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2019 St. Louis Cardinals preview

The+Cardinals%E2%80%99+dominance+for+the+past+decade+and+a+half+led+fans+to+both+surprise+and+disappointment+when+the+team+missed+the+playoffs+for+the+third+consecutive+season+in+2018.+Yeah%2C+88+wins+leaves+a+lot+to+be+desired.
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2019 St. Louis Cardinals preview

The Cardinals’ dominance for the past decade and a half led fans to both surprise and disappointment when the team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2018. Yeah, 88 wins leaves a lot to be desired.

The Cardinals’ dominance for the past decade and a half led fans to both surprise and disappointment when the team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2018. Yeah, 88 wins leaves a lot to be desired.

Hayden Davidson

The Cardinals’ dominance for the past decade and a half led fans to both surprise and disappointment when the team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2018. Yeah, 88 wins leaves a lot to be desired.

Hayden Davidson

Hayden Davidson

The Cardinals’ dominance for the past decade and a half led fans to both surprise and disappointment when the team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2018. Yeah, 88 wins leaves a lot to be desired.

Hayden Davidson, sports writer

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With the best Cardinals first baseman since Pujols and the best relief pitcher since Isringhausen, it’s a new era of baseball in St. Louis. Until 2018, the Birds on the Bat had not been excluded from the postseason three years in a row since the turn of the century. From 2004 to 2014, Cardinals fans enjoyed four World Series appearances as well as three additional trips to the National League Championship Series (NLCS). The Cardinals’ dominance for the past decade and a half led fans to both surprise and disappointment when the team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2018. Yeah, 88 wins leaves a lot to be desired.

But, Cards fans, have no fear, because Paul Goldschmidt is here. In a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Dec. 5, 2018, the Cardinals moved three young players and a draft pick to secure the first baseman, who is one of the game’s most consistent hitters. Since 2012, Goldschmidt is tied for the second-most wins above replacement (WAR) among position players, only behind Mike Trout, a future Hall of Famer. If he keeps up his pace for several more seasons, Goldschmidt may even reach Hall of Fame status himself.

Given his track record with the Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt will tremendously add to the lineup. But there was a significant, intangible aspect of the trade as well. What I see is belief from the Cardinals’ administration that this team can make a run to the playoffs this season. Goldschmidt fills a hole that the Cardinals have had since the days of Matt Holliday, or even Albert Pujols: a true number-three hitter. The front office made a worthy attempt to address that issue in December 2017 when the team hauled in star outfielder Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins. Ozuna was a notable pickup, but he underperformed in 2018 and did not push the Cardinals to the next level.

Cardinals logo courtesy of Flickr under the Creative Commons License

 

Strengths

Defense

The Cardinals ended up rock-bottom in the MLB last season in errors, the primary defensive statistic. The team made 133 errors in 2018, 12 more than any other team and more than twice as many as the team with the fewest (Houston Astros, 62). So how could defense possibly be a strength for St. Louis?

Well, every Cardinals fan is familiar with Yadier Molina’s defensive prowess. He won his ninth Gold Glove in 2018, the third-most for a catcher all-time. Kolten Wong isn’t a dynamic offensive player, but he seems to make a dazzling play every game. Wong led all second basemen in defensive runs saved (DRS) last year with 19, despite missing over 20 percent of the season due to injury. Harrison Bader is one of the fastest players in the game and resembles retired Cardinals’ Gold Glove center fielder Jim Edmonds in the outfield, often diving to make unbelievable catches. Slugger Marcell Ozuna doesn’t just hit, as he won a Gold Glove in 2017. Paul Goldschmidt has three Gold Gloves under his belt, and he is due for another this year after winning the award in 2013, 2015 and 2017. And finally, Paul DeJong is “sneaky good” on defense, according to manager Mike Shildt. DeJong was 10th among all MLB players in defensive WAR in 2018, as well as tied for third among shortstops with 14 DRS.

The bullpen

Keith Allison
Photo of Andrew Miller courtesy of Flickr under the Creative Commons License

The Cardinals’ other major transaction from the offseason was signing Andrew Miller, one of the game’s first-rate relief pitchers. The Cardinals brought him in on a two-year, $25 million contract in December. Miller reinforces the young core of the Cards’ bullpen, which includes Jordan Hicks, who consistently hits 100 miles per hour with his fastball, Dakota Hudson, who was promoted to the majors in the middle of last season and possibly Alex Reyes, who will shift to the bullpen if Adam Wainwright maintains his spot in the starting rotation. Carlos Martinez could potentially move to the bullpen, like he did last year, if his arm troubles affect his stamina.

