Cardinals End Spring Training Focused on Championship
JUPITER, Fla - Jupiter, Florida might be the most aptly named city in the country. Every February this relatively small town in southeastern Florida turns into its own baseball planet. Bikinis and swim trunks are washed away for two months by a sea of Cardinal red.
Getting your favorite player's autograph as he rolls down the window to his Mercedes, watching the organization's top prospects take batting practice on the back fields, and seeing the position battles develop are experiences unique to baseball's Spring ritual.
This past Spring Training in Jupiter was just the beginning of a season filled with high expectations for the defending National League champion, St. Louis Cardinals.
After a 2013 season that ended in a World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox, the defending NL pennant winners will look to clear that last hurdle in the upcoming 2014 campaign, and assert their status as the best team in baseball. From a talent standpoint, the team from the gateway city is loaded from top to bottom.
For the Cardinals, it all starts with talented young pitching.
The Cardinals' 2014 starting rotation has an average age of just 26.6 years old. 2013 Cy Young Award runner-up Adam Wainwright is now the old, wily veteran on this year's squad at the ripe old age of 33. However, the rest of the young staff is not without experience. 2013 saw rookies Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha come into their own in the league. Kelly was perhaps the club's best pitcher coming down the stretch in September, and Miller finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting. Michael Wacha gained national fame during the 2013 postseason where he went 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA, and was named the MVP of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 27-year-old Lance Lynn, who was an All-Star just two seasons ago, rounds out the starting staff.
The bullpen is anchored by young flame throwers Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, and closer Trevor Rosenthal. All have noted a desire to start in the future.
As far as the offense goes, manager Mike Matheny's 97-win club from a year ago returns mainly intact.
The backbone of the Cardinals, catcher Yadier Molina, comes off a season where he was named to his 5th NL All-Star team, won his 6th Gold Glove and saw his improvements swinging the bat earn him his first silver slugger award. Molina is joined in the middle of the Cardinals' lineup by outfield sluggers Matt Holliday and Allen Craig, as well as first baseman Matt Adams.
Most of the notable changes to this year's roster come up the center of the diamond.
At second base, top prospect Kolten Wong takes the reigns after a stellar 2014 Spring Training that saw him hit .375. Wong takes over at second base for 2013 All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner Matt Carpenter. Carpenter will move to his natural position of third base this season after the trade of 2011 World Series hero David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over the winter.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta was signed this off season to a four-year deal despite the fact that he was suspended for PED use last season while with Detroit. Peralta will look to provide stability to the shortstop position which the Cardinals have not had much of since the days of David Eckstein, and Edgar Renteria before him.
The new starting center fielder for St. Louis is Peter Bourjos. Bourjos came over in the Freese trade to the Angels this past off season and brings an element of speed that the team was severely lacking.
The tweaks made this off season signal a win-now mentality for the Cardinals. Anything short of a 12th World Series Championship for the franchise this year will be seen as a disappointment by both the players, and the fans that inhabit St. Louis' baseball heaven.
The Cardinals' 162-game regular season schedule kicked off Monday with a 1-0 win against division foe Cincinnati, and runs through the end of September.