The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals led the National League in runs scored by a large margin. The Cardinals were also first in the league in on-base percentage. Their offense helped power them to 97 wins, but there will be some significant changes to their lineup for 2014. This year, the offense will have a chance to be as productive as last year, but they will have to do so in a different way.
The Cardinals hit a record-setting .330 with runners in scoring position last year. It is unreasonable to expect that level of clutch hitting again, so the Cards will need to produce more runs by either blasting balls over the fence, or manufacturing more runs with savvy base-running and sacrifices.
The trade of the glacial David Freese for the speedy Peter Bourjos should help, as Bourjos is a threat to steal bases, something the Cardinals did not do last year (The Cards only stole 45 bases last year as a team). Also the inclusion of young Kolten Wong in the everyday lineup should result in more stolen bases. If either Bourjos or Wong, (or both) can get on base consistently at the top of the lineup, then they can take advantage of their speed and give the Cardinal offense a huge lift. Then the bat control of players like Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina can get them on the move and create more runs.
The Cardinals were third to last in the National League in home runs in 2013, so they need to improve in that area as well. The Cards did not re-sign slugger Carlos Beltran, but it was a calculated move because they expect a healthy Allen Craig to replace Beltran in the outfield, and Matt Adams to replace Craig at first. While Beltran paced the team last year with 24 home runs, Adams hit 17 with only a little more than half the plate appearances that Beltran had. A full season from Adams and a healthy Craig should more than make up for the departures of Beltran and a diminishing Freese.
The other boost in power should come from the shortstop position where the Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta. Peralta consistently reaches double digits in homers, and his power numbers should trump the output the Cards got last year from the Pete Kozma/Daniel Descalso platoon.
While the Cards led the Major Leagues in hitting with runners in scoring position, they were also second in the Majors in double plays grounded into. Just as the law of averages suggests that their batting average with RISP will go down, so too should the double plays. For instance, Matt Holliday had a career high in double plays grounded into, and the departed Freese was not far behind him. It will be interesting to see if the regressions of clutch hitting and double plays essentially cancel each other out.
The 2013 Cardinals had a unique season with a very one-dimensional offense. They were at the top of the league in on-base percentage, doubles and average with RISP. Meanwhile they were among the worst of the league in homers, stolen bases, and double plays grounded into. The 2014 Cardinals should provide a more balanced attack as they try to power some of those doubles into home runs, and take better advantage of their frequent base runners by running more aggressively. The Cardinals made personnel changes to their lineup that give them a good chance to improve their offense from last season, and that should be a scary thought for the rest of the National League.