(AP) – John Mozeliak watched how the St. Louis Cardinals were galvanized following a managerial change midway through last season, then made a spirited run toward the playoffs that came up just short.
He decided a couple of pieces were all it would take to push the Cardinals over the top.
Welcome to St. Louis, Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller
The longtime Diamondbacks slugger arrived in one of the marquee trades of the offseason, and one of the top relievers in baseball arrived as a free agent. Together with a returning core that made huge strides under skipper Mike Shildt, the Cardinals believe they have the pieces to contend with the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers in what should be a stacked National League Central.
“In the offseason, we feel like we did the things we needed to put a successful club out on the field,” said Mozeliak, the team’s president. “We knew we just couldn’t have a stagnant offseason. We knew we had to make some changes to our club because even though we felt we had a good team last year, we still weren’t good enough.”
Goldschmidt got off to a slow start last season but went on a tear in June, and he wound up with the same kind of consistently stellar numbers that he put up with the Diamondbacks.
He joins a lineup that includes Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong, who combined for 76 homers last season. Throw in third baseman Matt Carpenter and the Cardinals have the ability to score plenty of runs with very few swings of the bat.
“I’m ready to go. Let’s do this,” said Carpenter, who is moving from first base to clear space for Goldschmidt. “I mean, I’ll play wherever to accommodate that.”
The starting rotation took a hit this spring when Carlos Martinez experienced shoulder trouble that could keep him out well into the season. But with Miles Mikolas coming off a breakout year, Jack Flaherty posting huge strikeout numbers and veterans in Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright, there is enough depth in the starting rotation to keep the Cardinals in games.
Miller and the bullpen are expected to take it from there.
There are plenty of questions, of course. Will outfielder Dexter Fowler bounce back, especially after a less-than-inspiring spring? Can the young arms live up to the hype? Will the Cardinals continue to respond to Shildt now that he’s in charge for a full season?
The season opener is March 28 at Milwaukee.
MORE ON DEX
Fowler is expected to start in right field, but he might be on a short leash after hitting .180 last season. He dealt with injuries and is finally healthy, but his Grapefruit League numbers hardly reflected it.
“We’re clearly committed to Dex,” Shildt said. “He’s in a real good spot.”
Ozuna arrived in St Louis on the heels of back-to-back All-Star selections, but he produced a solid if unspectacular season. He hit .280 with 23 homers and 88 RBIs, but they weren’t near the 37 homers and 124 RBIs he produced in his final season in Miami.
One of the unsung heroes of last year’s run was Flaherty, who struck out 29 percent of opposing batters during his rookie year. The only other rookies to log those kinds of numbers have been Dwight Gooden (1984), Hideo Nomo (1995) and Kerry Wood (1998). Now, can the 23-year-old Flaherty translate those numbers into wins? He was 8-9 with a 3.34 ERA in 28 starts last season.
Goldschmidt and Miller are a pretty good place to start. Both will shoulder huge expectations, a byproduct of their track records of success. The 34-year-old Miller was an All-Star two years ago in Cleveland, and he had a 4.24 ERA in 37 appearances last season.
“I think with the additions of Paul and Andrew and really thinking about the health of the club as well and the depth we have on the pitching side and our everyday club, we feel like we’re going to be competitive team,” Mozeliak said.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Keep an eye on right-hander Dakota Hudson, who was solid in relief last season. The injury to Martinez coupled with Wainwright’s age could give him an opening in the rotation. Otherwise, his solid ability to induce groundballs will continue to play well out of the bullpen.