 1930s when baseball players left their offseason jobs to come to Florida to get in shape. They are in shape and working out all year. At least 10 days of drills and then 30 or so games adds six weeks onto a schedule that already spans three seasons of the year. A thorough vetting of young talent and enough work for pitchers could be accomplished in fewer games or more split squad contests. This is especially true in Florida where temperatures reach 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity.