St. Louis Cardinals Season Outlook

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 Infield

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.  

The Outfield

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. 

The Arms.

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.  

Conclusion

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

Milwaukee Brewers

Chicago Cubs

Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Cards future is based on Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter sucked in 2019.  I wanted to come up with a more sophisticated way of saying that but as a Cardinals fan and a baseball fan there are really no other words that encapsulate the horrible season the Cardinals third baseman had.  He stunk, he knew and we knew it.

An MLB player having a regression year happens, pitchers begin to understand how to pitch to him or an injury slows them down.  The regression level Carpenter saw when compared to 2018 though was astronomical. You may call it Dexter Fowler-esque.

WAR WRC+ ISO SLUG

2018- 5.0 2018- 141 2018- .266 2018- .523

2019- 1.2 2019- 95 2019- .166 2019- .392

Analytics driven stats destroy Carpenter..  The acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt was made to solidify the middle of the order behind Carpenter.  Carpenter, well known for starting the season slow, started about as slow as you can possibly start.  Starting the season hitting just .204 along with a .328 OBP during the first month and a half of the year.  Things didn’t get much better for Carp as his struggles forced the organization to move Carpenter from the top of the order.

The point is, Carpenter sucked last year.  There are no ways around it. Entering his age 34 season Carpenter’s regression seems real.  The scariest stat is his 12% walk rate in 2019. Carpenter was known for his ability to get on base and that took a huge hit last season dropping his OBP a staggering 40 points!  St. Louis needed Carpenter to step up his power in 2018 so a likely regression from 2017 OBP was going to happen. His approach at the plate changed and he has not been able to get back to where they need it to be.  

The question is which Carpenter are they going to get enteing 2020?  A change in his swing is the early story of spring training so hopefully he can regain his batting eye.  Being locked into a contract that is going to pay him $18.5 million over the next three seasons will force him into the order.   He has to retool his approach at the plate, find that batting eye that forced opposing pitchers to put the ball over the plate and allow him to extend and drive the ball. If he bounces back to even a shadow of the player that became a cornerstone in the lineup from 2012-2018 the Cardinals will be able to wait on the further development of their young players.  

Carpenter’s role on the Cardinals will be an interesting case in how the season will develop.  If he continues to struggle the organization will be forced to play Tommy Edman more at 3rd base which would most likely lead to more playing time for Lane Thomas in the outfield.  If they go another route the Cardinals could be forced to push Dylan Carlson up whether they believe he is ready or not. I am a believer in waiting for the development of minor league talent.  In today’s baseball world patients is not a virtue. Talented players are put into positions to sink or swim. The players that swim, jump straight into the limelight of the profession. The Cardinals giant marketing push of Harrison Bader heading into 2019 was an example of a team that saw a spark in a young player and rode with it.  That didn’t work out very well, which could halt the organization from pushing the talented Carlson to the big club. 

The Cardinals didn’t add Anthony Rendon or Nolan Arenado to the team due to the fact that they had Carpenter written in at 3rd base in permanent marker.  A team that should be looking to always be moving forward has shown an inability to move on from players and coaches that have impeded the growth of the organization.  Carpenter’s play will be the biggest factor to determine the success and direction of the franchise for the next three years. While I hope he is successful, I’m not going to hold my breath.