It’s been back-to-back seasons without a postseason appearance for a St. Louis Cardinals team that had been a perennial contender with five straight postseason berths and three consecutive NL Central titles.
Cardinals fans had grown spoiled and have been getting restless with the team’s perceived inactivity. Last season, the team’s biggest holes were in the bullpen and the middle of the batting order. St. Louis added Marcell Ozuna to address the second issue, but the bullpen is still an area of concern.
In the Cardinals’ most recent hay-day, they thrived on excellent pitching and defense. The pitching and defense both struggled at times last year. Both will need to be better to unseat the Cubs in the NL Central, or even have a chance at a Wild Card in a top-heavy National League.
2017 Record: 83-79
2017 Moneyline Record: -8.74 Units
2017 Over/Under Total Record: 81-73-8
Current Odds To Win NL: +1111
Current Odds To Win NL Central: +500
Regular Season Win Total: 85.5
St. Louis added Dexter Fowler as the main addition last year. Marcell Ozuna is the biggest piece in 2018.
Fowler turned out to be a strong addition to the lineup, batting .264 with a .363 OBP and a solid 122 OPS+ while providing strong defense. He, however, pushed Matt Carpenter down in the order to a run producing role and the infielder didn’t thrive in that position.
Once again, Carpenter seems ticketed for the middle of the order with Fowler and fellow outfielder Tommy Pham at the top of the lineup.
Fowler had a strong year, but Pham led the Cardinals in OPS+, homers and several other categories. The then-29-year-old proved to be a late bloomer posting a .306/.411/.520 slash line with 23 homers, 25 steals and 95 runs scored in 128 games played.
Between Fowler, Pham and Ozuna, the Cardinals now have a formidable outfield that can stack up with any in the game. All three can play center, giving the team plenty of range in addition to the bats.
As for Ozuna, he’s the 35+ home run threat in the middle of the order that the team needs. Pham and Fowler are strong top of the order hitters while Carpenter is much the same. Carpenter’s power production has been going up and his average down, but he’s still a high-OBP hitter who has refocused on contact in the offseason. With that trio at the top, Ozuna in the cleanup spot and then several solid bats in Paul DeJong, Jedd Gyorko, Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong in the 5-8 spots this is a deep lineup capable of doing damage throughout the order.
The offense looks as deep has its been in years. The biggest questions are whether Pham and DeJong can repeat breakout seasons. St. Louis is counting on it.
Given a strong offense, the Cardinals will go as far as the pitching will take them. That includes both the starting pitching and the bullpen. Last year, the Cardinals’ starters were sixth in the NL in ERA at 4.13. The bullpen ERA ranked fourth at 3.81, but produced 29 losses as the late game options were hit-or-miss.
In 2018, the starting rotation holds plenty of promise. Adam Wainwright is back as the veteran presence. The former ace saw his ERA jump to 5.11, but he still put up a 12-5 record in his 24 games. While wins and losses are largely a team driven stat, there are some guys that just know how to win. Wainwright is one of those guys. He manages to get just enough out of what he has any given day to keep his team in the game. The Cardinals are banking on that again, even if he’s no longer the Cy Young Award contender he once was.
On to the higher-upside arms, Carlos Martinez is an ace. Martinez was 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA and 3.91 FIP in 205 innings pitched over 32 games. His numbers last year were a downgrade over the previous two when he had a 3.04 and 3.01 ERA respectively. He’s a career 3.42 ERA pitcher in nearly 700 innings of work. He’s as reliable as they come and at 26-years old, he’s got more upside.
Speaking of upside, Luke Weaver pitched brilliantly in his chance last year. He pitched in 13 games, 10 starts, and was 7-2 with a 3.88 ERA and even better 3.17 FIP. He limited walks and struck out 72 in 60.1 innings of work. He should be a solid mid-rotation arm—if not more—in a full season.
The rest of the rotation will be filled out by Michael Wacha and Mile Mikolas. With Lance Lynn gone, Wacha and Mikolas will need to fill in for the ultra-consistent Lynn. Wacha produced well enough in 2017 with a 4.13 ERA in 30 starts, but was up-and-down. He’s been working to improve his breaking ball which will be needed if he’s to take a step forward. As for Mikolas, he pitched well in Japan the last couple years, but must transition back to the Major Leagues were he never really found success.
