It has been a very memorable regular season for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2022. A farewell tour for a trio of Cardinal legends. The chase for a home run total that only three others have ever reached. A couple of MVP-caliber seasons from two of their own players. The chance for another Word Series championship that would add to a National League-best 11 titles.
Last year it was a streak of winning baseball similar to this season for St. Louis that vaulted them into the playoffs as the second NL wild card team. The 2021 team capped off their season with a 17-game winning streak in the month of September. This version of the Cardinals, while a little bit different than last year’s team, has kept the winning tradition alive for the franchise.
The lineup is anchored by a couple of NL MVP candidates in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The rotation is veteran-led and has gotten a significant boost from some trade deadline additions. With the right draw and a little bit of “devil magic” the Cardinals have traditionally benefited from, a 12th title could be on the horizon for the St. Louis Cardinals this year.
MVP Candidates at the Corners
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado have each had stellar seasons in 2022 that have skyrocketed the lineup to be among the best in baseball. Normally a clean-fielding team, they have held true to “the Cardinal way” with a league-best .989 fielding percentage. The duo of Goldschmidt and Arenado have 13 gold glove awards, with Arenado flaunting five platinum gloves in his career. There is no doubt they are a significant reason why the Cardinals are stout defensively. Their contributions at the plate, however, have been a sight to behold in 2022.
Offensively, the club ranks in the top seven in hits, runs, doubles, home runs and OPS across the Majors this season. Easily the frontrunner for NL MVP, Goldschmidt has been consistently dominant all season long. In 606 plate appearances the 35-year-old is hitting .322/.411/.599/1.009. He has hit 35 home runs and 35 doubles to go along with 112 RBI. His 188 OPS+ ranks first in the National League in 2022. Goldschmidt has quietly put together a hall-of-fame-worthy resume over the course of his 12-year career with Arizona and St.Louis. He has had plenty of seasons worthy of MVP consideration, with a couple of second-place finishes and five top-six finishes. This season looks to be the year he will finally take home the award that has eluded him for so long.
Though not at the same level of production as Goldschmidt in 2022, Arenado has been elite as well. In 578 plate appearances the seven-time all-star is hitting .296/.358/.543/.901. He leads the team with 40 doubles and has hit 29 long balls with 98 runs driven in. Many would argue this has been the best season of Arenado’s career considering the difference in ballparks he has played at. OPS+ is a stat that is adjusted to consider a player’s ballpark. While he may have had seasons with better statistics and cumulative numbers while playing at Coors Field with the Rockies, Busch Stadium in St. Louis is much more pitcher-friendly, making this season even more impressive for Arenado. His OPS+ of 156 is far and away the highest of his career.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup has had a few other contributors in 2022. Tommy Edman has been a consistent presence for St. Louis since entering the league in 2019. He has hit .271/.327/.411/.738 with an OPS+ of 112. Over the course of his career he has been a roughly league-average hitter. Coupled with his extraordinary defense, Edman has been 6.5 WAR player this year, according to Baseball Reference.
In the outfield for the Cardinals, it has been a number of different players that have played a role in 2022. Gold-glover Harrison Bader was traded to the New York Yankees, freeing up some playing time. Tyler O’Neil has had a disappointing season following his breakout year in 2021, hitting just .228/.308/.392/.700 thus far. He has been slightly above league average, however. Dylan Carlson and first-year Cardinal Corey Dickerson have also been slightly above average, with OPS plusses of 102 and 110, respectively.
In his second year in the major leagues, Lars Nootbar has been a welcome surprise for the Cardinals. In just under 300 plate appearances, the 25-year-old is hitting .219/.336/.429/.765. While the batting average is sub-par, he poses a 15 percent walk rate with a little bit of pop, socking 12 home runs on the season. He also has a 120 OPS+ which is the highest among Cardinal outfielders.
Utility man Brendan Donovan has been very productive playing just about every position in the field in his rookie season. The German native has an impressive .282 batting average and .391 on-base percentage in 2022. Not much power has been on display for Donovan, but with plenty of hitters in the lineup capable of driving runners in he has played his role of getting on base for the big bats.
One Last Ride
For future Hall-of-Famers Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, this year has been unforgettable. Pujols is in his first year back with the Cardinals since leaving the organization in 2012. He played with the Los Angeles Angels for 10 years from 2012 to 2021, and the Los Angles Dodgers for most of 2021. With 698 career home runs and counting, “The Machine” has had a resurgent 2022 where he has shown glimpses of the player that won three MVP awards between 2005-2009. In 313 plate appearances, the 42-year-old is hitting .256/.332/.513/.845. He has 19 home runs and 53 RBI on the season and his OPS+ of 140 is his highest since 2011, coincidentally his last season with St. Louis before signing with the Angels. He needs just two home runs to reach the coveted 700 home run milestone that only Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have accomplished.
