Baseball season has arrived.
The St. Louis Cardinals open the 2014 season Monday in Cincinnati.
After three games against the Reds and three more in Pittsburgh, the home opener in St. Louis is Monday, April 7, against the Reds.
So what’s in store for the Redbirds after losing in six games to Boston in last season’s World Series?
Well, most prognosticators are picking the Cardinals to win the National League’s Central Division crown.
At this point, there doesn’t appear to be many questions or position battles as the regular season approaches.
The starting rotation is set, the eight regulars, at least to start the season, are nearly ready to go and the team appears to be focused on defending the NL title.
One of the few questions I have is who will start in center field on opening day?
After all the talk in the offseason about him being gone, I think Jon Jay is going to be the starter in center.
The Cardinals acquired Peter Bourjos from the Angels in the Davis Freese trade, but he’s been a little beat up, as has top prospect Oscar Taveras.
Jay isn’t the long-term answer for the Cardinals, but he works in the short term. You have to think Bourjos and Jay will start the season platooning.
Flanking Jay in the outfield will be sluggers Matt Holliday in left field and Allen Craig in right field.
Holliday and Craig need to stay healthy. If they do, both will have big years.
As far as the infield goes, Matt Carpenter moves from second to third base, which is his natural position.
It’s unrealistic to expect Carpenter to have the same season he did last year, but if he can find a way to get on base from the leadoff spot, that will be huge.
The Cardinals made a big move by signing free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who will provide some offensive punch in the lineup to help replace Carlos Beltran, who’s now with the New York Yankees.
On the right side of the infield, first baseman Matt Adams needs to cut down on his strikeouts and just focus on putting the ball in play.
Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong will be under the microscope after struggling at the plate at the end of last season.
If Wong struggles, newcomer Mark Ellis will be there to take over at second base.
Of course, you have Yadier Molina behind the plate.
The offense has a chance to be very good.
Peralta, who was nailed for PED use last season while with Detroit, should make a big difference.
As far as pitching goes, the starting five to start the season are Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly.
A southpaw starter would be nice, but Jaime Garcia is injury prone and unreliable.
The bullpen looks strong with the likes of Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal to close it out. Jason Motte is back after having Tommy John surgery last year, but it will take time for him to return to full strength.
All and all, I expect the Cardinals to win the NL Central.
Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Milwaukee will provide a challenge, but will run out of gas in September.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will win the NL West and the Washington Nationals will take the NL East.
The two National League wild card winners will be San Francisco and Atlanta.
In the American League, division winners will be Detroit in the Central, Oakland in the West and Boston in the East.
Wild card winners will be New York and Kansas City.
The World Series will come down to Los Angeles and Detroit with the Dodgers winning it all.
As far as individual awards go, I’m picking Wong to be the NL rookie of the year.
There are plenty of NL MVP candidates. Names I’ll throw in the mix are Craig, Washington’s Bryce Harper, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, Los Angeles’ Hanley Ramirez, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt.
In the end, it’s going to be Molina who finally wins the MVP award.
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers is the popular pick to win the NL Cy Young award, but I’ll go with Miami’s Jose Fernandez.
Predicting the AL MVP is a lot easier. You have to go with Mike Trout of the Angels.
Texas’ Yu Darvish will win the AL Cy Young, although Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will be in the mix.