The self-professed "old guy" of the pitching staff will lead the St. Louis Cardinals into a new season.
Adam Wainwright, who was 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA last season and placed second in National League Cy Young Award balloting, will oppose Johnny Cueto when the Cardinals play the Cincinnati Reds at 3:10 p.m. Monday at Great American Ball Park.
It's the third Opening Day assignment for Wainwright, 32, who heads a staff of 20-somethings as the Cardinals take aim on another division title and a deep postseason run.
"It's a good challenge," Wainwright said of being the staff's elder statesman. "I constantly remind these guys that I'm 10 years older than them and they still have to look up at me. It's a good challenge. I like it.
"I was always so blessed to have Carp (Chris Carpenter) be the leader and watch him and follow his lead for many, many years. Now that it's kind of my turn to do that, I'm definitely enjoying it."
Although Wainwright has won at least 19 games three times in his career, he still is seeking his first Opening Day win. And the Reds? Well, they've given Wainwright fits. The 6-foot-7 right-hander is 5-9 with a 5.11 ERA in 20 games and 15 start against Cincinnati. No other team has more than six wins against Wainwright.
But there's also no other pitcher his teammates would rather play behind than Wainwright.
"It starts with Adam being our lead guy, our No. 1 guy," right fielder Allen Craig said. "We have a lot of young guys that have a lot of talent and have had some pretty darn good success early in their careers. That's been pretty exciting to watch. All those guys are hungry to build off that.
"Playing defense behind these guys is pretty fun. They work fast, they throw strikes and they compete. It's a fun thing to watch."
Wainwright is the prohibitive leader of a rotation that is completed by Lance Lynn (26 years old), Shelby Miller (23), Michael Wacha (22) and Joe Kelly (25). That quartet combined for 44 wins in 2013, led by Lynn's and Miller's 15.
"We're fairly young," Miller said. "But the thing is, we're out there for a reason. We have confidence in ourselves and Mike (Matheny, the manager) has confidence in us. We're out there playing to win a World Series ring and do our best. That's what it's all about: winning. If that doesn't happen, we come back the next day.
"We know how to play the game. We're a really young team, but we're really talented. At the same time, we've got to stay grounded and do what we know how to do, and that's just play baseball."
Craig, a first baseman last season, will be one of many rocks in the Cardinals' everyday lineup. He led the team in RBIs last year and was prodigious in clutch situations, batting .454 (59-for-130) with a .638 slugging percentage.
"I think everybody's excited about the team we have," Craig said. "We have a lot of talent --pitching staff, offense, defense. We have guys who have proven themselves. We're hoping to get a bunch of at-bats and a bunch of innings out of guys. That's the way, ideally, we want things to go."
The Cardinals' lineup could look like this against Cueto, who was 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA in an injury-filled 2013: Matt Carpenter, 3B; Kolten Wong, 2B; Matt Holliday, LF; Craig, RF; Matt Adams, 1B; Yadier Molina, C; Jhonny Peralta, SS; Peter Bourjos, CF, Wainwright, P.
Cueto is 4-4 with a 4.66 ERA in 15 games, all starts, against St. Louis.
Wainwright and his teammates were glad the Cardinals were able to add players like Peralta and Bourjos to their lineup without trading any pitching in the offseason.
"I'm very happy about that," Wainwright said. "I don't see any reason to change it. We all throw the ball pretty good. We've got everybody who's 20 years old and one old guy. If we continue to do what we do, I don't think you need to change much about our pitching staff or our lineup, to be honest with you.
"I think we did a great job piecing together the right guys for this clubhouse and trusting our pitchers to go out there and get the job done."
Peralta, who batted .303 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs with Detroit in a season interrupted by a 50-game PED suspension, said he has been impressed by the way "everybody is working together."
"It's important to be ready for the season," he said. "When everybody's together, this will be a championship team."