The St. Louis Cardinals are looking to earn a spot back in the playoffs after an off year in 2017. With their additions, it could be a realistic goal. The Cardinals are an organization that seemingly always grow from within but this winter they went out and got a power bat and solid arm for the bullpen. Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong were monsters for them a year ago, Yadi Molina can still produce, Matt Carpenter is an OBP machine with power and now they add a legitimate MVP candidate from last year, Marvell Ozuna. Their offense, though it may lack a little power, will be productive and they’ll have some questions in the rotation. Can Adam Wainwright return to himself and can Japanese league acquisition, Miles Mikolas remain dominant in the USA? The Cards are a good team, but can they make the next step to “great”?
Marvell Ozuna, OF
Miles Mikolas, RHP
Luke Gregerson, RHP
Lance Lynn, RHP
Stephen Piscotty, OF
Alexmys Diaz, SS
Randal Grichuk, OF
Juan Nicasio, RHP
Why they can win: As previously stated, the Cardinals just get it done. They had 83 wins last year, their lowest in quite some time. They add a 4.8 WAR bat, and if DeJong, Pham and Wong can match or exceed 2017, they’ll be really good. You can always count on Molina, Carpenter and Fowler to have solid campaigns and they have nice depth with Jose Martinez and Gyorko platooning at different spots. Carlos Martinez could be headed for his prime season and Michael Wacha is always steady. Their bullpen is good enough where if they can have Mikolas and Weaver pitch well, they’ll give the Cubs a run for their money.
Why they can lose: Maybe Marcell Ozuna is a flash in the pan and isn’t the bat we think. Maybe DeJong and Pham can’t live up to their 2017s. Maybe Yadi is old and declining. Maybe Wainwright is done and Mikolas can’t do it over here. Could be said for any team but if some of those things don’t go their way, they’re looking at another 80 win season and missing the playoffs
Bottom Line: The Cardinals will be very competitive in 2018. I can’t remember a year in the last decade where they haven’t been! Ozuna is great and I really think he makes their lineup very scary because they have so many guys who can get on base and while they won’t kill you with the long ball they’ll score a lot of runs and have above average pitching. Last year their bullpen had a 3.81 ERA…37 points lower than the NL average. Their starters? 31 points below the 4.44 average. They’ll get it done and it seems reasonable to think they’ll be fighting with Milwaukee for a the first or second WC spot.
Major4 Numbers Game:
Stud: Marcel Ozuna, OF
Ozuna could also factor in as the teams impact acquisition, but he entered into the leagues elite players last year backed by a 4.8 WAR season. He upped his BB% by two points and is now above league average in that regard, in addition to his tremendous raw and game power (.237 ISO, 37 HRs). While he won’t have the luxury of being protected by Stanton and Yelich, he has a good supporting cast of bats with the likes of Pham and Fowler setting the table, and Carpenter behind him. He has power to all fields (only 38.6% pull percentage) and hits the ball hard no matter where it is delievered (39.1% Hard-Hit Rate). Add in the fact he is upgrading to a better hitters park, expect Ozuna to deliver another 4+ WAR season.
Sinkhole: Adam Wainwright, SP/(RP?)
Wainwright’s 12-5 W/L record is example number one of why analytics people feel Ws are an overrated stat when measuring a player’s performance. He posted a poor 5.11 ERA, 4.29 FIP, and terrible K-BB% (9.3). Wainwright’s FB has continued to be on the decline and has stolen value from his formerly elite offspeed pitches. There are two major reasons why he is the team’s sinkhole. First, he’s getting paid like an ace, with his 2018 salary at $19.5M, and there seems to be no possible way he provides surplus on that contract given his poor peripherals from 2017. Two, he’s stealing starts away from pitchers like Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty who are up and coming studs who will be making pennies in comparison. Waino may be better served pitching in the bullpen and hoping he can find some of his lost velocity in shorter stints. His 2nd half of his season was horrendous as he was actually walking more batters than strikeouts and succumbed to a season ending injury, which may have been a blessing to the Cardinals playoff hopes. It is too bad to see a former Cy Young candidate fall by the waste side, but as the old cliche goes “Father time has never been defeated”… or something along those lines.
Regression Candidate: Tommy Pham, OF
The story of Pham’s breakout 2017 campaign has been well documented. At age 29, he blossomed into a star player posting: 5.9 WAR, 23 HRs, 24 SB, 148 wRC+ and elite 13.4 BB%. It was one of the feel good stories of the year. While we aren’t knocking Pham as a player, it is just hard to expect him to continue those fantastic numbers. His ground ball rate (51.7%) is less than ideal and his 26.7 HR/FB rate is hard to maintain combined with his hard-hit contact rates. His defense will help keep his WAR afloat despite a drop in his batting performance. Hot Take: Pham posts a sub-3 WAR, less than 20 HRs, and his wRC+ will be in the 110 range. Still a valuable contributor, but not among the league’s stars.
Impact Acquisition: Miles Mikolas, SP
Mikolas is an intriguing #3-4 Starter for the Cards as the 30 year old marks his return to the States after a three year sabatical in Japan. When last seen in the Majors, he was a Quad-A type player who never experienced any success at the Major League level. He became a superstar in Japan, posting a 2.18 ERA and finding new life on a below previously average fastball and elite command (69 BB in 424 IP). Even with some regression due to change in competition, Mikolas projects to be about a 2 WAR player (ZiPS, Steamer), which will make him his contract look like a bargain (2/$15.5M). The Cards have a surplus of major league level arms and Mikolas adds some more quality depth
Major4 Prospects, (Top 100):
Alex Reyes, RHP (17)
Jack Flaherty, RHP (38)
Carson Kelly, C (46)
Tyler O’Neil, OF (94)
Why We Love Them: There is something to be said when a fanbase is angry at an 83 win season. They win all the time and they should again this year. They have great prospects like DeJong, Reyes, Carson Kelly and Flaherty. All of which we may see in 2018. They have the best logo and uniforms in baseball. If not the best, then the classiest. Great stadium and awesome rivalry with the Cubbies. They may be boring sometimes but they get the job done and as a baseball fan, that’s fun to see.