St. Louis Cardinals: Five keys for a successful season

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist /

Every fan hopes that his/her team makes the playoffs. The St. Louis Cardinals are one team that can realistically make it. Here are some things that need to go right if that is going to happen.

The St. Louis Cardinals will soon kick off the 2018 season in New York and will do so sitting tied atop the National League Central division. There are a few things they can do to make sure they stay there.

Carlos Martinez must establish himself

Every team’s ace sets the tone for the rest of the rotation. If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to have a successful season then Carlos Martinez has to become the pitcher he has the stuff to become.

Carlos could easily be a top-five pitcher in the league. He has a career ERA of 3.42 with a 3.52 FIP. His career ground ball rate is 53.6% with a 0.77 HR/9 ratio. Those are elite numbers.

The problem comes when you look at Martinez’s control numbers. He has a career rate of 3.21 BB/9. That’s what seems to get him into trouble.

There’s no doubt that Carlos has the stuff to be one of the top-tier aces in the National League. If the Cardinals are going to make the playoffs, then Martinez will have to cut down on the walks and find the consistency to finalize realize his potential.

Someone has to step up as closer

No fan feels comfortable going into the season with a “Closer by Committee” type of situation. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Cardinals have coming out of camp this year.

With Luke Gregerson on the DL and other offseason-signed Bud Norris looking terrible this spring, Mike Matheny is left without an established closer to begin the season. It’s a less than ideal situation to say the least.

It was assumed that the front office would go out and get a closer this offseason. That never materialized. Greg Holland still remains a possibility, but the Cardinals do not appear willing to meet his asking price.

Current roster options make Dominic Leone and Tyler Lyons the most likely candidates to fill that role. Gregerson was supposed to be that guy, but questions surround him as well.

Barring a last minute signing or surprising trade acquisition, if nobody else can grab hold of the closer role then it’s going to be another long season for Cardinal Nation.

2017 breakout players must repeat success

If anyone told you before the 2017 season that Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong would be the best hitters for the Cardinals then you likely would have laughed at them. Nobody is laughing now, but they are cautiously optimistic.

Pham’s .306/.411/.520 slash line came almost from out of nowhere. So did the first 20 HR/20 SB season of his career. Pham is aiming for a 30/30 season this year. That will go a long way toward seeing the Redbirds in the playoffs again.

While Pham may have been on the periphery, no one saw DeJong coming. DeJong slashed .285/.325/.532 to go along with 25 HR while producing a 3.0 WAR. It’s no wonder he nearly won NL Rookie of the Year.

Those numbers don’t seem sustainable though. DeJong’s 28% K% to go along with a paltry 4.7% BB% scream regression. Couple that with a .349 BABIP and you have to wonder if he can do it again.

Pham and DeJong will have to prove their doubters wrong and keep the regression to a minimum if the Cardinals want to find themselves playing in October after a two year hiatus.

Matt Carpenter has to be Matt Carpenter again

Matt Carpenter went from being a .300+ hitter who could drive the ball early in his career to being a .240 hitter who constantly grounded into the shift last year. Bottom line is, he can’t be that guy again this year if the St. Louis Cardinals are to make the playoffs.

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Carpenter had always been a great on-base guy. He’s a career .300 OBP hitter who in 2013 produced at 6.9 WAR. That’s where Carp’s greatest value is.

If Matt Carpenter can return to being the guy who gets on base at a torrid clip while batting close to .300 then this team will be very good. He doesn’t need to hit 20+ homers. He just needs to drive guys in.

With the emergence of Tommy Pham ahead of him and newly-acquired Marcell Ozuna behind him, Carpenter has the chance to be his old self again. He better be, or the St. Louis Cardinals will be sitting out October while fans protest for Jose Martinez to be the starter at first base.

Mike Matheny must grow as a manager

Mike Matheny is a great guy. He is someone you can put a great deal of trust in. However, Mike Matheny can also be loyal to a fault. Right or wrong, that loyalty has given him a bad reputation among the fan base.

Last year saw too many instances when Matheny seemed to play favorites instead of putting out the best option to win. Carpenter and Trevor Rosenthal both struggled mightily. Matheny still went to them often.

If this team is going to win this year then Matheny has to be quicker to pull the plug on a guy who isn’t performing. He needs to be able to trust his secondary coaches and learn from them as well.

Mike Maddux, Jose Oquendo, and Willie McGee are all top-notch additions to the coaching staff. Matheny will need to lean on them more heavily and trust those guys to help him lead this ball club.

The talent to win is there, but it starts at the top with the manager putting all of his players in the best position to win. Not just the ones he likes the most.

Next: 10 bold predictions for 2018

This 2018 Cardinals team has the potential to do something very special. They should contend for a division crown and even make some noise in October. However, if these five things don’t happen then it will be very difficult to see that potential realized.