St. Louis Cardinals: USA Today’s 2018 projections

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SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 4: Carlos Martinez
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 4: Carlos Martinez /
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With just a week or so before pitchers and catchers report, USA Today released their projections for the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals.

As the boring off-season continues to drag on, the focus of baseball is slowly shifting to the start of the regular season on March 29th. Yesterday, USA Today gave us our first glance at their MLB standings projections. You might be surprised to see where the St. Louis Cardinals landed.

If you recall, last year USA Today projected the St. Louis Cardinals with a 88-74 record. Had the Cardinals achieved that mark, they would’ve been the second Wild Card team in the National League. However, as we all know, the team stumbled to a 83-79 record, missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. The Cardinals severely underperformed their actual play and finished in third place for the first time since 2008.

Here are the USA Today projections for 2018:

If you did a double take, you read it right. The projections have the St. Louis Cardinals winning only 85 games this season. The projections show the Cardinals will finish with a 85-77 record, good for third place behind the Milwaukee Brewers at 86-76 and the Chicago Cubs at 92-70.

While this doesn’t show a lot of love for the Cardinals, there is a little bit of hope. If you look across the rest of the National League, the Cardinals would actually be in a tie for the second Wild Card spot with the Colorado Rockies. As much as I want to be in the playoffs, 85 wins isn’t going to realistically cut it.

So, do you buy or sell these projections?

Buy

If you buy these projections, then you are essentially saying the St. Louis Cardinals have a hard cap at 85 wins, but could be lower. Truthfully, you might be right. There are plenty of factors that would lead anyone to believe this team won’t surpass 85 wins.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the team heading into the 2018 season is pitching. I honestly believe the 2018 starting rotation is better than 2017’s, but there is just so much unknown it’s hard to have any expectations. The Cardinals are relying on Luke Weaver and Miles Mikolas to fill the back end of the rotation. You also have to factor in what Adam Wainwright will or won’t give you.

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The bullpen also has some questions. While the St. Louis Cardinals retooled their late inning options, the lack of a true closer is still a glaring issue for many.

I don’t think anyone but the front office is actually set on Luke Gregerson being the closer for this team, but you can’t blame the fans for that one.

The Cardinals taking a chance on a guy who didn’t pitch a single inning in the post-season last year for the World Champion Astros is risky.

Another factor is play against the top division teams. The Cardinals went 13-25 against the Cubs and Brewers combined. The Cardinals cannot afford to play their division rivals like that.

The unfortunate news for the Cardinals though is the Brewers are better than last year and could get some more help by the time the season starts. The Cubs have regressed a little bit with the loss of Wade Davis, but they are still the division champs for a reason.

The Cardinals will have to work hard to beat the 85-win mark, but it can be done.

Sell

If you’re like me, you most likely looked at the projections and said, “No way.” I’m not saying the Cardinals are a 90-win team by any means, but these projections are selling the team short. My stance is pretty simple. I think the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals are far better than the 2017 Cardinals.

The trade for Marcell Ozuna makes the team more complete in the outfield and in the lineup. If the St. Louis lineup produces as expected as well, then you are talking about a top-5 offense in the National League. That should put you over the 85-win mark, in my opinion.

Even though I said the bullpen still had concerns, it’s a better bullpen than they had last year. The addition of Gregerson and Dominic Leone to the mix is huge step in the right direction for the Cards. Do not forget potential additions of Alex Reyes and/or Ryan Helsley could provide the Cardinals a huge boost in the season, especially if Gregerson falters as closer.

I also think the depth of the starting rotation for the Cardinals is something a lot of National League teams do not have. I am not expecting Reyes to start this season, but he could potentially fill in some innings this season. If he gets on a roll, it would be difficult to take him out of the rotation. You also have to consider Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Austin Gomber to make serious pushes this year as well.

Another factor to sell on is the two divisional opponents not named the Cubs or Brewers and the rest of the National League.

Both the Pirates and Reds are both likely to finish right around 70 wins, which means the Cardinals need to maximize their opportunities against them. There are seven other teams in the National League projected to have a worse record than the Cardinals as well. Also consider the fact that the Cardinals also play the Al Central this year, which has three teams with worse records than the Cardinals as well.

I know the Cubs and Brewers are in the same boat, but I just don’t see the competiveness in the other National League teams this year. Need evidence? Just look at how this off-season has played out.

Personally, I think the Cardinals are much closer to their 2017 projection than the 2018 projection. I think this team has a chance to win 88 games this season and make the playoffs. Is it enough to win the division? Probably not, but it will be enough for a Wild Card position. Plus, when is the last time an 85-win team made the Wild Card?

Next: Second choices for the Cards

What do you think? Are the projections off or are they right in line with your thoughts?

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