In the bullpen, the Cardinals are counting on Luke Gregerson to be the team’s closer. He’s closed from time-to-time in the past, but is a middle-reliever at this stage of his career. He’s going to turn 34 and is on the downward slope, losing velocity on his fastball. He fell out of favor with A.J. Hinch in the Houston bullpen during the postseason last year which is a concern for a pitcher that’ll be in a lot of high leverage situations.
Beyond Gregorson, Dominic Leone and Bud Norris were solid in the bullpen last year for the Blue Jays and Angels last year. Added to Tyler Lyons who found a niche in the pen for the Cards and the set-up staff is okay. It’s the back end that still has a giant question mark.
Perhaps the Cardinals add Greg Holland to sure up the ninth or perhaps the role goes to top prospect Alex Reyes when he returns from Tommy John surgery midseason. Of course, depending on how well Wacha and Mikolas are throwing, Reyes may be needed in the rotation.
The Cardinals have a solid framework of a team, but a few significant questions on the mound as well as a couple position players that they need to repeat career years. There’s a path for a strong season for the Cardinals, but there’s also a chance St. Louis falls short for a third straight season given the number of questions and the strength of the Cubs in the NL Central.
|Baltimore Orioles||Baltimore, Maryland||Oriole Park at Camden Yards|
|Boston Red Sox||Boston, Massachusetts||Fenway Park|
|New York Yankees||New York City, New York||Yankee Stadium|
|Tampa Bay Rays||St. Petersburg, Florida||Tropicana Field|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Toronto, Ontario||Rogers Centre|
|CENTRAL||Chicago White Sox||Chicago, Illinois||Guaranteed Rate Field|
|Cleveland Indians||Cleveland, Ohio||Progressive Field|
|Detroit Tigers||Detroit, Michigan||Comerica Park|
|Kansas City Royals||Kansas City, Missouri||Kauffman Stadium|
|Minnesota Twins||Minneapolis, Minnesota||Target Field|
|WEST||Houston Astros||Houston, Texas||Minute Maid Park|
|Los Angeles Angels||Anaheim, California||Angel Stadium|
|Oakland Athletics||Oakland, California||Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum|
|Seattle Mariners||Seattle, Washington||Safeco Field|
|Texas Rangers||Arlington, Texas||Globe Life Park in Arlington|
|EAST||Atlanta Braves||Atlanta, Georgia||SunTrust Park|
|Miami Marlins||Miami, Florida||Marlins Park|
|New York Mets||New York City, New York||Citi Field|
|Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||Citizens Bank Park|
|Washington Nationals||Washington, D.C.||Nationals Park|
|CENTRAL||Chicago Cubs||Chicago, Illinois||Wrigley Field|
|Cincinnati Reds||Cincinnati, Ohio||Great American Ball Park|
|Milwaukee Brewers||Milwaukee, Wisconsin||Miller Park|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||PNC Park|
|St. Louis Cardinals||St. Louis, Missouri||Busch Stadium|
|WEST||Arizona Diamondbacks||Phoenix, Arizona||Chase Field|
|Colorado Rockies||Denver, Colorado||Coors Field|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||Los Angeles, California||Dodger Stadium|
|San Diego Padres||San Diego, California||Petco Park|
|San Francisco Giants||San Francisco, California||AT&T Park|
March 29-April 1: at New York Mets
April 2-4: at Milwaukee Brewers
April 5-8: vs Arizona Diamondbacks
April 9-11: vs Milwaukee Brewers
April 12-15: at Cincinnati Reds
April 16-18: at Chicago Cubs
April 20-22: vs Cincinnati Reds
April 24-26: vs New York Mets
April 27-29: at Pittsburgh Pirates
A slow start for the Cardinals in 2017 put them playing catchup all season. After opening the year against the Cubs a season ago, St. Louis has a bevy of NL Wild Card contenders to open the 2018 campaign, playing the Mets and Brewers on the road before returning home for the Diamondbacks and Brewers, again. After that, a pair of series against the Reds and one against the Pirates offer a bit of an April reprieve, from an otherwise challenging, but not daunting, opening month.
St. Louis was over-.500 in 2017 against all it’s 2018 April foes exception two: the Cubs and Brewers. The Cubs were 15-4 against the Cards while the Brew Crew went 11-8. Those are two teams the Cardinals have to beat in 2018 to jump back up the NL Central standings.
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