St. Louis Cardinals 2020: Reasons for optimism

What happened in 2019?

The St. Louis Cardinals exceeded many expectations in 2019 by winning the National League Central, beating the Atlanta Braves in the National League Divisional Series but then falling short against the eventual World Series winning Washington Nationals in the National League Championship Series.

The team was widely expected, by a number of projection systems, to end 2019 with around 85 wins so finishing with 91 wins was a great outcome and the most since the Cardinals 100 win season of 2015. The team started slow with a .500 record up until 12th July (56% of the season), but went on to have a strong second half and pushed on to win the NL Central.

Although they did reach the last two of the NL, they were widely thought of to be way out of their depth in the NLCS and this was strongly vindicated. The Nationals swept the Cards, with the Cardinals only scoring six runs (four of those coming in game four when they were already seven runs down) and never having the lead at any stage of the series.

Offensive struggles were a point of note for the Cardinals throughout 2019, so there has been a lot of noise this offseason for big bat replacements. The team struggled for runs, most notably in the NLCS, but this was evident way back in June when they only managed 3.5 runs per game on average, which was way below their season average (excluding June) of 4.9 runs per game.

Undoubtedly though, there were some standout events and breakout performers in 2019:

  • Jack Flaherty becoming the Cards ace and his second half performance (0.91 ERA in the final 81 games of the season) was the real driver of their postseason run.
  • Dakota Hudson breaking out in his rookie year with 16 wins, a 3.35 ERA and becoming a real innings eater with 174.2 IP.
  • Tommy Edman coming through from the minors and becoming the Cardinals most productive offensive player (123 wRC+) with his swiss-army-knife style playing in five different positions throughout the year.
  • Finally that series with the Chicago Cubs. With the two teams closely matched in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals proceeded to sweep the Cubbies in style at Wrigley Field with three clutch Cardinals homers in the final inning of games to secure postseason baseball in the Lou!

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Movers & Shakers

IN: Brad Miller, Austin Dean, Matthew Liberatore and Kwang-Hyun Kim

OUT: Marcell Ozuna, Michael Wacha, Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena (yes, the guy who went live on instagram with Mike Schildts expletive-filled NLDS winning speech)

One to watch (and a sneaky catch all second!)

On a recent PTBNL pod @UK_Cardinals gave a great suggestion of Dylan Carlson as a key guy to watch out for in 2020. Carlson is the St. Louis Cardinals top ranked prospect and ranked at 17th overall in MLB after an outstanding 2019 in the minors. Carlson managed 26 homers and 20 stolen bases split across two fantastic offensive periods between AA (142 wRC+) and AAA (161 wRC+).

Additionally though, there are a plethora of strong Cardinals pitching coming through the minors that will make an impact in the NL Central race this year. Genesis Cabrera, Junior Fernandez, Jake Woodford and Kodi Whitley are all ranked within the Cardinals top 15 prospects but will undoubtedly make an impact from the bullpen or even with a few starts in 2020! So absolutely keep an eye on the Cardinals pitching from their young talent!

Five reasons to be optimistic for 2020

  1. Most importantly to our UK based fans, the St. Louis Cardinals will be travelling to London in June 2020 for a two game series with the Chicago Cubs. This will be only the second ever regular season series in the UK and after all of the offense from last years New York Yankees – Boston Red Sox match up (50 runs over two games!), this should be a very exciting series. If you haven’t already, make sure to get your tickets now and don your best red and white jerseys to support the Cardinals!
  2. The battle of the outfield in St. Louis should mean for exciting and productive baseball throughout the year. There are no locked down positions at present in the Cards outfield, with last years left fielder Marcell Ozuna leaving for the Atlanta Braves, right fielder Dexter Fowler struggling offensively in the post season and now in spring training, opening up questions around his role. We have also seen centre fielder Harrison Bader still not showing he has the offense to back up his defense. It should be an exciting battle for positions between Fowler and Bader, with youngsters Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas and hopefully Dylan Carlson sooner rather than later!
  3. Jack Flaherty – There is a lot of hype amongst Cardinals fans to see what Flaherty can do in 2020. Can he continue with his second half form from 2019, and if so do the Cards have a perennial Cy Young winner on their hands that could really push them towards challenging for World Series for years to come. Bring the spark.
  4. Nolan Arenado – now this will be a contentious one with Colorado Rockies fans, but all offseason there has been a lot of buzz around a possible Arenado move to the Cardinals which has been backed up by the public fallout between Arenado and Rockies GM Jeff Bridich. The third base position is by no means locked down in St. Louis, and anybody would jump at the chance to sign one of the best third basemen in the major leagues. It looks unlikely that this will now happen in spring but depending on how the Cards are performing at the trade deadline, there could be a lot of noise around a possible “Arenado to the Cardinals” trade.
  5. Finally going for the Central. The Chicago Cubs haven’t improved their team and will be learning from a new manager in David Ross, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be challenging for the worst record in the NL, the Milwaukee Brewers have lost a number of key players and although the Cincinnati Reds have improved there are a lot of new guys on that team playing together for the first time. If the Cardinals offense can kick on and improve, plus the pitching maintains the performances from the second half of 2019 there is a real shout of postseason baseball returning back to St. Louis in 2020!

Matt Benson has joined the team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds to cover the Cardinals in 2020. Follow him on Twitter @STLAnalyticsUK

Make sure you subscribe to the Bat Flips and Nerds podcasts and follow us on Twitter @BatFlips_Nerds. News, views and interviews, all with a British twist.

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