10 Things to Know About the St. Louis Cardinals Heading into NLDS 2013
10 St. Louis Cardinals Storylines to Watch
As the St. Louis Cardinals head into the first round of the MLB Playoffs, there are plenty of questions waiting to be answered. The Cardinals finished with the best record in the National League and seemingly shouldn't have too much reason to be concerned; however, there are plenty of looming issues.
First of all, the Cards will head into the postseason without first baseman Allen Craig, who has been a playoff hero in the past. Craig is dealing with a Lisfranc injury that will keep him out of the NLDS and likely the duration of the postseason, so rookie Matt Adams will have to step up and carry the load. It will be interesting to see how he performs in his first postseason action.
Another interesting storyline to watch will be how the Cardinals use their bullpen. After having an unbelievable first half that led to his first All-Star appearance, closer Edward Mujica has struggled in the second half and may not get any save chances during the playoffs. Some have speculated that he could be left off the playoff roster entirely, and the closer position is pretty much up for grabs, just as it was in 2011 when Jason Motte assumed the role and became the team's closer during the tail end of their World Series run.
There are plenty of intriguing storylines to pay attention to with this Cardinals team. Here are ten things to keep as close eye on as the Cards look to make yet another World Series run.
10. The Bench is a Question Mark
Due to Allen Craig's injury and Matt Adams' ascension into the lineup, the Cardinals don't really have any reliable options on their bench. Light-hitting Tony Cruz has split the backup catching duties with veteran Rob Johnson over the second half, and neither one has been good at the plate. Whoever doesn't start at shortstop between Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma will be there, but both of them have been awful hitters since the All-Star break. Outfielder Shane Robinson will probably be the top pinch-hitter, but he doesn't really arouse much excitement. Infielder Kolten Wong and outfielder Adron Chambers could be pinch-running options, but neither has shown anything at the plate this year. First baseman Brock Peterson could make the roster if the Cardinals want some right-handed-hitting insurance for Adams, but (surprise) he, too, has struggled as a hitter.
9. No One Knows What Mike Matheny is Thinking
It's hard to dispute Mike Matheny's management job this year, seeing as the Cardinals had the best record in the league, but he's certainly made some questionable decisions this year. In late May, he threw in beleaguered reliever Mitchell Boggs in the ninth inning of a 2-1 game vs. the Kansas City Royals. To the surprise of no one, Boggs immediately gave up a homer and blew the game. In a similar situation, Matheny has continued to use struggling closer Edward Mujica in pressure situations despite his issues. He also kept starter Jake Westbrook in the rotation as he was obviously being outperformed and gave him an honorary start on the final day of the season as the team was still fighting for home-field advantage. It will be interesting to see if he makes any more risky decisions of this sort during the playoffs.
8. Nothing is Promised with Yadier Molina
Yadier Molina has dealt with a knee injury for the entire second half, and the Cardinals got an extremely lucky break with him being able to return after aggravating it in late July. Molina still seems to be dealing with the effects of the injury, however, and every day that the Cardinals have him on the field is a gift. He is still staying in the lineup day in and day out at this point, but the Cards will have to be prepared should he aggravate the injury again during the playoffs.
7. They Have Five Viable Starting Options
Though the Cardinals will only need four starters in the first round of the playoffs, they have five guys who can reasonably be expected to shut entire lineups down. Their NLDS rotation will presumably consist of Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly, but Michael Wacha has been on fire during September. If the Cardinals advance to the NLCS he should be in line to get a start, but for now he will serve as a powerful weapon out of the bullpen.
6. David Freese Needs to Recover His Old Postseason Form
David Freese is revered as a postseason hero in St. Louis, having hit the walk-off home run in 2011 which allowed the Cardinals to win Game 6 of the World Series. He's been a big disappointment this year, though, hitting .262 with nine home runs. Freese needs to recover his form during the playoffs, first of all to help the team out, but also to guarantee that he will return next season, seeing as the Cardinals may want to give regular playing time to prospect Kolten Wong.
5.The Shortstop Position Could Be An Issue
The Cardinals know that they're probably not going to get any offense out of the shortstop position, but they need to make sure that it is not a defensive liability. Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso have split time there over the second half, and both of them have struggled. Kozma is hitting .179 since the All-Star break, though he rebounded to hit .243 during September. Descalso is hitting .199 during that span and hit just .217 in September. Kozma is the better defensive player of the two, though he has had some mistakes, one of which played a role in costing Michael Wacha a no-hitter earlier this month. Descalso is not a natural shortstop and doesn't have very good range. He could be a significant liability if a ball is hit his way late in a close game.
4. Kevin Siegrist is Dominant
It has gone largely under the radar, but rookie lefthander Kevin Siegrist had arguably the greatest season in the history of relief pitching. Over 39.2 innings spanning 45 appearances, Siegrist gave up just 17 hits and two earned runs, good for an 0.45 ERA. He also struck out 50 batters. If Siegrist can keep up his dominance in the playoffs, he'll make it impossible for opponents to put anything together offensively for the inning or two in which he pitches.
3. Matt Carpenter is the Key to Their Success
Though Yadier Molina was the Cardinals' savior during the first half of the season, this has become Matt Carpenter's team. The 27-year-old, who is in his first season playing second base, hit .349 with a .441 OBP and 12 doubles during September. He's hitting .388 with 62 RBI when he has runners in scoring position. Carpenter's success out of the leadoff spot is absolutely critical to the Cardinals' chances at victory in the postseason.
2. The Pressure is on for Matt Adams
With Allen Craig likely sidelined for the postseason, Matt Adams will have to step up big during his playoff debut. The 25-year-old had a great rookie year, hitting .284 with 17 homers in 296 at-bats, but he still has more to prove. Adams hit just .231 in 52 at-bats against lefthanders, and he no longer has the cushion of hiding behind Craig when the Cardinals face a lefty. With no viable right-handed platoon partner, Adams must rise to the challenge, particularly when he has to face Pirates lefthanders Francisco Liriano and Jeff Locke.
1. They Don't Really Know Who Their Closer Is
Because of closer Edward Mujica's September performance, which saw him give up 18 hits, nine earned runs and three homers over 10 appearances, he should not be trusted with any high-leverage situations. The Cardinals really do not have a specific guy who will be designated to handle save situations. The most reliable of the bunch is probably second-year reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who picked up three saves in September and was effective throughout the year, compiling a 2.63 ERA with 108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. If they decide he's not the option, they could go to Siegrist or former Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford, who has a 1.74 ERA in 13 games since joining the Cardinals.