While the St. Louis Cardinals may not be in the World Series, what can the two teams who are in it tell us about how the team should try and build their roster?
It may have been a disappointing end to the season, but when the Astros and the Nationals finish their bout in the World Series, every team is tied for first again, including your St. Louis Cardinals.
With a new offseason, there comes the chance to tweak and mold the team to try and improve for the next year. It’s disappointing that the Cardinals couldn’t beat the Nationals, but what can the two teams left tell us about how the Cardinals should try and build their team for 2020?
The smart ass answer is, “get better players,” but starting with how the Cardinals were beaten by the Nationals, there is a clear theme that will hold true throughout this analysis.
The Cardinals were suffocated by the Nationals pitching.
I am not going to go through the numbers again, but scoring six total runs and almost being no-hit twice over four games is never going to end very well. The offensive collapse has to fall both on the shoulders of the hitters on the Cardinals as well as the pitching power of the Nationals, but the team had just beaten the Braves who’s pitching staff is clearly not as dominant as the Nationals’.
Back to the World Series, let’s take a look at the pitching staffs on both sides.
The aforementioned Nationals have a postseason rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez. That was the 5th-best rotation by pitching fWAR in the regular season and their dominance has shown in the postseason too.
On the Astros side, their three-headed dragon of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke has been shouldering the postseason load and in the regular season, they were ranked second in ERA and 4th, right ahead of the Nationals, in pitching fWAR.
This tweet basically sums up the argument I am trying to make here.
Baseball in 2019 is drastically different than it has been for a while and in a world where everyone is hitting homers, pitching becomes even more important. Pitching beats offense in the postseason (see the Braves/Cardinals series) and it is no mistake that the two teams with the best pitching staffs are the last two standing.
In setting the record for having two teams squaring off with two 5.0+ WAR pitchers, the Nationals can one-up the Astros by touting a third 5.0+ WAR pitcher. Postseason baseball is very volatile though and it only makes sense that the lowest-scoring game of the World Series has been five total runs.
That speaks more to the offenses that both teams tout as the Astros had the best offense in the league in 2019. While the Nationals were the 8th best during the year, all can change during the postseason.
Again, postseason performances can be wildly inconsistent with regular season trends, but having the best pitching staffs limits the chances that the other team can have an offensive explosion, whether or not they are supposed to.
So, looking at the current Cardinals, how can this analysis be used?
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The clear difference between the Astros and the Nationals when compared to the Cardinals is the offense. That is no secret. The Cardinals are going to need their players to hit their career averages at least next year AND they are going to have to add some names over the winter if they want to remain competitive with either of those teams.
Putting that (very large) difference aside, the starting pitching comes back into focus. The starting pitching and bullpen for the Cardinals was a clear strength for them in 2019 which is great. It’s a big part of why they made it as far as they did. That being said, it’s not close to what the Nationals and Astros are trotting out there.
Look at how the Nationals played their offseason last year. Rather than resigning Bryce Harper, they went out and signed Patrick Corbin long-term. They then let their young players take hold in the outfield and the pitching carried them. It helps of course when those young players are Juan Soto and Victor Robles, but the Cardinals could adopt this same plan.
Looking to the Astros, instead of standing pat at the Trade Deadline, they decided to add to their strength and trade for Zack Greinke. Both of these moves solidified the rotations of the respective teams and are clear reasons why they have made it this far.
Both teams have their offenses too, but guess who’s available this winter? The Nationals MVP-caliber third baseman, Anthony Rendon, and the co-ace of the Astros, Gerrit Cole.
Nobody is suggesting that the Cardinals are going to sign both of these players, but if you wanted to win the offseason, getting one of them is absolutely something you should do.
The biggest thing to gain is that the Cardinals need to keep building on their strength in the starting pitching. Philosophically, you can either minimize weaknesses or maximize strengths. Short of doing both, it’s always better to maximize strengths. That would mean adding another top of the rotation arm.
The Astros and the Nationals are clearly two of the best teams in the league this year and deserve to be playing in the World Series. I’m not arguing that the Cardinals are close to either of these teams, but just trying to examine the trends of how these teams got to where they currently are could help the Cardinals as they enter the period where they can make changes to their team.