The bullpen plays a pivotal role in determining a team’s playoff chances. According to FanGraphs, the top five teams in bullpen ERA last year all made the playoffs, while the Cardinals placed 20th in that category. The most critical piece will be Miller, who has recently struggled with injuries, but showed his importance to a team’s dynamic in 2016 as arguably the most valuable piece of the Cleveland Indians’ World Series run.

Veteran presence

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Ozzie Smith said, “When we say ‘Cardinal Way,’ we’re talking about fundamentals, the execution of fundamentals on a daily basis, playing the game the right way.” The La Russa and Matheny eras had a theme of fundamental, experienced teams that go by the book. The storyline in 2019 will be no different, as four of the eight starting position players are over 30 years old. Headline pitchers Andrew Miller and Adam Wainwright are 33 and 37, respectively.

The Cardinals will not blow teams out of the water with flashy, young talent. These guys have plenty of experience in the pros and that can be used as an advantage over rival teams.

 

Questions to consider

Will Dexter Fowler revive his career?

Photo of Dexter Fowler courtesy of Wikimedia under the Creative Commons License

Dexter Fowler cashed in on Dec. 9, 2016, when he received a five-year, $82.5 million contract to come to St. Louis. The deal came after Fowler had an All-Star campaign in which he was the leadoff hitter for the World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Fowler steeply declined in 2018, hitting for a pitiful .180 batting average. He has lost the speed he once had and is not the switch-hitting, top-of-the-order threat he was two years ago. As a fan of Fowler, I hope he gets back on track and earns the money his team is paying him. If not, Jose Martinez or Tyler O’Neill would be more than happy to occupy the starting right fielder spot.

Can Miles Mikolas continue to succeed in 2019?

Nobody within the Cardinals’ organization could have predicted how well top starter Miles Mikolas would perform throughout the 2018 season. The Cardinals signed Mikolas to a two-year, $15.5 million contract in December 2017. Mikolas previously played in Japan for three years after a short, unsuccessful stint in the MLB.

Mikolas received Cy Young Award consideration in 2018, in which he posted a 2.83 ERA and tied for a National League-best 18 wins. He received the nod Feb. 23 for the Opening Day start, though Mike Shildt said all five of the Cardinals’ projected starters were in the running for the honor. He did not show signs of slowing down last season, as he actually ended the year with a 2.14 ERA in a strong month of September. It is hard to project with a player like Mikolas, but Cardinals fans hope he can maintain his results from 2018.

What role will health play in the big picture?

The list of the Cardinals’ injury concerns is relatively long. Alex Reyes is coming off Tommy John surgery, which is always a serious matter. Marcell Ozuna underwent right shoulder surgery last October after dealing with throwing problems all season. Dexter Fowler fractured his foot in August. The aging Yadier Molina had a minor knee surgery this offseason. Flamethrower Carlos Martinez was shut down for two weeks due to lack of shoulder strength at the start of spring training in mid-February.

Injuries will always be a major part of the game, but the Cardinals endured more than their fair share last season. Consistency is key to a successful season, and guys rotating on and off the injury list means teammates have to adjust. Staying healthy will play a crucial role in the Cardinals’ 2019 campaign.

 

The verdict

Keith Allison
Photo courtesy of Flickr under the Creative Commons License

Cardinals fans should be excited for what’s to come in 2019. The players sure are. Matt Carpenter was pumped when he heard the news of the Goldschmidt trade, tweeting “Paul Goldschmidt! Ummm Yes please! let’s do this!! #ChristmasMiracle #cardinalnation.” Yadier Molina’s reaction? Sitting on a boat in Florida, he said, “Give me a beer!”

There is more to look forward to other than the Goldschmidt trade. It is Mike Shildt’s first full season as manager, and he impressed everybody with his showing during the second half of 2018. The pitching rotation will be no less than solid, with the ace Mikolas locked into a four-year extension, Michael Wacha returning from injury and a bright future to expect from Jack Flaherty.

The Cardinals should be respectable in all the major aspects of a team: hitting, starting pitching, relief pitching and defense. Having said that, it’s not outrageous to predict the Cardinals for a run to the Fall Classic. But the NL Central is the only division with three possible winners. Getting to the playoffs in probably the toughest division in baseball will be hard; delivering in the postseason, potentially against the Dodgers or Cubs, will be harder. The National League is stronger now than it has been in recent years, but so are the Cardinals, which is why TKC projects a World Series appearance for St. Louis. It’s impossible to predict exactly what’s going to happen, but whatever it is, it will be better than a meager 88 wins.

 

 

MLB logo courtesy of sportslogos.net

About the Contributor
Hayden Davidson, sports writer

Interests: Basketball and baseball player; sports and writing, or a combination of the two
Favorite quote: “It’s not a man purse. It’s called a...

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2019 St. Louis Cardinals preview