These aren't your father's St. Louis Cardinals. Or even your older sibling's.
Even though the Cardinals won the N.L. Central in 2014 and have four straight postseason appearances including two in the World Series, they did not rest this offseason. Instead, they made key changes to both their starting lineup and rotation.
The biggest change is the addition of Jason Heyward, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves that sent Shelby Miller to Atlanta. The Cardinals figured they could replace Miller in the rotation with Carlos Martinez, and that Heyward would be a huge upgrade for their offense.
He will be, if he can regain the power that has mysteriously disappeared the last two years after he hit 27 home runs in 2012. He missed quite a bit of time in 2013, but when he returned to full-time play last year, he hit just 11 homers. Heyward is also in a walk year, so unless the Cardinals feel he's worth signing to an extension, this could be one-and-done for him in St. Louis.
The rest of the Cardinals lineup and rotation returns essentially intact. They've added Mark Reynolds as a backup at first base and third base. They'll be hoping Michael Wacha, who missed much of last year with shoulder issues, will return healthy and that John Lackey doesn't suddenly realize he's almost 37 and due to begin declining. Lackey had a pretty good 2014 and, due to an unusual clause in the contract he signed with the Red Sox, will be playing for $500,000 this year, saving the Cardinals a lot of money.
Former Angels closer Jordan Walden came over from the Braves in the Heyward deal and he'll be setting up for Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal posted 45 saves in 2014 but issued 42 walks in 70⅓ innings, a much larger total than you'd want from your closer.
Former Cub Carlos Villanueva is in Cardinals camp on a minor-league deal; obviously if he makes their team, the Cubs will see a lot of him. The Cubs and Cardinals will meet 19 times this year, including, of course, the national Opening Night game on April 5, when Jon Lester is expected to take the mound against Adam Wainwright . Wainwright won 20 games last year, and although that's no longer the benchmark it used to be, he's still one of the top starters in the game at age 33. Lifetime against the Cubs, Wainwright is 11-7 with a 4.09 ERA and 1.295 WHIP in 36 appearances (27 starts), though he's 8-1 in his career at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs' first visit to St. Louis is May 4-5-6-7, then the teams will meet again in late June in St. Louis, early July at Wrigley, and for two three-game sets in September. This year, unlike the last few, the games ought to be quite meaningful.