As for Molina, it has never been about his ability to produce numbers from an offensive standpoint. He is a career .278/.328/.399/.727 hitter with 176 home runs and 1020 RBI. This season, like several recent seasons, he has been well below average offensively, hitting just .222/.243/.315/.558. His value comes from behind the plate on the defensive side of the ball. A nine-time gold glover and four-time platinum glove winner, Molina is one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time. According to FanGraphs, Molina has a 56 WAR for his career and the metrics rate him much better defensively than offensively, to no surprise. Molina and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright recently broke the record for most starts as battery mates in MLB history with 325. He has spent his entire career with the Cardinals and will retire at the end of the season with Pujols.
Who is the Ace?
The St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation is led by the experience of several veteran pitchers. The lack of a definitive ace may be an issue with October just around the corner. Wainwright, who has been with the Cardinals since 2005, might be the one called upon to claim the title. The 41-year-old has still been effective despite his lowest strikeout rate in an entire season since 2007. He has a 3.29 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 178 innings on the season. Of note, Wainwright got the ball to start the NL Wild Card game last season against the Dodgers. It is still unknown whether or not he will retire at the end of the season, joining Molina and Pujols.
Leading all of MLB with 30 games started, Miles Mikolas has had a nice season. The 34-year-old right-hander has 3.46 ERA with 138 strikeouts in 187 innings pitched. His WHIP of 1.046 is very impressive, with just 1.7 walks per nine innings and a .230 batting average against. Mikolas has allowed 24 home runs this year and has seen the highest fly ball rate of his career among seasons with starts made.
Having somewhat of a down year, Dakota Hudson has pitched relatively poorly this season in the Cardinals’ rotation. With a career-high 4.16 ERA and 4.33 FIP, Hudson has looked a bit off in 2022. The right-hander only made nine starts the previous two seasons, so it could be a case of getting back into a rhythm. He broke out in the bullpen in 2018 as a rookie with a 2.63 ERA in 26 appearances. In 2019, he transitioned to the rotation where he impressed with a 3.35 ERA and 125 ERA+ despite an MLB-high 86 walks. Walks have haunted Hudson again this year as they have for his entire career. He is walking nearly four batters per nine innings pitched in 2022, but has limited the damage with only nine home runs surrendered in 134 innings pitched.
For a second consecutive year, the Cardinals benefited from some under-the-radar trades that have helped significantly. Left-handers Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery were acquired before the trade deadline and have found success in St. Louis. Montgomery, acquired from the Yankees, has a 2.35 ERA in nine starts with the Cardinals. Comparing his numbers with New York this season, he has increased his strikeout rate and lowered his home run rate significantly. Montgomery tossed his first career complete game Aug. 22 against the Cubs, a dazzling one-hit shutout.
An 11-year journeyman, Quintana has pitched his best baseball since the earliest part of his career when he was still with the Chicago White Sox. Since being dealt from the division-rival Pittsburgh Pirates, Quintana has been masterful. With a 2.44 ERA and 2.80 FIP, each the best marks of his career, he has stymied opposing batters. He has only given up one home run in 48 innings across nine starts, along with a .618 OPS against.
Questions in the ‘Pen
Right-hander Ryan Helsley has been un-hittable in 2022, with a 1.19 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 60 innings of work. His 320 ERA+ is among the best in all of baseball. He has also limited opposing hitters to just a .432 OPS against, easily the best mark of his young career. The 28-year-old has closed 18 games for St. Louis in 22 save opportunities.
With the exception of Ryan Helsley, the St. Louis Cardinals are missing a go-to dominant arm in the bullpen. Right-handers Andre Pallante and Giovanny Gallegos have both had very good seasons, each posting ERAs hovering just above three. In nearly 159 innings between the two, they have combined for 137 strikeouts, 51 walks and 14 home runs allowed.
Right-hander Jake Woodford and left-hander Zack Thompson have each posted sub-three ERAs in 2022, albeit in far less appearances than the previous pitchers mentioned. They have just 42 combined strikeouts, but have only allowed three long balls in 71 innings of work.
Flamethrowers Jordan Hicks and Genesis Cabrera have each had difficult seasons, with ERAs of 4.92 and 4.63, respectively. They have both had command issues, combining for 55 walks in 105 innings. Hicks was placed on the 15-day injured list on Sept. 16 with arm fatigue and neck spasms.
Storybook Ending in St. Louis?
If there were ever a season for the St. Louis Cardinals to win another championship, it would be 2022. With two of the franchise’s greatest players in Pujols and Molina retiring at seasons end, and potentially a third if Wainwright decides to call it quits, there should be a lot of extra motivation in St. Louis to win it all this season.
The corner-infield duo of Goldschmidt and Arenado have carried the lineup through the regular season and will likely need to keep it up if St. Louis wants to send their legends out the right way. The pitching could be an issue when the start of the playoffs come around. No starter in the rotation other than Wainwright has a long track record of postseason experience and overall success like he does. If the starting pitching can hold with new additions continuing to shine, it should be no issue. The Cardinals and their fans could be in for one of the most memorable postseasons they have ever witnessed.