St. Louis Cardinals
2020 Record: 30-28
Second Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 3.90 (9th)
Team OPS: .694 (26th)
What Went Right
The Cardinals’ pitching was easily the strength of the club. Surprisingly, the rotation was led by grizzled veteran Adam Wainwright, who turned back the clock with a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 ERA over 10 starts. Kwang-Hyun Kim proved to be a fine offseason addition. He began the season with a brief turn in the closer role but finished it in the rotation and posted a 1.62 ERA and 1.03 WHIP across seven starts and one relief appearance. Dakota Hudson’s year ended on a sour note when he blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, but he put up a 2.77 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in eight starts prior to the injury. The Cards never had a set closer but mixed and matched well in their bullpen. Giovanny Gallegos was excellent again, Andrew Miller had a nice bounce-back season and flamethrowers Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera were dominant when they threw enough strikes. Austin Gomber split his time between the rotation and bullpen and was terrific in both roles. The bright spots on offense are much more difficult to find. Paul Goldschmidt “only” hit six home runs, but he posted a .417 on-base percentage and .883 OPS. Brad Miller had one great month and one bad one, but he was the only other position player to finish with an OPS over .800 (.807) and he tied for the team lead with seven dingers.
What Went Wrong
In addition to Goldschmidt and Miller, Harrison Bader was the only other regular position player for the Cardinals who had a better than league average OPS, and no one else was particularly close. Playing time was not an issue for Tommy Edman as some thought it might be, but he was a zero for fantasy leaguers with a .685 OPS and just two steals on six attempts. Paul DeJong was even worse with a lowly .671 OPS and only three homers. Tyler O’Neill tied for the team lead with seven bombs but had just a .621 OPS. Matt Carpenter’s career continued its downward spiral. Kolten Wong gave back all the offensive gains he had made in 2019. Dylan Carlson closed strong, but not before a poor start that led to a demotion. On the pitching side, Jack Flaherty struck out well over a batter per inning, but a couple clunkers lead to an unsightly 4.91 ERA. Carlos Martinez was one of many on the team who was sidelined by COVID-19 and he never looked like himself when on the active roster.
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** Jack Flaherty’s final numbers weren’t pretty to look at, as he finished with a 4.91 ERA after his historic 0.91 ERA in the second half of 2019. Ultimately, though, there doesn’t look to be much cause for concern here. If you take out one particularly brutal start against the Brewers in September, Flaherty held a 3.13 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 43/13 K/BB ratio across 37 1/3 innings. He also dealt with an extended layoff brought upon by the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, which undoubtedly threw off his routine (he even threw against a mattress in his hotel room while quarantined at one point in order to keep his arm in shape).
** Dylan Carlson’s first go-round in the big leagues was a struggle, as he batted just .162/.215/.243 over 79 plate appearances before being optioned back to the Cards’ alternate training site. Things went much more smoothly upon his return, as he sported a .278/.325/.611 line with a couple homers and 11 RBI over his final 12 regular season games. Carlson then followed that up by posting a 1.016 OPS in three postseason games, batting cleanup in all three of those contests. He’s not without risk given the limited track record, but we’d bet on Carlson being a 20-20 threat in 2021 (assuming a full season is played).
** Adam Wainwright closed out the 2019 season on a strong note, but no one expected him to be the Cardinals’ best starter in 2020. However, with a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 ERA over 10 starts, that’s what happened. Wainwright’s strikeout rate on the year left something to be desired, but his 38 punchouts over 40 2/3 frames in his final six outings was just fine. Wainwright is now 39 and entering free agency, so it’s difficult to know what to expect even if he does decide to continue his career. He certainly looked like he had something left in the tank this season, though.
** With Wainwright headed toward free agency, Dakota Hudson out following Tommy John surgery, Miles Mikolas coming back from elbow surgery and Carlos Martinez coming off a disappointing season, the only two seemingly locked into a rotation spot for 2021 are Flaherty and Kwang-Hyun-Kim. Austin Gomber certainly looks like a good bet to capture one of those spots, though, after holding a 1.86 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 27/15 K/BB ratio over 29 innings in 2020. Four of his 14 appearances were starts, and in those outings he allowed a total of one run. His control has abandoned him at times at the major league level, but Gomber had good control during his time in the minors and he’s got some bat-missing ability. There’s sleeper appeal here should he land a rotation spot.
** Alex Reyes making it through the 2020 campaign without having any arm issues was a victory in and of itself. Yes, it was a shortened season and he did have a COVID-19-related absence, but it’s the first time since 2016 that he didn’t have elbow or shoulder problems. Reyes showed devastating stuff, striking out 27 over 19 2/3 innings and posting a 2.03 ERA over his final nine appearances. It’s possible the Cardinals will give him another shot to start, but at this point his future might be in the bullpen. Health and control are potential red flags, but Reyes still has a big arm and what role he ultimately fills will be worth keeping an eye on.
Team Needs: Offense, offense and more offense. After finishing around the middle of the pack in offense in 2018, the Cardinals have been well below average each of the last two seasons. They’ve been particularly punchless in the outfield and at third base, positions that you normally expect a decent amount of production from. Again relying on internal improvement – at least in multiple spots – doesn’t seem prudent, so one notable bat at minimum figures to be added. St. Louis also has big decisions to make on franchise cornerstones Molina and Wainwright.