Posted on March 13, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The St. Louis Cardinals have endured back-to-back seasons without making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. As a result, they’ve been quite busy this offseason, as they attempt to catch up to the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. But will those moves be enough to get the Cardinals back to the postseason in 2018?
The St. Louis rotation was solid if unspectacular in 2017, but it will look a little different in 2018. With Lance Lynn and Mike Leake, and their 57 combined starts last season gone, the Cardinals will lean heavily on the trio of Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Adam Wainwright.
With Martinez, the Cardinals shouldn’t have much to worry about. But the same may not be true with Wacha and Wainwright. Wacha has been up and down the past two seasons, although at age 26, he’s fully capable of returning to the all-star form he had in 2015. Wainwright, meanwhile, is 36 and posted a 5.11 ERA last year, so whether he can still be a reliable starter at this point in his career remains to be seen.
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The Cardinals will look to fill out their rotation with young starters like Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. Weaver pitched well the second half of last year but still has just 18 big league starts under his belt. Flaherty has even less experience and struggled in his first taste of the big leagues last September. St. Louis hopes to get Alex Reyes back at some point, but he remains a question mark coming back from Tommy John surgery. If Weaver and Flaherty struggle, the Cardinals may need to rely on veterans Miles Mikolas and Bud Norris to round out their rotation.
The Cardinals were mostly solid in the bullpen last year, but again there’s been some turnover. Trevor Rosenthal and Seung Hwan Oh, who combined for most of the team’s saves last year, are no longer with the team. Instead, Luke Gregerson has been brought in to be the team’s closer. Gregerson isn’t exactly coming off his best season, so he may not be the answer the Cardinals need in the closer’s role.
That being said, the Cardinals do appear to have a fair amount of depth in their bullpen. Tyler Lyons and Dominic Leone are both coming off impressive seasons in 2017. Brett Cecil, Matt Bowman, Sam Tuivailala, and John Brebbia should also be reliable options. It’s also possible that Norris and Reyes will contribute out of the bullpen, giving the Cardinals a deep contingent of solid bullpen arms, even if they lack high-end talent.
Offensively, the Cardinals appear to have enough pieces in place to put together a productive lineup. In the outfield, Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham are both coming off outstanding seasons. They will be joined by Marcell Ozuna, who has a chance to give the Cardinals a boost of power after hitting 37 home runs last year. The St. Louis outfield also has plenty of depth in the outfield with young players like Jose Martinez, Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis infield should look similar to last year, which is a good thing. Matt Carpenter is usually one of the team’s most productive hitters. Jedd Gyorko has emerged as a consistent hitter and reliable power source over the past two seasons. The Cardinals are also high on Paul DeJong, who was a revelation at shortstop last year as a rookie. Kolten Wong also bounced back nicely in 2017 after a rough 2016 season. Finally, the Cardinals are still getting plenty out of Yadier Molina behind the plate and have prospect Carson Kelly waiting in the wings just in case.
Heading into 2018, the Cardinals appear to have a well-rounded team. While there is no obvious weakness, St. Louis may not excel in any one area either. There are some questions about the back end of the rotation and the closer’s spot. The Cardinals will also need players like Pham and DeJong to repeat what they did last year. Look for St. Louis to finish 84-78, improving their record by one win from last year. However, that won’t be enough to keep pace with the Cubs.