The baseball season has snuck up on us. Seems like just yesterday Cardinal nation was asking for John Mozilieak’s head after watching their former star prospect Randy Arozarena lighting up opposing pitchers on the biggest stage baseball has. What was once a mutiny has turned into a celebration of brilliance after obtaining Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies for Austin Gomber and some spare giveaways he found in a Memphis promotional closet. The Cardinals enter the 2021 season as the favorites to win the national league central. Depsite some injuries that have derailed the plans in the rotation this team should still have high hopes heading into the summer.
The Cardiansl finalized their 26-man roster today. While the mainstays were not in question a few decisions showed the direction the team is looking to go in this season. Most notably was the addition of 28-year old John Nogowski making his first opening day roster. Nogowski was a longshot coming into spring but his bat made him impossible to overlook. His 3:1 BB/K rate seems like an anomaly in today’s game, to compare it to a modern day player is impossible. In fact you there hasn’t been a player since Barry Bonds to put up that kind of ratio.
Nogowski will fill a role that is currently being held by Matt Carpenter. Carpenter’s spring was the complete opposite of his counterpart, getting one hit in 35 at bats. This is not just a veteran struggling to get going, this has become a recurring theme of the aging Carpenter. The organization understood that his time was up or else you likely don’t see the move to bring in Nolan Arenado and Nogowski likely doesn’t get a chance to make the team.
Tommy Edman will step right into the role vacated by gold glover Kolten Wong. He is a strong defender up the middle, but his bat will be his most important attribute. Edman will get the first shot at the leadoff spot, a part of the order that has been in flux for the last two seasons. Wong took over the role last year but was not able to be as effective as the Cardinals needed last season. Edman will be protected by arguably the best corner infield combination in all of baseball, he has to be able to get on base and force pitchers to throw to Arenado and Goldschmidt. If he does not improve on his .317 OBP the Cardinals will again find themselves looking for answers at the top of the order.
Paul Dejong is overrated. That is all I have to say about that.
Justin Williams will play a prominent role off of the bench as the lone left-handed bat outside of Carpenter on the bench. Williams brings the pop that is needed in late inning situations and he may see even more playing time with the injury to Harrison Bader. The outfield still has a few question marks, presumably it will be O’Neil in LF, Carlson in CF and whomever matches up best in right field. Sending down Lane Thomas made it clear that the Cardinasl will lean on Carlson to man center until Bader recovers.
The key to the outifled and potentially the entire lineup will be the emergence of Tyler O’Neil. O’Neil will be given the chance to play everyday and if he succeeds then this lineup will succeed. The power and speed he brings to the table is hard to match based on raw ability. Moving on from Dexter Fowler was an indication that the club thinks he is ready to break out. He will be tested early with teams not letting Arenado or Goldschmidt beat them, they will take their chance with O’Neil and he will make them pay.
St. Louis has had a lot of rotational depth in their system for a number of years and each one of those years it gets tested. The Cardinals will start 2021 with Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Kwang Hyun Kim all on the IL, Hudson will likely miss the entire season. The Cardinals will roll with Jon Gant and Daniel Ponce de Leon at the end of the rotation. Both solid major league arms, both having the same problem… they don’t eat up many innings. Ponce de Leon has averaged only four innings per start in his career and Gant, who was a former starter with the Braves is coming off multiple seasons primarily out of the bullpen.
St. Louis will have to rely on their bullpen to eat up a lot of innings early in the season. Most notably we should see a lot of innings from former first round pick Jake Woodford. He will be called upon in long relief roles in tight games. Genesis Cabrera, the power lefty picked up from the Rays will also likely see multiple innings of relief for each appearance. Both Cabrera and Woodford are young arms that haven’t dealt with the longevity of a full major league season. We will likely see a rotation of arms throughout the year. Guys like Johan Oviedo, Zach Thompson, Kody Whitley and Mathew Liberatore will all make appearances for the major league team. The Cardinal will have to rely on their depth of arms to make a run and luckily they have the guys to get them through the season. If they do need additional help their depth should allow them to make a move for a veteran arm at the trae deadline. One that could make a difference down the stretch.
The rotation will rely on Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright to be as great as they have shown over the last two seasons. Veteran Carlos Martinez is a wild card in this situation but his potential has shown through before and his usage of the cutter through spring training has made him more efficient and effective. The key to Martinez will be controlling his pitch count and his emotions. If he can do both he will be a nice fit behind the veteran and the ace.
The Chicago Cubs let most of their pitching staff go, the Brewers didn’t do enough to improve their offense, the Reds don’t seem to know what their direction is. The Cardinals will rely on their pitching depth and firepower in the middle of their order. They compare well in every facet of the game against all of their NL Central counterparts. If they get anything from Tyler O’Neil and Tommy Edman on offense they should be set. They could be on the market for a veteran starter at the trade deadline to consider themselves true contenders for an NL Championship but they should be the frontrunners to win their division.
Central Division Prediction
St. Louis Cardinals