You smell that? That beautiful smell of freshly mowed grass has finally come back and with it, one of the best times of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, baseball is back. Now while I’ll have a preview and predictions for the entire National League very soon, I want to focus in on a team that continues to peak my interest: the St. Louis Cardinals.
To me, this team never seems to achieve what they should and instead vastly over-achieve or vastly under-achieve. Last year being a perfect example. After getting off to a miserable start, the club had no choice but to fire a manager dead-set in “old school” baseball in Mike Matheny and hire new-age Mike Shildt. Almost immediately, St. Louis caught fire and made things interesting but just missed out on making the playoffs. The question going into the 2019 season is simple: Which version of the 2018 Cardinals will we see? Let’s try and break it down:
2019 Managing Staff
Most previews don’t have any major discussion around the managers, and to not try and snooze it up, I’ll keep it short and sweet. As discussed above, there’s a new manager going into 2019 but there’s even more new fresh faces. New hitting coach Jeff Albert (replacing former Cardinal player John Mabry) looks to bring some of that Houston Astros offense to the Arch city and I for one hope to see players like Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill, and Kolten Wong improve in 2019.
Another fresh face is the addition of Stubby Clapp. Heavily linked with taking the Toronto Blue Jays coaching vacancy last winter, Clapp led the AAA Memphis Redbirds to back-to-back PCL championships and in watching a little of the Redbirds last year (living in Memphis makes this a little easier), Clapp seems like one of those guys that players will run through a wall for.
With every fresh face comes a loss and although he’s technically on the “roster”, it will be difficult not seeing familiar-faced Jose Oquendo on third base every game. Replaced by Ron ‘Pop’ Warner for this year, the Cardinals are hoping the minor league player development coordinator can help the team thrive in 2019.
2019 Pitching Staff
Well this sure is an interesting starting rotation. The man with what I believe to be the greatest mustache in baseball will lead the Cardinals out on Opening Day with hopes to replicate an amazing 2018 in which Mikolas recorded 18 wins with an ERA of 2.83 followed by a baby-faced, nasty slider and sinker pitcher in Flaherty. If Wacha and Wainwright can provide any sort of form they’ve displayed in the past, the Cardinals can boast one of the strongest rotations in baseball.
X-Factor(s): Carlos Martinez & Dakota Hudson
Dakota Hudson is a late add to the 5th spot in the rotation as it was announced that Carlos Martinez had a shoulder injury in February and would not be starting the season in the starting rotation. Insert Dakota Hudson. Hudson has pitched marvelously in spring ball, continuing a fantastic end to the 2018 season. From what I’ve seen out of Hudson, I don’t believe it will be long before this guy is seriously considered one of the best pitchers in baseball. His stuff is just flat out electrifying.
2019 Relief Staff
Closer – Jordan Hicks
LHP – Andrew Miller
RHP – Alex Reyes
RHP – Carlos Martinez
RHP – John Brebbia
LHP – Chasen Shreve
LHP – Brett Cecil
RHP – Dominic Leone
LHP – Austin Gomber
Please for the love of God, give me a 7-8-9th inning combo of Reyes, Miller, and Hicks (hoping here that we see 2016 Andrew Miller). I’m leaning on the side of we’ll see a mix of 2016 and 2018 Andrew Miller and we’ll still see some of the wildness that Hicks had last year, but if all three guys stay healthy—a big ask of Alex Reyes—I have very little doubt that this is a bullpen that could scare the crap out of some teams.
2019 Opening Day Lineup
- Matt Carpenter – 3B
- Paul DeJong – SS
- Paul Goldschmidt – 1B
- Marcell Ozuna – LF
- Yadier Molina – C
- Harrison Bader – CF
- Dexter Fowler – RF
- Kolten Wong – 2B
The addition of Goldschmidt is a major one here for the Cardinals. Trying to better themselves after finishing middle-of-the-pack in 2018 in almost every offensive category, the Cardinals added one of the best all-around hitters in the game and a move that I am a huge fan of. Goldschmidt brings the Cardinals the one thing they’ve been missing since Albert Pujols left: a big power hitter that can scare pitchers in that 3 hole. After a very strong top 4 to the lineup, I don’t see a major drop-off this year from the 5-8 spots. I think Molina will continue showing he’s better at the plate than everyone thinks and Bader will continue the solid production he showed at the end of 2018.
Whether that gets their offense over the finish line is the big question.
X-Factor: Dexter Fowler
Man, oh man, if there was a single player that divided the fanbase in baseball more than Dexter Fowler, I’d love to see it. On the bright side, I think it might be impossible for Fowler to have a worse year than last year, but I truly think this could be a bounce-back year for him. Now don’t quote me at saying he gets back to 2012 Colorado-level Fowler, but maybe more of the guy the Cardinals saw when they signed him from Chicago. He’s got something to prove and has a chip on his shoulder. Give me those type of guys any day compared to the unmotivated guys who think they’re better than everyone (cough cough Bud Norris).
Minor Leaguers to Keep an Eye On
Nolan Gorman – This kid can flat out play ball. Currently only 18 years old, this third base prospect has some major pop. He’s shown so much promise that I could easily see him take over Gyorko’s utility role and be a major asset to the Cardinals this year. Remember this name. Nolan Gorman will be a star.
Andrew Knizner – Although he’s not on the major league roster as the backup catcher, he’s dominating AAA ball from the offensive side, but needs some improvement in terms of his defense. Give him some time to learn from one of the all-time greats, and Knizner could be that “catcher of the future” the Cardinals thought Carson Kelly would become.
All things considered, the Cardinals are going into their 2019 season in which they enter the season with a better team than they ended the previous season, at least on paper. I think the NL Central evens out a little bit and the Cardinals finally return to the “core” playoffs. In what promises to be a fun year, I cannot wait to see how the Cardinals play.
Cardinals 2019 Record Projection: 88-74, Wild-Card representative, lose in NLDS.
— Matt Dixon
Feature Image: Getty Images