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Early Season St. Louis Cardinals Storylines to Follow

Posted Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 5:33 PM

Considering another Cardinals Chat at 9 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, April 2). Log on around that time and see if we're on. It depends mostly on when election results are in and I can migrate from one place to another. CN

With the regular season now in full swing, there are always more dynamics at play than can be seen on the surface. The St. Louis Cardinals certainly have their fair share of hidden storylines.

Whether it's position battles or players avoiding injury, sometimes the underlying stories in baseball are more crucial than the box score.

This year will be no exception.

With major storylines already surrounding MLB regarding division realignment, designated hitters and even expanded replay in the future, it's easy to miss some of the interesting scenarios that can follow a team.

The Cardinals had a lot of questions in 2012. Would Shelby Miller make his debut? How would Mike Matheny do in his rookie season as manager? Will the Cardinals stay afloat after the loss of Albert Pujols?

Most of those questions had answers that Cardinals fans liked.

Will 2013 turn out the same way?

Here is a list of storylines to follow about the Cardinals throughout the season.

How Will Shelby Miller Do in His First Season as a Starter?

Cardinals fans have been waiting to see Shelby Miller in the majors for several years now. In 2012, they got their chance.

Now, in 2013, they'll get to see his full potential.

Having just earned the fifth starter position, the team will be able to see how he handles the long season and better competition than he saw in the minor leagues.

Miller has the ability to become a top of the rotation starter, but had some difficulty gaining confidence in his off-speed pitches.

Can Pete Kozma Become the Shortstop of the Future?

When shortstop Rafael Furcal went down in 2012, Pete Kozma stepped up and played a major role in getting the Cardinals to the National League Championship Series.

Now that Furcal is going to have Tommy John surgery, Kozma is expected to fill that same role over an entire season.

Defensively, he should be fine. If he's able to keep his batting average up in at least the .280 range, he could be a pleasant surprise for the Cardinals.

Kozma, who in early 2012 was likely nearing the end of his stint in the Cardinals farm system, now has a chance to prove that he's worthy of a permanent spot on the major league roster.

However, does he have the ability to convince the Cardinals they don't need to look outside of the organization for a long-term shortstop?

Can Mitchell Boggs Cut It as Closer?

With Cardinals closer Jason Motte out due to elbow inflammation, the closer role will fall on the shoulders of Mitchell Boggs.

Boggs served as an extremely reliable setup man in 2012. He finished the season with a 2.21 ERA and surrendered only 18 earned runs.

He has the raw talent to make it as a big league closer, but his 14 ninth inning appearances in 2012 left a lot to be desired. In that role, he posted a 5.79 ERA (compared to 1.98 in the eighth inning) and gave up six of his 18 earned runs.

If he can handle the job as closer, then the Cardinals should be fine. But if he struggles, it could be difficult to stay afloat in Motte's absence.

However, assuming Motte returns soon, there should be little reason to worry anyhow.

What Can Allen Craig Do in a Full Season?

Having recently signed first baseman Allen Craig to a five-year $31 million extension, the Cardinals now have something else they expect to see from him: an injury-free season.

Craig has raw talent and is a legitimate threat at the plate. He's also able to fill-in in the outfield and is a good defender.

The only concern is that Craig has never played 120 games in one season. In only 119 games in 2012, Craig hit .307 with 92 RBI and 22 home runs. Theoretically, he could raise those numbers, which are already impressive, by as much as a third.

While the Cardinals offense is solid, they will still need Craig to be in the lineup everyday to fight off the Cincinnati Reds as they battle for the NL Central title.

How Far Will Mike Matheny Take His Team in His Sophomore Effort?

Rookie manager Mike Matheny couldn't have asked for a better 2012 season. To take his team to within one win of the World Series in his first season makes a serious statement about his ability.

And it also raises expectations.

Despite the loss of Kyle Lohse, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal, Matheny still has a solid team. The bullpen and offense are quite strong.

While a few questions surround the rotation, they do have the needed depth to address a problem or two.

The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals should be able to weather a a few storms, but can Matheny get them to where they were last year?

Just as players need time to develop, so do managers. Expect to see a lot of attention paid to his managing style as he continues to grow into the position.

Can Matt Carpenter Handle Second Base?

When Matt Carpenter agreed to learn second base following the 2012 season, no one knew what to expect.

He's a workhorse capable of hitting .300-plus and having his bat in the lineup every day could be a difference-maker for the Cardinals .

All the Cardinals need from him defensively is an average glove stat because his bat can pick up the slack. He's looked good up the middle during Spring Training, but the real test comes when he takes the position in actual MLB games.

There's also the possibility that he could give Kolten Wong some competition for 2014.

When Will Oscar Taveras Arrive?

This is the million dollar question for most Cardinals fans in 2013.

The Cardinals top prospect put on a good show during Spring Training and didn't get cut until after the final game. The Cardinals wanted to get a feel for how he has progressed defensively, while at the same time putting him up against some major league pitching.

There's little doubt that he could handle major league competition already, but with Carlos Beltran still on the roster it would be difficult for him to find consistent at-bats.

But for Taveras to spend some time working with Beltran would be good for his continued development. So I don't see him to spending very long with Triple-A Memphis.

Expect to see him in St. Louis sooner rather than later.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Here comes the Jaime collapse...

-- Posted by John Unterreiner on Tue, Apr 2, 2013, at 9:06 PM

I think the Cardinals may move Beltran at the trading deadline.

-- Posted by Dustin Ward on Tue, Apr 2, 2013, at 10:10 PM

That depends on what we get back for him. Teams don't pay as much for rental players as they used to

-- Posted by Bunk on Wed, Apr 3, 2013, at 12:11 PM

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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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