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What the St. Louis Cardinals need to do to make it to the postseason

Feb 29, 2020; Jupiter, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Carlos Martinez (18) delivers a pitch in the first inning of the game against the Washington Nationals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After missing the playoffs for three straight years, the St. Louis Cardinals won the NL Central and made it as far as the NLCS in 2019. However, with the 2020 season only consisting of 60 games, the Cardinals don’t have a lot of time to waste if they want to make it back to the playoffs.

The big picture: With such a short 2020 MLB season on the horizon, here is what needs to happen for the Cardinals to make it to the postseason.

The Cardinal bats need to soar

To put it simply, the Cardinals need to improve on offense.

As a whole, they were 23rd in batting average (.245) and home runs (210), 20th in OPS (.737) and 16th in runs per game (4.72). The lack of offense showed in the NLCS against the eventual-champion Washington Nationals. In the four-game sweep, the Cardinals only mustered around 1.5 runs per game. The Nationals scored five per game.

That said, a good part of the lineup – excluding pitchers – in 2019 hit below .252, league average. Here are a few players that need to step it up in 2020 for the Cardinals to have a chance:

  • Harrison Bader: A very good defensive outfielder, Bader hit .205/.314/.366 with a .680 OPS. He needs to be more consistent at the plate, especially against off-speed pitches.
  • Matt Carpenter: Carpenter’s 2019 struggles have been well-documented. One of the most prolific Cardinal hitters during the 2010s, being the designated hitter might help him regain form.
  • Paul DeJong: The first-time All-Star played well in the first half (87 games), clubbing 13 home runs and hit .258/.343/.442 with a .786 OPS. DeJong fell off a cliff in the second half however, only hitting .202/.285/.447/ with an OPS of .731. The Cardinals hope he can carry over his first-half success from 2019 to this season.
  • Dexter Fowler: Often the Cardinals’ lead-off hitter in 2019, Fowler hit .238/.346/.409 with a .754 OPS. Like DeJong, Fowler started the season strong – .254/.357/.429 with a .786 OPS – but struggled in the second half. Depending on where Fowler hits in 2020, the Cardinals need strong production from their main right fielder.

With Marcell Ozuna taking his talents to Atlanta in the offseason, that’s another 29 home runs gone from a team that sorely needs scoring. However, the Cardinals have a lot of outfielders they can choose to slot in left. Whoever plays left field probably won’t hit as many home runs, but hopefully he will be able to hit for average, at least.

Cardinals pitching has to ground opponents

On the flip side, the Cardinals’ pitching was outstanding. Led by 24-year-old ace Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals rotation posted a 3.80 ERA – fifth-best in MLB – and allowed the third-fewest home runs (191). The pitching also gave up the fifth-fewest runs per game at 4.09.

Much of the Cardinals’ success has to go to Mike Maddux. Since being hired in 2018 as the pitching coach, Maddux has helped the Cardinals hit sub-4.00 ERA’s the past two seasons. It’s under his direction that Flaherty took the next step in becoming the ace of the staff.

Additionally, his instruction helped Miles Mikolas adjust to MLB after years overseas. In 2018, Mikolas was the Cardinals’ ace, going 18-4 in 32 games and posting a 2.83 ERA. Though he took a step back in 2019, he was still a reliable pitcher, with a 4.16 ERA in 32 games.

If the pitching staff is able to replicate its success from 2019, the team is in good shape to reach the postseason.

Potential projections for the Redbirds

As the 2020 MLB season is just around the corner, here are some reachable goals for the Cardinals offense:

  • The offense could hit for average, which should be around .245-.255. For reference, the KBO league has played around 65 games, with the batting average around .274.
  • The aforementioned players should have a bounce-back season, especially since most of them played well in a similar number of games in the first half.
  • Expect players that hit well – such as Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong – to continue raking in 2020.

Meanwhile, as long as the Cardinals pitchers follow Maddux’s lead, they should have another fantastic season. It’s possible that:

  • Flaherty could put up another stellar season and sneak in as the NL Cy Young winner.
  • The pitching staff, as a whole, can continue to put a sub-4.00 ERA, somewhere around 3.80 and 3.85.
  • The bullpen can hold it down, as it was first in saves (52), third in save percentage (71%) and sixth in ERA (3.88).

Considering these statistics come from a full season instead of a 60-game season, these numbers can be better. Even so, the Cardinals could miss those marks altogether.

The bottom line: The Cardinals will make it to the postseason in 2020

Because the 2020 MLB season is unlike any other, there’s no precedent for determining how players will perform. The best way to do so is by looking at a players’ first-half statistics and seeing how they performed.

Though the Cardinals’ pitching is strong enough to power them to the playoffs, the offense needs to step up. The Cardinals are projected to win around 32 games this season, based on multiple betting sites. Being in such a strong division makes it difficult to know where the Cardinals will land as well.

Nevertheless, the Cardinals will make the postseason again in 2020, mainly relying on their pitching.