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2018 MLB preview: St. Louis Cardinals

2017: 83-79 (third place in NL Central)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2015

Last World Series Title: 2011

 

2017 Recap

After winning the World Series in 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals, from 2012-2015, proceeded to make four straight postseason appearances. Since 2000, the Red Birds have made the postseason 12 times, and finished with a losing record just once, which was back in 2007.  Unfortunately, the Cubs have gotten really good, and St. Louis is now forced to look up to them in the division.

The 2017 Cardinals won 83 games, which is decent, but not good enough for a spot in the NL Wild Card Game. St. Louis was flat-out just too average at everything. Among the 15 NL teams, the Cardinals finished sixth in hits, seventh in runs, and eighth in home runs and SLG. The pitching finished sixth in the NL in ERA, hits, and strikeouts.

Pham joined Jose Altuve and Mike Trout as the only three players to hit 20 home runs, steal 20 bases, and post a .300 batting average with a .400 OBP (USA Today)

The Cardinals offensive MVP was Tommy Pham, who had never played more than 80 games in a season before 2017. In his age-29 season, Pham finished fifth in OBP, and 10th in WAR among position players. He joined Jose Altuve and Mike Trout as the only three players to hit 20 home runs, steal 20 bases, and post a .300 batting average with a .400 OBP. Pham finished 11th in NL MVP voting.

If Cody Bellinger hadn’t exploded for 39 home runs and 97 RBIs in his rookie season, then Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong would have won NL Rookie of the Year. DeJong, the runner-up in the voting, hit .285 with 25 home runs, while slugging .532 in 108 games.

On the mound, Carlos Martinez threw the fifth most innings in the MLB (205), while ranking 10th in strikeouts with 217. He finished 2017 with a record of 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA. Lance Lynn had the ninth best H/9, while Michael Wacha finished with the 5th best HR/9. Luke Weaver, the former 2014 first round pick, went 7-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 60.1 innings of work.

2018: Around the Diamond

To help generate more runs, power, and hits, the Cardinals traded for Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna, a 2017 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner, hit .312/.376/.548 with 191 hits, 37 home runs, and 124 RBIs. He finished seventh in total bases. Ozuna is a complete player who should excel in this Cardinals lineup. Joining him in the outfield will be Pham, and Dexter Fowler, who finished fourth in triples, and had career-highs in home runs (18) and RBIs (64) in 2017. For depth, St. Louis also has utility man Jose Martinez, who slashed .309/.379/.518 with 14 home runs in 106 games.

Will Paul DeJong avoid a sophomore slump? (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Yadier Molina, arguably the best catcher in Cardinals’ history (maybe behind Ted Simmons), will be back behind the plate for his 15th season. The 8x All-Star, 4x Platinum Glove Award winner led the team in hits during his 2017 campaign. Molina is one of the best catchers of this generation, and continues to play at an elite level.

Matt Carpenter will again start at first, with Kolten Wong at second, and DeJong at short. Carpenter led the Cards in doubles, drew the third most walks in the MLB, hit 23 home runs, and posted a .384 OBP. He hit just .241, and is now more of a fly ball hitter, but Carpenter is still one of the better players in the game. Wong posted a .376 OBP last season, and has always had great patience at the plate, but dealt with arm injuries last season.

DeJong had a .349 BABIP, which means he may be due for a sophomore slump, but he has always put up solid numbers at the professional level, so we will have to wait and see. Jedd Gyorko, who has hit 50 home runs since the start of the 2016 season, will start at third.

Along with Martinez and Greg Garcia, Luke Voit will see some time in the field and at DH. Voit stepped in for Carpenter last season and hit 4 home runs in 62 games at the MLB level. The Red Birds also have Harrison Bader, who is competing for a reserve outfield spot this Spring. So far, Bader is slashing .348/.375/.853 with five runs scored, two steals, and three doubles.

On the Bump

The Cardinals, who always seem to pitch well, seem to have a set rotation, despite losing Mike Leake and Lance Lynn. Behind Carlos Martinez, St. Louis will showcase the three W’s: Wacha, Weaver, and Wainwright, followed by Miles Mikolas. Wacha showed glimpses of his former self last season, which is not something we can say for Adam Wainwright.

Let’s just call it how it is. Wainwright, who will be pitching in his last season with St. Louis, is washed up, but has an incredible career, posting a 3.29 ERA over 12 seasons. Weaver’s slim frame reminds me of Tim Lincecum, and don’t be surprised if Weaver puts up “Lincecum-esque” numbers in 2018.

After struggling with the Rangers in 2014, Mikolas, 29, spent three seasons in Japan. In his three years as a member of the Yomuri Giants, Mikolas went a combined 31-13 with a 2.19 ERA. He is a free-agent bargain who may turn out to be very solid for St. Louis.

Originally drafted by the Cardinals in 2006, Luke Gregerson is back and in line to start the season as the closer. Gregerson had 31 saves as a member of the Oakland Athletics in 2015. If Gregerson struggles, look for Tyler Lyons to step in.

The Future

Let’s hope 2018 is the year for Cardinals number one prospect, Alex Reyes. In 2015, Reyes dealt with shoulder issues, and the following season, he was suspended for a drug violation. Last February, Reyes underwent Tommy John Surgery and missed all of 2017.

How will Alex Reyes fare when he returns from Tommy John Surgery? (USA Today)

He probably won’t make his season debut until May, but if he comes back strong, Reyes has the opportunity to make a difference at the MLB level in 2018. In 2016, we got a taste of what Reyes brings. In his 46 MLB innings, Reyes went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA, while striking out 52. He is just 23 years of age, and has a fastball that hovers around triple digits.

Other than Reyes, St. Louis has three more prospects on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. Jack Flaherty (No.38), like Reyes, is a RHP with great potential. A first round pick in 2014, Flaherty went 14-4 with a 2.18 ERA in 25 starts between AA/AAA. He was called up to the Majors last season and struggled, but he is just 22-years-old and just needs more experience. Flaherty is a better built version of Jason Schmidt.

The Cardinals top hitting prospect is catcher Carson Kelly (No. 46). Kelly is the second-ranked catcher on the list, and has shown some power and with a good average in the minors. He didn’t fare too well in his 34 big league games last season, but he will continue to grow under Yadier Molina.

Tyler O’Neill (No. 94), who is currently dealing with an oblique injury, started the Spring 2-for-9 before being sidelined. O’Neill, a corner outfielder, has good power and, as far as comparisons go, reminds me of Kevin Mench.

2018 Prediction: 85-77

The Cardinals, like every year, will be right in the mix for a spot in the postseason. The Ozuna signing was massive, but St. Louis goes into 2018 as the third best team in their division. However, they could easily exceed expectations and make the postseason if the bats come alive and guys like Luke Weaver and Michael Wacha step up big on the mound.

 

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