It all starts Sunday night with the Cardinals visiting the Chicago Cubs.

I expect the National League Central to be the toughest division in baseball this year. I would not be surprised if everyone is still in contention after Labor Day.  And, I see the Cardinals are the favorite to repeat as division champions.  More on the division race in a day or two.Here's what I see as the Cardinals wrap up spring training...
Pitching. A rotation of Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Carlos Martinez isn’t bad. I’ll take my chances. Jaime Garcia may force his way in if his shoulder is sound. (Not necessarily counting on that) It’s a good sign when much of the spring training discussion is centered on three young, talented guys for the last spot in the rotation.  On a lot of teams, Garcia(pending health), Martinez and Marco Gonzales would be locks for the rotation.  There has been some turnover in the bullpen, but that is generally a good thing and the Cardinals have been very good at finding situational righties and lefties for over a decade. Having Marco Gonzales stashed in the Memphis pitching rotation is a good insurance policy against an injury in the rotation. Pitching should not be an issue.

Catching. Former Manager Tony LaRussa terms Yadier Molina the best defensive catcher in history.  Watching Molina behind the plate is a daily clinic on how to catch. Molina is also second to none in handling pitchers—especially young pitchers. He also virtually eliminates the running game.  Tony Cruz is developing.  There are places where he would be a good choice as the everyday catcher.

Infield. Not bad defensively although I’m a bit wary of Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. All he has to do is handle the routine stuff and be an average major league shortstop.

Outfield. Adding Jason Heyward upgrades the defense. Best defender in right field in a decade, maybe more.  If he hits like he did a few years back in Atlanta, he’s a huge improvement.   Matt Holliday keeps plugging away. Jon Jay is an average centerfielder in a town used to great center fielders.

Bench. This was the biggest weakness of the Cardinals in 2014.  Mark Reynolds and Randall Grichuk add an off-the-bench power threat that was virtually non-existent.  Pete Kozma becomes a huge upgrade if he hits above .250 for the season. Grichuk is a nice insurance policy against injuries anywhere in the outfield.

Batting order. It’s good that the Cardinal pitching was so good in 2014.   The batting order had some holes. There are some bright spots. I’m very happy with Matt Carpenter as the leadoff man.  He makes the pitcher pitch.  Carp made sure that he got a good ball to hit.  Jason Heyward appears headed for the #2 hole. He’s going to get good pitches to hit with Matt Holliday standing over in the on deck circle. Kolten Wong was a solid contributor once he got acclimated and got over that injury in early June.   I’m not worried by Wong’s spring.  Holliday still intimidates teams and Molina was productive.   Jon Jay must continue to get on base as frequently as he did in 2014.  I thought Peralta got too aggressive at times and he got himself out as a result with a lot of those swings.  The Cards could use some additional production out of Matt Adams.

Sure, this team has some flaws, but everyone else in MLB has some holes too.

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