Keeping up the UK fan season previews, here is White Hart Church with an excellent piece on his St. Louis Cardinals. Comment below and catch @RChurchill26 on Twitter, and follow these links to catch up on the rest of the series so far – Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers, Indians, White Sox, Mets, Rays, Phillies – and if you’re interested in writing about your favourite team, give me a shout.
For the first time in a decade, the Cardinals missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season, and as such, 2017 will only be looked upon with disappointment. Whilst there were some bright spots, such as the rise of Paul DeJong, Jose Martinez, and Luke Weaver, the season was marred by the failure of Randal Grichuk and Aledmys Diaz to live up to expectations, the confirmation of Wainwright’s decline, and the team’s decision to keep Mike Matheny on come the end of the year. To top it all off, the team worked out a trade with the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton that was then kyboshed by Stanton himself, which raised the ire of all Cardinal fans, and gave the rest of the baseball world a good laugh.
It is safe to say the minimum expectation for the Cardinals this, and indeed every season is to play in October. Yes, they play in the same division as the Cubs. Yes, the West could be even stronger this year in regards to a Wild Card race. Yet, fans of the Red Birds expect nothing less than playoff baseball, and should that not materialise, it is safe to say those expectations will shift to the firing of Mike Matheny.
With that in mind, the off-season went well. Ozuna is an addition of which nearly all MLB teams should be envious. He has the potential to be the best hitter to wear the Birds on the Bat since Albert Pujols left town, and will add a level of excitement to the lineup unseen for a few years. With Grichuk and Piscotty traded away, the everyday CF will be Tommy Pham, which means Dexter Fowler will be playing away from there for the first time in his career. 2017 breakout star Paul DeJong, who recently signed a six-year extension, has to cement his place as a reliable everyday guy, whilst we can definitely expect to see time split behind the plate as Carson Kelly continues his ascension as the heir apparent to everybody’s favourite Cardinal Yadier Molina.
The bullpen was unreliable throughout the year in 2017, but the addition of both Bud Norris and Luke Gregerson should ease that somewhat, although the latter’s entrenchment as the Opening Day ‘Closer’ was met with apathy from the fanbase. Should Alex Reyes return healthy and Brett Cecil keep his numbers on the course he found in the second half of last season, there is little to be worried out from the relievers. Despite the lack of a big name, their production will likely be good enough, unless Matheny manages the bullpen poorly… Surely not!
With Carlos Martinez settled in as the staff ace, the rotation is headed by an NL Cy Young candidate but will miss the ever-reliable Lance Lynn, whose status as a Free Agent remains somewhat baffling. Michael Wacha enters his fifth season needing to fill that hole of reliability, especially given the uncertainty that surrounds Adam Wainwright’s status. Wainwright will continue to be a starter for the club when healthy, and his spring numbers show a rise in his velocity, which isn’t tough given where it was towards the end of 2017 but to expect much from him is a tough ask. On the other hand, Luke Weaver put in a stellar stretch of tarts upon his call-up to the Majors, and he could easily become the staff’s number two guy by the end of the year, given his ability to turn out an electrifying start.
85-88 wins. PECOTA pegs the Cardinals for 85 wins, and that seems fair to me. An optimistic fan may see this as a low bar, and that isn’t unreasonable. A team is rarely better in its fans’ eyes than at the start of the year, and whilst it is very tough to predict a pennant, a race for a spot in the play-in game shouldn’t be out of the question.
Easy: Carlos Martinez. Should Martinez maximise his ability this season, we could all be in for a lot of fun as fans and viewers of baseball. As mentioned previously, he should be considered a contender for the Cy Young Award in the National League, and with that, he is the de facto team MVP.
One To Watch
Jose Martinez is an intriguing player on this team. He will see time as a fourth outfielder, as well as providing 1B cover. Martinez hit .309/.379/.518 over 300+ PAs in 2017 and is a crucial part of the team this term. It would be easy to say DeJong here, especially given his guaranteed spot in the lineup, but Martinez should feature prominently throughout the year, and could well contribute greatly.