St. Louis Cardinals’ Mix Set To Treat Fans Again

St. Louis Cardinals' Mix Set To Treat Fans Again
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals‘ mix of experienced stars and young prospects should have them in the mix for more success in the National League Central Division.

St. Louis fans have been spoiled. Their beloved Birds have had a winning record in 23 of the last 25 seasons. That includes 16 trips to the playoffs, four World Series, and championships in 2006 and 2011.

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With all-stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado at the corners and on the way to the Hall of Fame, the Cards are playing with a stacked deck. The jokers have been removed and replaced by slugging outfielder Tyler O’Neill and exciting young players such as Nolan Gorman, Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez, Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson and Brendan Donovan.

The offense appears to be in good hands even with the retirement of future Hall of Famers Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. All-Star catcher Willson Contreras was signed to take Molina. Yepez is Pujols Light. The team hopes he learned from King Albert how to consistently use his light-tower power while watching the super slugger swat his way into the sunset a year ago.

Ageless Adam Wainwright is in the rotation, there’s a boatload of hard-throwing relievers in the bullpen, and it looks like El Birdos should be flying high once again along the banks of the Mississippi River.

Down On The Farm, Not For Long

The Cardinals don’t just wing it. The organization has been growing talent since legendary executive Branch Rickey invented the farm system 104 years ago for them. There have been few dust bowl years and Hall of Famers aplenty: Stan Musial, Joe Medwick, Bob Gibson and Dizzy Dean top a long list of greats.

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There’s a bumper crop of even more heavy hitters nearly ready to harvest in Jordan Walker, Alec Burleson and Masyn Winn. They could be valuable in-season call-ups ready to give a big boost to a prospective NL Central pennant run rather than having to go wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline.

Last year, OF-1B Burleson, 23, batted .331 with 20 homers and 87 RBI at AAA Memphis; SS Wynn, 21, went 12/63/.283 with 42 steals in 48 attempts and fine defense at AA Springfield and his teammate 3B-OF Walker, 20, was 19/68/.306 with 22 SB in 27 tries.

Rotation Recovered?

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The biggest concern is whether a somewhat patchwork rotation can remain healthy. After 41-year-old Wainwright (11-12, 3.71 ERA) and lefty Jordan Montgomery (6-3, 3.11 after being acquired from the New York Yankees) there are big question marks.

Miles Mikolas (12-13, 3.29), Jack Flaherty (2-1), Steven Matz (5-3) and Dakota Hudson (8-7) seem to be on the shelf as much as on the mound in recent years. If Flaherty can return to his 2018 form (11-8, 2.75, 231 Ks in 196 innings) the Cards would have another ace.

Touted rookie left-hander Matthew Liberatore has looked good this spring (2-0, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts). He may join the rotation and give others additional recovery time.

Blazing Bullpen

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The fireballing relievers have had health issues, too. Jordan Hicks and his 103 mph sinker missed much of 2021 and he was not quite the same a year ago, though he appears healthy now. He did notch 63 Ks and yield only 46 hits in 61 1/3 innings but issued a lot of walks. If fully healthy, he is capable of much more.

Ryan Helsley‘s fabulous fastball earned an all-star berth at age 29 after three years in middle relief. He went 9-1 with a microscopic 1.29 ERA, 19 saves, and 94 Ks with only 28 hits allowed in 64 2/3 innings. The word unhittable is applicable.

Lefty Giovanni Gallegos (4-2, 3,05, 14 saves. 73 Ks in 59 innings) alternates with Helsley as closer or setup man.
Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.23), Andre Pallante and Genesis Cabrera provide depth.

Outstanding Offense

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First baseman Goldschmidt (35 HR, 115 RBI, .317) won the NL MVP Award and Arenado (30/103/.293) wasn’t far behind while winning his 10th Gold Glove in 10 years at third. Both have had even more productive years in the past and could again in 2023.

O’Neill (14 HR, .228) battled injuries after a big 2021 season: 34/80/.286. He looked healthy and powerful again for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic earlier this month.

Nootbaar (14/40/.228) claimed the right field job with several outstanding defensive plays and timely hitting.

He’s Everywhere, He’s Everywhere

That described Donovan (.281), who was mostly on base and touching home plate as he played six positions well. The rookie played 7 games at short, 16 at first, 31 at third, 37 in left or right, and 38 at second where he is slated to start in place of Gorman (14 HR, .226). Both are lefty hitters and if Gorman cuts his strikeouts, he is going to earn at-bats, sending Donovan off to a spot where somebody may be ailing or slumping.

Quite A Catch

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Contreras has big shoes to fill. He’s got the big bat to do it. He had his fourth 20-plus homer season (22) for the Chicago Cubs in his free-agent year.

Despite past success, he needs a good start to 2023 as his every move at the plate or behind it will be compared to the beloved Molina. Should boos be heard, even an experienced player like Contreras may press to try and show he was worth the big bucks.

Andrew Knizner once again provides solid defense in reserve and may pop some hits. He compiled a .303 average across four years in the minors.

The Wizard of … Tommy?

He is never going to be Ozzie Smith, the beloved Hall of Fame Wizard at shortstop in Cardinals lore, but Tommy Edman can go get ’em in the field and gives solid offense (13/57/.265) and baserunning, (32-for-35 steals).

Edman won a Gold Glove in 2021 and was just as good last year. His hustling, bustling style gives the lineup a boost when the big boys have a collective off day.

Central Casting

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Manager Oliver Marmol did a wonderful job guiding the club to a 93-67 record. At age 36, he appears destined for a long career at the helm. This year may show his future mettle as he will be under pressure to do it again and go farther in the postseason.

The NL Central has always been ultra-competitive. The Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Pittsburgh Pirates are “rebuilding” but could pop into contention. The Milwaukee Brewers want to reclaim division supremacy after finishing second.

They are all going to try and make it tougher to see if a 2023 division crown is “in the Cards”.

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Chuck Murr

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