ESPN predicts that the St. Louis Cardinals will have the fourth-best offense in baseball in 2014.
Even better, they're the only team in the top five from the National League.
It's interesting that they're thought of so well because it looks because the Redbirds will likely give significant playing time to rookie Kolton Wong who essentially will replace 2011 World Series hero David Freese. They'll also likely start Peter Bourjos in centerfield. Bourjous, who only once has more than 181 at-bats in any of his four MLB seasons, is a career .251 hitter with a .306 on-base percentage.
Other concerns: Matt Carpenter had a record-setting season with 55 doubles. Isn't he due to have something of a return to earth season? What about the Redbirds' ridiculously high batting average with runners in scoring position? Can that be sustained?
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The best thing I see in the 2014 offense compared to the year before is the fact the Cardinals should have more depth in the lineup. While the middle of the order was great last season, there were times when Jon Jay was slumping and Pete Kozma disappeared that the last three spots in the order were almost automatic outs.
While it might be a lot to ask of Kozma to hit .300 in his first full season, it's likely he'll provide a lot more production than Kozma in the seventh or eighth spot. Bourjos, at the very least, will keep St. Louis from being forced to use lefty hitting Jay against southpaw pitchers.
Freese is gone, but his spot on the roster and in the batting order will be filled with Jhonny Peralta. While Peralta might not be the guy that we hoped Freese would be when he was tearing things up two years ago in the post season, he's certainly much more of a power threat than Freese was last season.
The Cardinals lose their best home run hitter of the last two seasons in Carlos Beltran. But they ought to have to wait for three-run bombs a whole lot less than they did in the past decade or so with Bourjos and Wong providing real stolen base threats for St. Louis for the first time in ages.