Quick, tell me which team won the most games in the 2015 MLB regular season? That would be the St. Louis Cardinals, but they don't look likely to repeat. Let's review the MLB future odds.
St. Louis finished 100-62 last season -- 81-81 ATS on MLB odds -- and won the majors' toughest division these days, the National League Central, for a third straight year. It marked the ninth 100-win season in franchise history and the first by any team in MLB since the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies. It was the fifth straight season the Cardinals made the playoffs. Alas, the year ended on a sour note as the Cardinals were fairly well dominated in a four-game NLDS loss to the arch-rival Chicago Cubs, the first-ever playoff meeting between those teams.
That the Cardinals had so much success was rather surprising because of so many injuries -- but it also speak to how well that organization is run and how good the farm system was at one point.
Projected ace Adam Wainwright was lost in April to a torn Achilles' injury that cost him nearly the rest of the season. He was able to pitch only 28.0 innings. Fellow starter Carlos Martinez faded late in the year due to injury and wasn't available for the postseason. Star outfielder Matt Holliday was limited to 73 games and lost all his power with a scant four home runs. First baseman Matt Adams played in just 60 games. All-Star catcher Yadier Molina also missed a chunk late in the season with a thumb problem and wasn't the same in the playoffs.
On the bright side, Michael Wacha largely pitched like an ace with 17 wins. John Lackey turned back the clock and led the team with a 2.77 ERA. Martinez looked like a future perennial All-Star with his 14 wins and 3.01 ERA. Closer Trevor Rosenthal set a team record with 48 saves. Young position players Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk showed they might be future regulars and maybe better. Jason Heyward led the team in WAR and played Gold Glove defense in the outfield. Matt Carpenter set a career high with 28 homers.
The Cardinals are somewhat like the Green Bay Packers in football -- perhaps that's not a coincidence in that the Packers are considered the best football town in the NFL as the Cardinals are the best baseball town in MLB. How I mean that is the Cardinals (like Packers) rarely wildly overspend in free agency and prefer to build from within or through trades.
This offseason was unusual, however. The Cards wanted to re-sign Heyward and offered him more than the Cubs did. Yet Heyward went north because he was worried about the Cardinals' aging corps. St. Louis also was in on the bidding for the No. 1 free-agent pitcher on the market, David Price. But the Red Sox blew everyone out of the water for him. Thus the only major additions were starting pitcher Mike Leake, infielder Jedd Gyorko, catcher Brayan Pena, reliever Jonathan Broxton and Japanese League reliever Seung Hwan Oh.
A starter was a dire need because Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA) also decided to sign with the Cubs and Lance Lynn, who was 12-11 with a 3.03 last season, will miss the 2016 campaign due to Tommy John surgery. Leake was 11-10 last season with a 3.70 ERA between the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. He's nothing special but is durable and will give the Cards six innings a night. The rotation now will be Wainwright, Wacha, Martinez, Leake and Jamie Garcia, who was very good in 2015 but has major injury history. The bullpen, once again anchored by Rosenthal, should be a strength.
The lineup will look similar, except for losing Heyward and depending on the health of Molina. He had to have a second thumb surgery after the season and might not be ready for Opening Day. Pena is his backup. So when Molina is good, the infield will be the same: Adams at first, Kolten Wong at second, Jhonny Peralta at short and Carpenter at third. Piscotty and Grichuk will man two starting outfield spots next to Holliday, who seems to be trending downward. Brandon Moss will fill in at first base or a corner outfield spot as well. Gyorko provides depth at second and short.
The Cardinals were 24th in runs last year and that was with Heyward. In my mind, the offense looks worse. Can Piscotty and Grichuk be as good as they were as rookies or will the league figure them out? Can Molina and Holliday stay on the field? The rotation looks solid but not great. The bullpen should do its job. The pitching staff led the majors in ERA last year and might have to carry the load again. Right now, this is the third-best team in the NL Central and maybe seventh-best in the NL. The Cardinals are +700 on MLB odds to win the pennant. I project around 85 wins and no playoffs for my MLB picks.