St. Louis Cardinals: Three questions entering the shortened season

After a long and frustrating process, we have finally reached a point where baseball is on the horizon. Now it’s time to question and wonder what this season could look like for the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was announced Tuesday evening that Major League Baseball is officially returning. The Players Association agreed to report to training camp, or Spring Training 2.0, on July 1st with opening day scheduled for either July 23rd or 24th. The St. Louis Cardinals 2020 season is coming soon.

So, baseball at last. The extra-long offseason is coming to a close and the Cardinals are now gearing up for what they hope to be another successful season. Just 60 games stand in the middle of the reigning NL Central champions and hopefully another postseason appearance.

As the season creeps up on the calendar, there remain several questions regarding the Cardinals roster and the upcoming 2020 campaign. How will they perform in a 60-game season? Will certain players regress/breakout? Who will be the DH? Here are three reoccurring questions that have crossed my mind waiting for baseball to return to our lives.

How will the Cardinals perform in a shortened 60-game season?

This is probably the most important of them all, and the recent track record isn’t promising. Here are the Cardinals’ records through 60 games from the last five seasons:

  • 2019: 31-29 (finished 91-71)
  • 2018: 33-27 (finished 88-74)
  • 2017: 28-32 (finished 86-76)
  • 2016: 32-28 (finished 86-76)
  • 2015: 39-21 (finished 100-62)

Regardless of the Shildt reign only having one full year of experience, the last five years as a whole don’t necessarily serve as a source of optimism. Known for their relatively slow starts, the Cardinals won’t have the option to have a hot second half or to catch fire in the month of August as they have in the past.

The schedule will look a lot different than it has previously, as teams will compete only against opponents from the same regional divisions (NL/AL Central, etc.). The Cardinals will play each NL Central opponent 10 times as well as each AL Central four times, adding up to your 60-game regular-season

Here is how the Cardinals did in 2019 against Central division clubs:

  • Cubs: 10-9
  • Reds: 12-7
  • Brewers: 10-9
  • Pirates: 14-5
  • Royals: 3-1

Adding to an overall record of 49-41, there will likely need to be some improvements in order for the Redbirds to crack a postseason birth. Adding the Twins, Indians, and White Sox certainly won’t make things easier, but the Cardinals still have a pretty favorable schedule compared to the rest of the league, particularly the NL.

With such a crammed season, a stretch of two rough weeks and the season could very well be over. There is no time to waste, no games to give away, and they are going to have to come out of the gate hot if they want to make their second straight postseason appearance.

Who will be the DH for St. Louis?

As a part of the return-to-play format for Major League Baseball, one of the implemented rules is the addition of the DH in the National League.

There are definitely both sides to this debate, some love the idea of more offense, others like the strategy and more traditional style of baseball. Either way, the universal DH is something that will definitely help the Cardinals at the plate – which is good considering their offensive struggles a season ago.

While the Cards traded away Jose Martinez – a fantastic DH option – to Tampa Bay in the Matthew Liberatore deal, St. Louis still has a number of solid options to fill the role.

The Redbirds will likely look at veterans Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler as their top two candidates for the role, and they are both good options.

After having a down year in 2019 where he posted a wRC+ of 95, Carpenter might still be the best man for the job. By sliding in Carpenter at DH, that not only allows him to just focus on his swing and duties at the plate, but it also gives Tommy Edman the opportunity to be the everyday third baseman for St. Louis.

Besides last season, Carpenter’s tenure with the Cardinals has been phenomenal. The 34-year old has had a wRC+ of at least 110 every year since 2012. The track record is certainly there. We know what his potential is as a hitter. Maybe the role of designated hitter is just what Carpenter needs to regain his confidence and get back on track.

While still not great, Dexter Fowler still put together a solid 2019 season. In fact, Fowler was actually above average at the plate, according to the wRC+ metric. A season ago, Fowler posted a 103 wRC+, setting career highs with 19 homers and 67 RBI.

Fowler seems to perform a lot better under Shildt than he did with Matheny, and that is a huge plus for St. Louis.

Similarly to Carpenter, having Fowler at DH would give top prospect, Dylan Carlson – also a better fielder – a chance to be the everyday right fielder and provide a big spark for the St. Louis lineup.

The Cardinals should pounce on any opportunity they have to keep Carpenter and Fowler out of the field, and this strategy would give two of St. Louis’ best young studs a chance to prove their worth.

Will Jack Flaherty continue his rise as one of the league’s best starting pitchers?

The expectations remain high for Jack Flaherty. Coming off of his most dominant seasons last year, the right-hander will be the ace of the St. Louis pitching staff.

It was the historically good second-half from the 24-year old ace that helped push St. Louis to become the champions of the NL Central. The numbers back up his excellence, too. In the entire second half, Flaherty gave up just 11 runs on five homers, which lead to the astonishingly low 0.91 ERA and 0.71 WHIP.

The hot topic regarding Flaherty is whether or not the second half was a “fluke” stretch or not. And after a rough go-around in the first half of the season (4.64 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), that’s the side of the argument that many opposing fans appear to be taking.

But based on Flaherty’s sustained success throughout the second half – and the playoffs – I’d say there is a better chance the trend continues rather than taking a step back.

Now, is it likely that the young star will post a 0.91 ERA for the entire 2020 season? No, absolutely not. While it may be minor, there is bound to be some sort of a decline in the 2020 season. Nonetheless, Cardinal Nation should remain high and excited about the young ace in St. Louis.

After what was mostly an underwhelming season at the plate for the Cardinals in 2019 and no major additions in the offseason, the pitching staff will likely need to come up big again this year if the Redbirds want to keep their success rolling – Flaherty will be the guy to lead the way.

Next: First-round pick Jordan Walker added to list of signees

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The 2020 season is definitely going to be an entertaining one – and different. Whether it be the new schedule, the shortened season, no fans, or the universal DH, there will be a lot going on. How will the Cardinals handle it? We will find out in just 30 days.

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