Welcome to my first article! It’s great to be a part of the OT Heroics team doing something I love – writing about something I’m very passionate about – my favorite professional baseball team. In this context, that would be the St. Louis Cardinals. With the 2020 season finally upon us, I thought I’d share my predictions for the Cardinals.
Looking Back at 2019
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the St. Louis Cardinals play a competitive major league baseball game. Last we saw them, they swept off Nationals Park on October 15, 2019, by the eventual World Series Champion Washington Nationals. A lot has happened in the real world and baseball world since then, but for the Cardinals, a lot has stayed the same.
Two things the Cardinals pride themselves on every year are (1) depth and (2) consistency. The Cards have only had one losing season in this century (2007), when they finished only two games below .500. I’d say that’s pretty consistent. The off-season proved much of that as they will be relying on a little of both in the abbreviated 2020 season.
Their plan was addition by subtraction. Cleanup-hitting LF Marcell Ozuna bolted for Atlanta on a 1-year deal. This allowed for opportunities for guys like Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas and Dylan Carlson to step up and make an impact. Their big move was trading away OF’s Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay for LHP prospect Matthew Liberatore. They re-signed franchise stalwart Adam Wainwright again, signed utility man Brad Miller, and signed LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim from Korea. One would say St. Louis’ off-season was boring (“cough-cough” Kris Bryant), but for me as a die-hard Cardinals fan, I would say business as usual. Now that we’re all caught up on what happened in 2019, let’s take a look at 2020 and make some bold predictions.
1. Ryan Helsley will start and end the season as the closer
As it pertains to the bullpen, the Cardinals have options. Giovanny Gallegos had a very nice year in 2019, posting a 2.31 ERA and had 93 K’s in 74 IP. Flame thrower Jordan Hicks will start the season on the IL, but he will be back some time in August, possibly around the new trade deadline of August 31st. Genesis Cabrera won’t be the closer, but he has nice potential.
As far as depth options go, whomever won’t be the fifth starter will spill over into the bullpen. Daniel Ponce de Leon, John Gant, former uber-prospect Alex Reyes, and they still have veteran lefties Andrew Miller, Tyler Webb and newly signed Kwang-Hyun Kim, who can be valuable with the new 3-batter minimum rule implemented this season. There’s still one key name I haven’t mentioned yet: Ryan Helsley.
Helsley is mainly a two-pitch pitcher. He reaches its 94-96 mph consistently with a wipe-out breaking ball and an occasional cutter. So if Hicks can throw over 100 mph with movement, and if Gallegos had an ERA under 2.50, then why Helsley?
Helsley only allowed one hit and no runs in five postseason innings, with eight K’s against good hitting from Atlanta and Washington. His exit velocity (against) is also a little lower than Gallegos. In the new era of analytics, some teams are turning to inserting their best pitcher in the 8th inning instead of the 9th.
If Jordan Hicks is healthy, he would be the best power arm the Cardinals have. However, rushing anyone back into the closer’s role isn’t a good idea. Cards beat writer, Mark Saxon, reported earlier this week that Mozeliak’s first response when asked about the closer’s role was Ryan Helsley. Look for him to start and end there this season.
2. Cards acquire Nolan Arenado
This past off-season was pretty… boring (hey again, KB) in St. Louis except for some rumblings that they were close to acquiring All-Star 3B Nolan Arenado. There was even a rumor that they were 90% done on a deal, but in the end it fell apart. Colorado came out and said St. Louis was one of two teams that interested them as potential trade partner.
The Yankees got their “white whale” this off-season in Gerrit Cole. What Cole was to New York, is now what Arenado is to St. Louis. He’s a big, impact bat, who’s won a gold glove every year that he’s been in the league. He’s also extremely frustrated about losing every year. He wants to play for a winner. The Cards have the pieces to make it work, and I’m convinced the players were agreed upon. It comes down to one thing: money.
St. Louis dropped from sixth to ninth in MLB payroll, so they have a little more spending room than last year. The Cardinals schedule is the easiest in the league (going off winning %’s from 2019). Meanwhile, the Rockies have to go through the NL and AL West. So for the Rockies, it’ll be mostly Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, with the Astros mixed in. This won’t be easy.
If Colorado falls back early or thinks they don’t have what it takes to win a championship in 2020, look for trade talks to be rekindled. There are only two players in baseball in the last five years to have 500+ RBI’s and 500+ runs scored: Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado (who has over 600 RBI’s by the way). The opportunity to have both of those players on your team doesn’t come around often.
For me there’s too much smoke for this not to go down at some point. It could very well end up being an off-season deal, but with an easy schedule and with their core not getting any younger, why wait? Arenado would love St. Louis just as much as St. Louis would love him. Sounds like a match made in Baseball Heaven.
3. Cardinals go to the World Series
This prediction is solely based off of prediction #2. If the Cards don’t get Arenado, obviously it is much tougher to win the pennant. If they do, however, what would the Cardinals still be lacking? Maybe a true #2 starter to Flaherty? But do they need one?
You don’t know what you’ll get from either Carlos Martinez or Miles Mikolas but they’re both good enough to have some quality starts and get it to a deep bullpen that we already talked about. Also remember it wasn’t Jack Flaherty who started Game-1 in Atlanta in the NLDS, it was Miles Mikolas.
The National League has some good teams that will certainly make it tough. Atlanta isn’t going anywhere, Reds could be dangerous, Cubs will be competitive, Padres and Diamondbacks are improved. Mets, Phillies, Nationals and Brewers can’t be counted out. Oh, and then you have the Dodgers who now have Mookie Betts to an already loaded roster. With that said, with the addition of a guy like Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals will be an even more improved team (defensively) than last year. An infield of Goldschmidt-Wong-DeJong-Arenado would be fun to watch. It would also allow a ground ball pitcher like Dakota Hudson to relax, throw strikes and let his defense do the work.
Manager Mike Shildt is a great communicator and knows his players very well. In a shortened season, managing also has to be taken into account. Have to know when to push the right buttons at the right time. Not a lot of managers can do that (Dave Roberts). As ex-Cardinals announcer Joe Buck said this off-season, the Cardinals have a lot of the same pieces with not enough clarity. An Arenado deal would fix both issues and they would still have enough to make a deep run in October.
Top prospect Dylan Carlson should also make an impact at some point in this shortened season. Dylan Carlson and Arenado to the current lineup would be vastly improved from last year. Would they have changed last year’s result? Probably not. But could they compete against any team in baseball with that lineup, defense and bullpen this year? Absolutely.
In a perfect world everything I predicted will come true and I will be the happiest man on earth, celebrating another world championship. Shortened season or not, a championship is a championship. 2020 has been tough on all of us, but with America’s pastime back hopefully it’ll give us a sense of hope and something to gravitate towards. Baseball has a way of doing that. In a nation that’s divided, let’s unite and celebrate something worth celebrating even if it is a little later this year: Opening Day 2020.
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