I don’t need to remind you that, before being knocked out of the playoffs in October, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates were the two best teams in baseball last season.
The former finished with a cool 100 wins, while the latter finished just two wins shy of that mark. They both had dangerous offenses and some of the best pitching in the league. It’s a shame they made such an early playoff exit … he said slyly.
Although neither team did much to improve for 2016, most pundits continue to hold them in high regard, based on the indisputable success of their 2015 seasons. The Cardinals, especially, seem to be getting the extra slack/longer leash, but I’m not sure if it’s entirely right. As I put it recently on Twitter:
Not unlike Cardinals, Pirates feel more like the 82-84 win team of their stat. projections (Depth Charts/PECOTA), than a true top tier team.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) February 17, 2016
Indeed, while the writers and analysts around the league continue to believe that both teams will come close to repeating their dominant 2015 seasons, the statistical projections systems do not.
Similarly, when FanGraphs released its initial Projected Standings for 2016, the Pirates and Cardinals didn’t fare quite as well as I suspect many had come to hope. At 84 wins apiece, both the Pirates and Cardinals were once again projected to miss the playoffs, falling behind the Wild Card slots taken by the Giants (85 wins) and Mets (85 wins).
The projections, you see, underscore the various questions both teams are facing in 2016, and it would seem that each teams’ various beat writers are beginning to take notice.
In an article for the St. Louis Post, Derrick Goold address 10 Spring Questions for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. Among the more notable – or, let’s say, worrisome – questions in the list, Goold wonders who will play first base, who will lead off, if Yadier Molina (and several others) can make a significant return from injury, and where the Cardinals will find their power. There are answers to some of these questions, and it’s never smart to bet against the Cardinals, but they are facing some serious issues heading into 2016.
All in all, I wouldn’t expect the NL Central to be a cake walk for the Cubs, but these rivals do come with some serious questions for 2016. In a lot of ways, they are completely different teams than they were last year, with a whole new set of issues to overcome. Riding the success of 2015, alone, will not be enough.