Regardless of the names on the 25-man roster when the St. Louis Cardinals break camp in a few days, I am hoping the individuals who make the team are more ready to compete than the members of the 2014 team were when the starting bell rang.
The Cardinals stumbled out of the gate in 2014 with a 15-14 record through the end of April and never seemed to gain momentum until the end of August. They barely squeaked into the post season on the last day of the schedule when they should have been able to dominate a weak division. Instead, the Birds stumbled to a slightly better than .500 record when they should have been building a division lead.
If not for a lousy start from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Redbirds may very well have been on the outside looking in when the playoffs began.
I think part of the problem may have been the unsettled situations at second base and centerfield. The Cardinals figured Mark Ellis would push rookie Kolten Wong at second, providing offensive spark whether he was penciled in the starting lineup or if he came off the bench.
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Meanwhile, Peter Bourjos was supposed to provide a speed element to the St. Louis offense as well as a much-needed right handed bat in a lefty-dominated lineup.
Unfortunately, Ellis started the season with an injury and never was able to get himself going at the plate. Meanwhile, Bourjos had trouble making contact -- much less hitting at an acceptable rate -- and lost his job three times to incumbent centerfielder Jon Jay.
When Oscar Taveras was called up to add some offense, seemingly before he was ready, he stumbled, too. The tension over the lack of production in right field eventually caused general manager John Mozeliak to deal away popular slugger Allen Craig. That further darkened the mood in the clubhouse.
The Cardinals had a lousy bench and a sputtering offense from the start. The players started pressing and, despite the eventually positive outcome, I can't remember a winning season with so much angst from the fan base.
Ellis is gone and Bourjos seems to have played himself onto the bubble with a weak spring performance so far. It remains to be seen if there will be a little roster turnover or a lot.
At least Mark Reynolds, who replaced Ellis as an extra infielder and bench bat, seems to enthusiastically embracing his role and his new team and the addition of Jason Heyward in right field is the best possible solution to the problem caused by the untimely death of Taveras in an off-season car crash.
Potentially with Randal Grichuk seizing an extra outfielder spot, the Birds have a chance to have a much more productive bench then they did last season. It will be nice if Reynolds and Grichuk are on the bench to keep opposing managers from constantly facing the Redbirds into lefty vs. lefty match ups late in games.
But it's up to the players to be ready to play at 100 percent as soon as the season starts, no matter their role.