Cardinals' mission tough -- but not impossible

Posted by Scott Wuerz on October 30, 2013 

I'm a little surprised by how down Cardinals fans seem to be today.

Sure, the Birds are down three games to two to the Boston Red Sox. And they have to play the remaining pair of World Series contests in front of a hostile crowd at Fenway Park. But it's not an impossible mission.

I bet there are 28 other Major League Baseball teams that would love to trade places with St. Louis. 

Typically I'm not much of a moral victories sort of guy. But the Cardinals really don't have much to lose here. They're a team that got a heckuva lot farther this year than anyone thought they would. A lot of folks thought getting a wildcard berth into the playoffs was a pipe dream after ace starting pitcher Chris Carpenter and leadoff man and starting shortstop Rafael Furcal were both lost for the season before spring training even got going. Before those blows even stopped stinging the Redbirds lost their closer, Jason Motte, for the entire season at the tail end of Grapefruit League play.

After that the Birds lost starting pitchers Jaime Garcia and John Gast to season-ending injuries while fellow starter Jake Westbrook was ineffective and eventually he broke down. The impact of losing Allen Craig for the last month of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs was huge. But still the Cardinals pushed on and made it to the World Series.

So anything that happened after the 162nd game is just icing on the cake, in my book. Don't get me wrong. I like a lot of icing on my cake. But I think it's a little over the top to be bitterly disappointed if the Cardinals don't win their third World Series in eight years.

That's especially true because the Redbirds seem set up for a long run of success. The influx of rookie prospects by next April will have graduated to a higher level of expectation. What at one point looked as if it could be a busy 2013-14 offseason now looks like it's going to be pretty quiet.

I figured a few months ago that the top priorities for general manager John Mozeliak included finding a number two starter to replace Carpenter in the starting rotation, locating a more established shortstop who can hit and major renovations for the bullpen.

Now it appears that there is no room in the starting rotation. With Adam Wainwright firmly entrenched as the reigning ace thanks to his five-year contract extension, Michael Wacha seems set to be the number two man in the rotation with Shelby Miller taking the third slot. Several viable candidates including Lance Lynn, Garcia, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez and Gast will have to fight for the last two spots.

The three guys who don't make the cut will likely head to the bullpen which could lose Edward Mujica and/or John Axford. But it will return Motte to a mix that includes an emerging Trevor Rosenthal, lefty Kevin Siegrist and ground ball specialist Seth Maness. Veteran lefty Randy Choate will also be back in the second year of a three-year contract.

That leaves the Cardinals with a competitive team if it does nothing. And the club could be dominant if it gets a more productive offensive player into the shortstop mix.

The Cardinals will likely add Oscar Taveras to the outfield picture in 2014. It would be great to keep Carlos Beltran around for another year or two. But even if he defects to a locale where he'd be offered more guaranteed playing time, the Birds still look like they're going to be strong for years to come.

So let's lose the long faces and, at the very least, enjoy one last performance by a remarkable baseball team. If things start to break St. Louis' way, maybe we'll see two. And, if that happens, a 12th World Series banner won't seem so unreachable.

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