The St. Louis Cardinals come into the 2020 season with a target on their backs, as they are the defending National League Central champions. The condensed 2020 season will prove to be a challenge for the Redbirds, along with many other clubs in terms of managing pitching staff.
Another thing the Cardinals will be missing this season is the 40,000-plus fans that routinely pack Busch Stadium. In a loaded division that could see four playoff teams, the Cardinals will need to be at their best every night to keep pace with the other contenders in the NL Central.
St. Louis Cardinals 2019 Results
The Cardinals won 91 games after a mediocre first half en-route to their 11th division crown since 1996. The Cards won the NL Central by two games over the Milwaukee Brewers.
St. Louis were 44-44 at the All-Star break. They got it going in July with a record of 16-9, then were better in August at 18-9 as the Redbirds soared to the top of the standingsl.
Part of the resurgence was the plethora of games against division doormats Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Cardinals were a combined 26-12 against those teams.
The Division Series, the Cardinals and Braves traded wins in the first two games to set up a best-of-three scenario. In game 3, Carlos Martinez blew a save to give the Braves a 2-1 lead and two opportunities to close out the series.
At Game 4, the Cardinals won an extra-inning thriller to set up a winner-take-all Game 5 in Atlanta. In that one, the Cardinals set a postseason record by scoring 10 runs in the first inning on their way to an easy victory and a date with the Washington Nationals in the National League Championship Series.
The series with the Nationals was really over before it began. The Nationals threw Anibal Sanchez in Game 1 at Busch Stadium, and he responded by throwing seven no-hit innings in a 2-0 shutout.
The rest of the series was more of the same as the Cardinals’ offense was nonexistent. They managed just six runs in four games against the Nationals.
While the Cardinals’ season ended rather unceremoniously, they exceeded expectations. Most experts picked the Redbirds to finish third, and they responded by passing the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs.
St. Louis Cardinals Key Additions
One of the key additions for the St. Louis Cardinals was the signing of Korean pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim for two years and $8 million. The lefty will provide depth in both the rotation and bullpen.
Another move the Cardinals made was acquiring top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for outfielders Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena. Both of those outfielders played roles during the playoffs for the Cardinals, as Martinez was the team’s best hitter in the postseason.
The Cardinals also signed infielder Brad Miller, who played previously for the Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, and Seattle Mariners. In 2016 for Tampa Bay, he hit 30 home runs while driving in 81 runs.
He will provide depth for the Cardinals’ infield and possibly a designated hitter option.
Two of the biggest moves to boost the Cardinals may come from within. Third baseman Nolan Gorman and top prospect outfielder Dylan Carlson may be ready to make the jump to the big leagues, and when they do, the Cardinals will count on them to contribute offensively.
St. Louis Cardinals Big Losses
The biggest loss was cleanup hitter and left fielder Marcell Ozuna, who hit .243, but hadt 29 home runs and drove in 89 runs despite missing five weeks of the season due to a broken finger.
Ozuna declined the Cardinals’ qualifying offer of one year and $18 million to go to free agency where he expected a huge payday. What he got instead was the equivalent of the qualifying offer from the Atlanta Braves.
Another key loss will be closer Jordan Hicks, who had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and was expected to be ready to go shortly after the season begins at the end of the month. However, Hicks, who is a diabetic, decided to opt out of the season, citing the COVID virus and preexisting health conditions.
Hicks’ electric sinking fastball, which has been clocked at 105 MPH, will be sorely missed.
With the advent of the universal designated hitter for 2020, another big loss is Martinez. Martinez, who is not a flashy player on the defensive side, would have been a perfect designated hitter, particularly against left-handed pitching. Martinez hit .269 with 10 home runs in 334 at-bats in 2019.
St. Louis Cardinals Pitching
The Cardinals boast a solid starting rotation, which finished fifth in the major leagues a year ago with a 3.80 ERA. The rotation will be anchored by Jack Flaherty.
Flaherty was the best pitcher in all of baseball during the second half. Flaherty went 7-2 after limping to a 4-6 record in the first half.
His ERA was a microscopic 0.91 after the All-Star break, and he struck out 124 hitters while walking 23. The biggest difference was Flaherty’s ability to keep the ball in the park.
He allowed 20 home runs in the first half as opposed to five in the second half. Flaherty also had an almost illegal 0.72 WHIP after the break.
The second man in the rotation will be Dakota Hudson. Hudson was 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 2019. Hudson will need to cut down on the walks.
He led the majors with 86 free passes. He also needs to work on keeping the ball in the yard, as evidenced by the 22 home runs he allowed. However, he was tied for third in the league with his 16 victories.
Rotation stalwart Adam Wainwright will be penciled in entering his 14th season with the Cardinals, and many wonder if it will be his swan song.
He went 14-10 with a 4.19 ERA. More impressive was the fact that he made 31 starts. The extra time off should help Wainwright be strong and ready to go.
The rest of the candidates include Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, Kim, and Carlos Martinez, who closed games for the Cardinals after Hicks went down with his injury. The loss of expected third starter Miles Mikolas to arm surgery is troublesome.
Other than the loss of Ozuna to free agency, the offense remains intact. They will once again be led by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt hit .260 with 34 home runs and 97 RBI.
The rest of the lineup will feature right fielder Dexter Fowler, third baseman/designated hitter Matt Carpenter, second baseman Kolten Wong, catcher Yadier Molina, shortstop Paul DeJong, utility player Tommy Edman, center fielder Harrison Bader, and possibly left fielder Dylan Carlson.
There will not be many changes as far as lineup construction, but folks could see Wong at the top of the lineup after he had an on-base percentage of .361 a season ago. With the designated hitter being available, Carpenter will most likely be the DH the majority of the time to improve the team’s defense.
Perhaps the most valuable piece to this lineup is DeJong. DeJong made his first All-Star appearance in 2019, and while his batting average dipped in the second half, the power numbers were stellar for the shortstop position. DeJong hit 30 home runs and drove in 78 runs in 159 games.
If the Cardinals are going to have postseason success in 2020, the offense needs to be more consistent. They finished 23rdl in batting average, hitting the sixth-fewest home runs. However, St. Louis was third in the majors in stolen bases with 116.
Three Key Players
Flaherty is the most important player for the St. Louis Cardinals, not only in 2020 but beyond. Flaherty will be under the microscope while he tries to duplicate his insane numbers from the second half. he right-hander has the ability and the confidence to do just that.
Dylan Carlson is a wild card of sorts. He is being touted as the best prospect for the Cardinals since Albert Pujols. He will be in the St. Louis outfield at some point in 2020 because he is too talented not to be.
Yadier Molina is always going to be a key player for the Cardinals until he decides to quit playing, or leaves after his current contract is up. Matt Wieters is a fine backup, but the pitchers ascend to another level when Molina is throwing down the signs. They are comfortable with him, and he still has more than enough in the tank.
The St. Louis Cardinals have the good fortune of playing the Kansas City Royals six times, the Detroit Tigers four times and the Pittsburgh Pirates 10 times. By calculations, that is a third of their games against three of MLB’s doormats.
On the other token, the Cardinals also have to play Minnesota four times, Milwaukee 10 times, the Chicago Cubs 10 times, and the improved Cincinnati Reds 10 times.
According to betus.com, the Cardinals are one of the top 10 teams favored to win the World Series with a moneyline sitting at +2000. They are currently projected behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (+140), Atlanta Braves (+500), and Washington Nationals (+700) to win the National League pennant with a moneyline of +900.