The St. Louis Cardinals have missed the postseason in each of the last three seasons and play in arguably the toughest and most competitive division in Major League Baseball. The club finished the 2018 season at 88-74, placing third in the National League Central for the second straight year, which was also their third straight with fewer than 90 wins after winning 90+ in four of their previous five seasons.
They must adjust to the leadership of a relatively new manager and realign their lineup to benefit certain players, all while battling two 95-win teams in their division, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, plus the rejuvenated Cincinnati Reds and sneaky Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s an uphill climb, as it should be, for a team that has underwhelmed and underperformed over the past three years.
On the flip-side, the Cardinals have had perhaps the best offseason of any club in the majors, in terms of team additions, and have responded well to recently extended manager Mike Schildt. With perennial Most Valuable Player Award contender Paul Goldschmidt and 2016 American League Championship Series MVP Andrew Miller joining pre-established stars like Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Jordan Hicks, fans in the Gateway City can marvel upon a team that will battle it out for a division title.
And, well, the World Series. In the emerging era of dynastic superteams like the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s weird to think a team that has won one playoff game since 2014 is a legit World Series contender, but a volatile National League and a team actually willing to make things happen financially are a match made in heaven (read also: the Dodgers, the two-time reigning pennant winners).They don't seem like it yet, but the @Cardinals have turned into legitimate World Series contenders over the offseason, @bytomdorsa writes.Click To Tweet
But it isn’t just because they’re capable of spending money and competing in an NL with perhaps eight or nine postseason-caliber clubs. This team is as stacked as any since the Cardinals’ 2013 NL pennant run, with Goldschmidt, a six-time NL All-Star, headlining an offense that seemingly needed one last piece. St. Louis finished the 2018 season 11th in runs (759), 11th in home runs (205), 14th in OPS (.730), 17th in hits (1,369) and batting average (.249).
With the Arizona Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt hit .290/.389/.533 with 33 home runs, 93 RBIs, and 73 extra-base hits. As he transitions from a hitter’s park — Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona — to Busch Stadium, a pitcher’s park, Goldschmidt’s home/road split gives promise, as he hit .339 with 21 bombs and a 1.053 OPS on the road in 2018. With that contact skill and power value in the lineup, the Cardinals’ bats will surge up to a spot as one of the top offenses in baseball.
Goldschmidt is the main attraction to an offense that also features Carpenter (team-high 36 home runs last year), Molina (20 home runs, 74 RBIs last season), Jose Martinez (.305 batting average in 2018), Marcell Ozuna (.280 average, team-high 88 RBIs in 2018), and Paul DeJong (45 extra-base hits in only 115 games). Although Busch Stadium ranked as far down as the 24th-best hitter’s park in MLB by ESPN’s run factor, this is a lineup that can fill up a scorecard fast.
Pitching wise, they were good, but not dominant, in 2018. The Cardinals placed 12th in team ERA (3.85), 13th in opponent’s batting average (.246), and 17th in quality starts (82) and strikeouts (1,337). But their pitching woes can be accredited to their lack of health and consistency within the starting rotation, as only three pitchers had more than 20 starts last season, and one of those three was Luke Weaver, who was traded to the D-Backs in the Goldschmidt deal.
Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty, after their breakout 2018 campaigns, return with help from a healthy Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, and maybe even former top prospect Alex Reyes in a starting rotation full of smarts and deception. We have seen what they can do at full strength, and if that rotation stays healthy, it’s hard to envision the Cardinals having much trouble working their way back into the postseason picture.
Besides, all Mikolas and crew have to do to find the win column is get the ball to the nasty Cardinals bullpen. A revamped relief unit headed by Miller will allow the 105 mph fastball of Hicks to settle into the closer role, while Miller operates out of the fireman position that made him successful in Cleveland. Alongside them are Dakota Hudson, Luke Gregerson, Chasen Shreve, and Brett Cecil, who have all exhibited mastery out of the bullpen at times in their career, locking down games with poise and ease.
Manager Mike Schildt is no area of concern, after leading the team to a 41-28 record in taking over for Mike Matheny, who was relieved of his duties mid-season. Schildt finished fourth in the NL Manager of the Year Award voting despite manning the bench for just 69 games, and he seemingly fixed the dugout issues brought in by Matheny. His presence was one that rocketed the Cardinals back into the postseason race late last year, and under him, the team will play with the same inspiration in 2019.
With a heavy offense, dangerous starting pitching, ever-improving relievers, and a manager with a vision for the best, the St. Louis Cardinals have everything they might need to make a run at the World Series. Though a daunting division stands in their way, the NL has proved to be the harder of the two leagues to predict, and if things get crazier in 2019, the Cards are in a good position to get back in the hunt for the Commissioner’s Trophy.
(It wouldn’t hurt to make a run at Bryce Harper, too.)