In the This Is My Nightmare series, we'll take a look at what the absolute worst case scenario for each team would be in 2013. Think of it as the negative complement to our You May Say I'm A Dreamer series that we'll be running during our preview series.
The Cardinals have had the kind of recent success that makes thinking up of a nightmare scenario actually fairly easy. They've posted a winning record in each of the past five seasons, averaging over 88 wins a year. In fact, over the past 15 years, they've had just two losing seasons.
So, yeah, you guessed it — a St. Louis nightmare season would probably be a third losing season in 16 years.
After winning for so long, that kind of season might seem like a stretch, but maybe it isn't as far from reality as you'd think. All it may take is simply Father Time catching up to some of the team's biggest contributors.
Chris Carpenter, who's 38 this year, has already been lost for the season. Carlos Beltran turns 36 in April and isn't exactly known for his durability. Yadier Molina will be 31 in July, but is entering his 10th year of catching in the big leagues. It's also easy to forget that Matt Holliday is 33 and also entering his 10th year in the league.
Having a veteran team is nice for a lot of reasons — especially when you have a still-relatively-inexperienced manager like Mike Matheny — but durability is not one of them. The Cardinals have pieces like Oscar Taveras to plug a hole should one pop up, but if more than one does — or one at a bad spot, like what's already happened at shortstop — they could have trouble recovering.
As far as the pitching goes, a nightmare would likely involve a combination of Adam Wainwright still not quite getting back to the level he was at pre-Tommy John surgery and the young pitching not quite living up to the hype. Wainwright was worth 4.4 fWAR last season, which was good for 17th among all pitchers in baseball, but was a far cry from his WARs of 5.7 and 6.1 in 2009 and 2010 before the injury. The Cardinals don’t need him to be a Cy Young contender like he was those years, but if he doesn’t improve on last season, they’re going to need to rely on some guys further down in the rotation to step up.
After letting Kyle Lohse walk, the Cardinals are giving an opportunity to start to one of their highly-touted pitching prospects. Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal both have great stuff, but they’re also only going to be 22 and 23 years old this year, respectively. If they pitch up to their potential, the Cards are golden. If they pitch like 22 and 23 year olds, there’s going to be some ups and downs. If there are more downs than ups, suddenly the rotation doesn’t appear to be as deep as most people think it is.
Jason Motte has been close to automatic out of the bullpen since becoming the team’s (unofficial) closer during their 2011 World Series run. But don’t forget that up until that point, that team had some real issues closing out games. Things were looking dire for the team’s playoff hopes that season before the bullpen caught fire. What happens if Motte falters early in the year? After all, Ryan Franklin had a couple of good seasons, too, before seeing his entire career fall apart that year.
Admittedly, when you’re as deep as the Cardinals are and have the pedigree they do, it’s hard to envision all of those things going wrong. But there are still concerns here and there, and in a true nightmare season for a fanbase that’s grown accustomed to seeing a winner, those concerns would snowball.