The St. Louis Cardinals enter the 2022 season with high aspirations. In pursuit of their 12th World Series title, here’s what they need to do to reach the ultimate goal.
5. The Shortstop Bounce Back
Paul DeJong entered 2021 on the backside of two impressive seasons. In 2019, he put together his best season since his breakout rookie campaign, where he slashed .233/.318/.444 with 30 HRs and 78 RBIs. He followed that up in 2020 with a slash line of .250/.322/.349 in the shortened season. He saw the dip in power in the shortened season, but put the ball in play and saw his walk percentage reach a career height of 9.8%
He enters 2022 after what some would categorize 2021 as disastrous. He hit below the Mendoza line while seeing his low power numbers from 2020 continue. He even lost his job to eventual playoff starter Edmundo Sosa. The Cardinals seemed to be in the market this past offseason for one of the star shortstops but decided to run it back with the tandem of DeJong/Sosa.
What does the bounce back look like? I am not asking DeJong to put up 2017 numbers, not even 2019 numbers. What DeJong needs to bring to this lineup is another threat. Whether he needs to sell out a tad more for power, or switch his approach at the plate each at-bat, something needs to change. If DeJong can bring back a similar slash line of .230/.320/.400, he would add another threat to a lineup that is already top-loaded.
If DeJong struggles, the Cardinals will need to move on quickly to Edmundo Sosa. Sosa showed flashes in 2021 and can provide enough at the bottom of what is looking like a loaded lineup.
4. Dakota Hudson
Dakota Hudson is slept on throughout the league, in my opinion. I believe Hudson can return to 2019/2020 glory. Hudson only pitched 8.2 innings in 2021, before undergoing Tommy John surgery. In his most recent body of work, he threw 39 innings with a 2.77 ERA and a K/9 just above 7. With the injury to Jack Flaherty, Hudson is the guy that will need to break out in a big way in 2022, in hopes to shore up a rotation that is middling at best. Hudson fits perfectly in front of this Cardinals defense, with a career 57.6% ground ball rate. If he stays healthy and can keep the ball down, he should find success in 2022.
3. Staying Healthy
You could make the case that this is a key to every teams’ success, but I believe it is even more vital for the Cardinals. With the losses of Jack Flaherty (shoulder tear) and Alex Reyes (labrum injury), the Cardinal pitching staff is already thin. They are now relying on 40-year-old Adam Wainwright to be their ace, again. With an already banged up rotation and bullpen, they’ll need guys like Steven Matz and Dakota Hudson to stay healthy through the tough months of summer. I believe the bullpen is above average, although the walk rates will hurt them from time to time.
The lineup is healthy as of this moment, but with an aging Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols, they’ll need guys like Andrew Knizner, Corey Dickerson, and Lars Nootbar to eat some of the bulk. This lineup is scary, but a tragic injury to Tyler O’Neill or Nolan Arenado could derail things quickly. Health needs to be in check in St. Louis, especially if they want to stay afloat in the exhausting months of June and July.
2. Matthew Liberatore Breakout
Have you sensed a theme yet? The Cardinals’ success this year hinges on the back of their pitching. We know their lineup is going to produce, but in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, they’ll need guys to step up. Matthew Liberatore will start 2022 in Memphis (AAA), but with success could find himself on the big league roster relatively fast.
With a rotation of Wainwright, Mikolas, Matz, Hudson, and Hicks, the breakout of Liberatore could find himself placed right in the heart of this mediocre rotation. He has inspiring stuff, but one concern would be his fastball. It sits 93/94 with no movement, and would likely get blown up in the bigs. He needs to figure it out, and find himself building up to contribute as soon as possible. His development could make or break this team this year, especially if this team finds itself struggling to stay healthy.
#1. The MV3
While the key to staying afloat in the summer is the pitching, the key to winning a World Series is at the heart of this lineup. Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill, and Nolan Arenado form one of the best 2-3-4 in the entire sport. They are all elite players but need to stay consistent and get hot at the right time. Goldschmidt, who will be 35 by the end of this season, is entering what only some would assume to back end of his career. On the flip side, Tyler O’Neill is entering his age 27 season and should be having his best years over the next few years. Nolan Arenado is right in the middle, as he will be 31 on April 16th. This is the year to capitalize and become truly terrifying for opposing pitchers.
Tyler O’Neill has an MVP-type ceiling, and now has the protection needed to put up those historic numbers. He has produced seasons with an above .800 OPS, but now it is time for another step forward. With everything going well, you could truly see a historic season from O’Neill. You know what Nolan Arenado brings to the table, albeit struggles in 2021. When I say struggles, it was the dip in batting average. The Coors effect might be real, but he still slugged .494 last season. If he could find a way to just put the ball in play a tad more, he could come back to those Coors Field-like numbers. Paul Goldschmidt just needs to be Paul Goldschmidt.
Pitching needs to stay healthy, needs to stay afloat during summer, and this team could cause damage come October. The lineup is dangerous, especially if DeJong can be even half of the player he was in 2019. The Cardinals are a very polarizing team to start 2022, and it should make for some entertaining baseball.
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