2021 St. Louis Cardinals: These Redbirds will fly high this year

By Jarrod Castillo

With Opening Day 2021 upon us, the St. Louis Cardinals are hoping to put a rough 2020 season – which saw them lose to the San Diego Padres in the expanded playoffs – in the past with some new pieces in tow, largely in the form of one man.

The big picture: With the addition of Nolan Arenado – an all-world talent on both offense and defense – expect the Cardinals to soar higher than they have the last two seasons.

Read More: MLB power rankings: 2021 outlook for every team on Opening Day

The corners are hot in St. Louis

St. Louis Cardinals preview: Nolan Arenado
Mar 29, 2021; Jupiter, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) gestures back to the dugout after hitting a solo homerun in the 1st inning of the spring training game against the New York Mets at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After teasing fans for the past two seasons, John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations, was able to acquire the aforementioned Arenado and around $51 million from the Colorado Rockies for five prospects. By all accounts, the Cardinals stole the 29-year-old Arenado from the Rockies as though the pieces going to Colorado are solid – particularly pitcher Austin Gomber, either starting or coming out of the bullpen – none figure to be as impactful as Arenado.

For context, the Cardinals are getting a player that:

  • Averaged about 29 home runs and 89 RBI, slashing .293/.349/.541 with an OPS of .890 in about 135 games per season.
  • Is an eight-time Gold Glove and a four-time Platinum Glove winner for his superb defense at third.
  • Is a five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger.

That said, Arenado did have a down year offensively in 2020 – hitting eight home runs and driving in 26 in 48 games – as he worked through shoulder issues. His defense remained elite, however, as his 13 defensive runs saved was the most among all third basemen. Additionally, his 9.3 defensive runs above average tops all players, showing that even when Arenado has a down offensive year, he will retain his top-notch defense.

With Arenado at third and Paul Goldschmidt manning first, the Cardinals have a very solid offensive and defensive foundation at the corners.

Read More: 2021 MLB season: X-factor for each National League team

These St. Louis Cardinals are grounded

Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez
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

As was previously mentioned, the St. Louis Cardinals had a very rough 2020 season. With a COVID-19 outbreak among many other issues, that’s to be expected. With the outbreak causing the team to miss about two weeks of game time, the Cardinals had to make up games in a small amount of time. Thus, it makes sense why the Cardinals barely finished above .500 as they had to rush through the season with very little rest.

Even then, here are a few Cardinals that failed to live up to the lofty expectations:

  • Matt Carpenter: Splitting time in the infield and as DH, the 35-year-old Carpenter posted an anemic .186/.325/.314 line with a .640 OPS. He only hit four home runs and drove in 24.
  • Harrison Bader: A defensive menace, Bader hit four home runs and drove in 11. That said, he posted a not-so-great line: .226/.336/.443 with an OPS of .779.
  • Carlos Martinez: Sporting an ugly 9.00 ERA in three games started, Martinez never found his rhythm in 2020. He gave up 22 earned runs in only 20 innings.
  • Jack Flaherty: After having a stellar 2019 season, the Cardinals’ 25-year-old ace fell down to Earth with a pedestrian 4.91 ERA in nine games (nine starts).

That said, expect Martinez and Flaherty to have bounce-back seasons in 2021. Flaherty has a chance to show the Cardinals why he is deserving of being the ace against the Cincinnati Reds on Opening Day while Martinez can prove that 2020 was a horrific outlier by having a sub-5.00 ERA in his appearances. Regarding Carpenter and Bader, it is more difficult to forecast how their respective seasons are going to go.

With Carpenter firmly past his prime, declining exit velocity, higher strikeout rate and trouble beating the shift, it appears that 2020 was not an exception but the rule moving forward. Bader, meanwhile, is younger and has time to figure out how to properly read breaking pitches – something that he has had trouble recognizing in the past – once he returns from the IL.

Read More: 2021 MLB predictions: From MLB playoffs to 2021 World Series winner

The bottom line: Reasonable expectations for the St. Louis Cardinals

With everything being put into consideration, expect the Cardinals to win between 85-90 games this season and top the NL Central. After playing a 60-game sprint in 2020, the 162-game season this year should give the Cardinals better fortunes, especially if Arenado lives up to the billing. As it stands, the Cardinals were below league average on almost all offensive categories last year and so bringing in a talent like Arenado should provide some much-needed firepower in the lineup.

It has be mentioned that this is the first time Arenado will have played his home games away from Coors Field. It remains to be seen how much his offense will take a hit. Nevertheless, even a subpar offensive season from Arenado is better than not having him in the lineup at all.

With Arenado and Goldschmidt backing each other up, the Cardinals have the offensive firepower at the top of the lineup they desperately needed. Carpenter and Bader could potentially have decent seasons, as well.

Concerning the pitching, as long as Mike Maddux is the pitching coach, Flaherty and Martinez should have all the tools needed for a better showing in 2021. Nevertheless, if the pitching staff is able to continue performing at the high level they have in recent seasons and if the offensive upgrades live up to the expectations, expect the Cardinals to be flying high deep into October.