The State of Cardinal Nation 2014

My fellow Cardinal fans,

Two years ago in this space (before the redecorating), I came before you and said the state of Cardinal Nation was strong.  With another State of the Union speech behind us, one that again did not reference Adam Wainwright‘s curveball or the otherworldliness of Yadier Molina, it falls to me to say to you one simple thing.

Today, strong is an understatement.

The Cardinals are just one simple victory away from having played in the last three World Series. They have a front office that continues to amaze.  They are overflowing with young, quality, homegrown talent.  There are no gaping holes or obvious needs.  And, for once, the fanbase is fairly unified on the issues.

Yes, this is a great time to wear the red.

We have seen strong leadership in the persons of Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak, people who have a burning desire to win but do not let that desire lead them into rash moves.  Mozeliak has earned a reputation as a smart and savvy GM with an almost magical ability to get things done.  When the Cardinals went into this offseason with one gaping hole and one spot that could use some improving, fans expected some of the good young players to be shipped out of town.  Instead, Mo was able to do that with a free agent signing and a trade that not only kept all of his stable of prospects but brought in another as well.

Somewhere, a Phillies fan weeps.

While some teams wonder who will take the mound for Opening Day, we debate who could be the #8 starter.  The depth of young, quality pitching is so deep that St. Louis turned Trevor Rosenthal into a closer even though he’d be a #2 starter on a lot of squads.  And all Rosenthal has done has thrown 20 scoreless innings in postseason play.

Wainwright is the ace that most teams would love to have, a perpetual Cy Young candidate.  Behind him is a slew of young guys that can have outstanding years if they just do what they’ve been doing.  If they build on that, it could be incredible.

How many other pennant-winning teams then get stronger with a solid pitcher returning from surgery?  With all the talk of Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha we can easily forget about Jaime Garcia.  Yet he brings a talented left-handed presence to the group and will make the spring training competition for rotation slots must-see-TV.

A strong rotation is one thing.  However, if you don’t have a bullpen to back it up, it’s almost worthless.  That’s something the Cardinals don’t have to worry about.  While many in the rotation could go seven or eight innings, there is no need to with a bullpen that could feature Kevin Siegrist, Jason Motte and Rosenthal in the late innings.  It becomes even more dominating if the club decides to put Carlos Martinez out there instead of stretching him out in Memphis or having him in the big league rotation.

Just think about that for a moment.  Would you want to bat in the eighth or ninth, knowing those flamethrowers are out there?  Democrat or Republican, we can all agree nobody is going to be chomping at the bit to face these guys with the game on the line.

Pitching may win pennants, but you can’t win if you don’t score.  There’s no need to choose between these baseball aphorisms.  We follow a team that can do both.

The state of the offense might be best summed up with the following.  Oscar Taveras is the third-best prospect in baseball and very likely is ready for the big leagues, but odds are he won’t crack the club.  With strong outfielders such as Matt Holliday and Allen Craig and a slugging first baseman in Matt Adams, Taveras would likely be a bench bat if he did make the club.  There are not many teams that could say that.

With the signing of Jhonny Peralta, all of the offensive holes seem to be filled.  We have to wait and see how Kolten Wong develops, but his minor league history indicates he’ll be slashing line drives before you know it.  Peter Bourjos might not be much of a bat, but his glove will make up for it.  I know, I know, we said that about Pete Kozma last year.  However, Bourjos’s bat is light years better than Kozma’s, so that’s a comparison that doesn’t hold much water.

Fans sometimes like to propose trades where the excess of their club is shipped off for a desired player to fill a hole on the squad.  While I’m sure that still goes on in some corners of the fanbase, perhaps in that slightly questionable section of Cards Talk, the fact is that there are no real holes to plug.  If you were to ship off some of the abundance of pitching, where would it go?  What would it go for?  When you struggle to answer those questions, you know your team, and by extension the state of Cardinal Nation, is in extremely good shape.

Look back over the past offseason.  What were the major controversies?  Peralta was an issue when he signed, given his past PED use.  Other than that?  What logo Tony La Russa would or wouldn’t wear upon his induction to the Hall of Fame.  That’s it, people!  When your offseason boils down to arguing about bronze representations, you are straining to find nits to pick.

There’s no doubt that we are blessed to be Cardinal fans.  That’s the case every day, of course, but more so during this extended run of quality.  Mike Matheny has not missed a bit in taking over for that Hall of Fame manager and, while few would agree with every decision he makes, there’s no clamoring for him to find a new place to work.  Matheny’s calm presence has been a great asset to the club and means that there’s never any embarrassment with him leading our favorite squad.

Does that mean that there is completely smooth sailing?  Of course not.  The Cardinals will be beset by outside foes this year.  The Pirates will challenge them again for the divisional crown, the Dodgers and Nationals (among others) for the right to go to the World Series.  It seems improbable that everyone will stay completely healthy.  There will be challenges, that I can assure you.

As someone once said, “I’d rather be rich than poor. I’m going to have problems anyway, so at least I’d be rich with problems.”  St. Louis is indeed rich and in a better position to deal with their problems than many other squads.  That richness means that Cardinal Nation stands stronger than most any time in its history.

It is always good to be a Cardinal fan.  Right now, though, it’s better than ever.

Please remember two things.  One, pitchers and catchers will report in three weeks.  Our long national winter nightmare is just about over.  Two, you can register your voice in how you feel Cardinal Nation is going in our approval ratings.

Baseball is coming and so are the Cardinals.

Thank you and good afternoon.

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