That was Then...
The 2012 season was a new beginning for the Cardinals. They were the defending World Series Champions who lost Albert Pujols in the off-season a few short months after winning it all. Their manager Tony LaRussa also walked away, leading to the hiring of Mike Matheny.
The Cards spent some money and signed outfielder Carlos Beltran to help fill the void left by Pujols. They also had Adam Wainwright, who missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery, return to the rotation. Unfortunately, the club was without Chris Carpenter, who had a recurring nerve issue in his throwing shoulder and would be limited to only three starts at the end of the year.
The club also only had Lance Berkman, who had a monstrous 2011, for only 81 at-bats in 2012 due to knee and calf issues.
Unexpected performers like Kyle Lohse (16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts), Yadier Molina (22 home runs, .315 AVG) and Allen Craig (22 HR, .307 AVG in only 469 at-bats) along with the typical strong seasons from Matt Holiday and Beltran helped the Cardinals stay in contention in the Central until the Cincinnati Reds got rolling.
The Cardinals needed the newly-added second wild card to make the playoffs, where they defeated the Atlanta Braves in a one-game playoff. They then upset the Washington Nationals in dramatic fashion in Game 5 of the NLDS, before falling to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the NLCS.
...This is Now
The Next Big Thing?
After proving himself last season when injuries forced him into an everyday role, Allen Craig will be counted on to deliver the big hits in the middle of the lineup.
The Cardinals made some minor/bench additions to the club adding utility player Ty Wigginton. They also elected to not re-sign starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, who is still a free agent.
Unfortunately for the Cards, they have been dealt two significant injuries before the first pitch of the season is thrown. Shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal, who missed the last 44 regular season games as well as all 14 playoff games with an elbow injury had Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season, likely leaving Pete Kozma as the starter.
The other bad news for St. Louis is that Chris Carpenter, who returned in September and pitched in the playoffs, is once again dealing with nerve issues in his shoulder and could cost him his career.
On the positive side, the club should be dangerous offensively with Allen Craig, fresh off a five-year contract extension set to play a full season, with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and David Freese.
On the starting pitching front, the Cardinals will look to replace the production of the departed Lohse with rookie hurler Shelby Miller. Jason Motte, who posted 42 saves for the club last year, returns to anchor the ninth inning.
The Cardinals have shown year after year that they are a resilient club that can withstand injuries and departures of their star players because of their depth, and while the club should still finish the 2013 season above .500, they'll be in a dog fight to secure a wild card spot in a talent-heavy National League.
Every year, we look for players 26-years-old or younger that could make an impact on their team in the upcoming season. The player might have already established himself with a regular role with the team, or he could make their mark later on in the season.
Past Picks: 2012 - Shelby Miller, 2011 - Jaime Garcia, 2010 - Colby Rasmus, 2009 - Chris Perez, 2008 - Yadier Molina, 2007 - Chris Duncan, 2006 - Anthony Reyes, 2005 - Rick Ankiel, 2004 - Adam Wainwright, 2003 - Mike Crudale
The 2011 World Series champions begin the season ranked out of the top 5.
The steady and dangerous Matt Holiday is the highest ranked Cardinal at 29th overall.
LF Matt Holliday may not be the sexiest pick, but when he stays healthy, he's good for 25 homers, 100 RBI and an average hovering around .300. Take that bland production in the second or third round and count yourself lucky to have a lineup building block.
C Yadier Molina, after busting out offensively last year, is now a top tier catcher (for fantasy, he's always been top tier defensively) and 1B Allen Craig raked (22 HR, 92 RBI, .307 AVG) in 469 at-bats last season.
RF Carlos Beltran can still do it and 3B David Freese is above average too.
Ace starter Adam Wainwright should be better, another year removed from Tommy John surgery, and young starters Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia are already solid, but have potential to be even better.
With a strong team around him, closer Jason Motte has a chance to challenge the 42 saves he had last season, leading the NL.