St. Louis Cardinals: Potential postseason heroes and villains

Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals uses his rosin bag after giving up back-to-back home runs against the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on September 26, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals uses his rosin bag after giving up back-to-back home runs against the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on September 26, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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After clinching a postseason berth on Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals start a three-game postseason series against the San Diego Padres – but who will be the biggest winners and losers for the Redbirds?

It came down to the final day of the season, again! The St. Louis Cardinals love to keep their fans on the edge of their seats, but a 5-2 series finale win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday secured a second consecutive year of playoff baseball for the Cards.

The team finished with a 30-28 record to maintain their current streak of 13 consecutive seasons above .500. This is the second-longest streak in franchise history, behind the 15 consecutive years from 1939 through 1953.

This feat is all the more impressive considering the Cardinals COVID-outbreak which meant that the team had to play 53 games in 43 days, including eleven doubleheaders in this period!

ST LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 27: Members of the St. Louis Cardinals pose for a team photo after clinching a postseason berth by beating the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on September 27, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 27: Members of the St. Louis Cardinals pose for a team photo after clinching a postseason berth by beating the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on September 27, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

The Cardinals finished the year statistically aligning a lot to expectation:

  • The pitching staff performed well, with the starting rotation having the ninth-lowest ERA in MLB (3.86) and the bullpen having the third-best ERA in the NL (4.00)
  • The defense was unsurprisingly elite, finishing with the best defense in MLB per Defensive Runs Saved (+33) and the second-best infield defense per Outs Above Average (+7).
  • The offense struggled (shock!), ending as the 19th ranked offense per wRC+ (93) and hitting the fewest homers (51), which even with the two missed games against Detroit wouldn’t have managed to pull them from the bottom.

Though in a three-game playoff series, there is all to play for and one hot game by a hitter could really push this matchup into the Redbirds favor!

So thinking about this series, there will be lots of interesting tactics and game management required to get the St. Louis Cardinals through to the NLDS. Therefore, in order to do this, there will no doubt be some standout heroes pushing us into the next round or some possible villains whose struggles may stop the team heading to Arlington for the Divisional Series!

Who could be the likely (or unlikely) heroes of this Cardinals side?

Adam Wainwright – In his last start in San Diego versus the Padres, back in 2018, Waino was returning from an elbow injury and made it only 2.1 innings allowing nine base runners and re-aggravating the elbow injury. After leaving the game, Waino didn’t return from injury for another four months which capped a challenging 2018 for the Cardinals veteran.

After the Padres game, questions were raised over whether this would be it for Wainwright’s major league career. The last two years though have proved the doubters wrong, with Waino ending 2019 as the Cards best pitcher at Busch Stadium and the teams ace in 2020 finishing with a team-high fWAR (1.0) and by far the most innings pitched among Redbirds pitchers (65.2IP).

Wainwright has historically performed well against San Diego, owning a 2.25 FIP in 12 starts and 0.2 HR/9. He will likely be making the start in the first game of the Padres series, so if he is able to maintain this pitching dominance over San Diego then I could see Waino extending his St. Louis hero status even further!

ST LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 27: Harrison Bader #48 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after hitting a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on September 27, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 27: Harrison Bader #48 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after hitting a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on September 27, 2020 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Harrison Bader – Coming into the postseason, Bader currently sits as the Redbird’s hottest bat over the final week of the regular season. He finished with a 215 wRC+ over the final seven days of the season, including going 2-3 in the final game versus the Brewers with a triple and a home run.

Bader is a real marmite player within the St. Louis Cardinals fanbase. He started the season with just a .443 OPS over the first 12 games which sat within the bottom quartile of the entire league at that point. Since then, Bader has improved by flashing the glove defensively and adding some offensive power to that with a .385 average over the final week.

He has a career 120 wRC+ against the Padres in 15 games, including five extra-base hits. Four of these, a triple and three homers, were all hit at Petco Park which is really positive. Therefore if Bader can maintain his hot streak into these three playoff games, while maintaining that elite defense, he could look to cement his place in the 2021 Redbirds outfield.

Alex Reyes – Reyes has had his strongest, healthiest, and most productive season since his MLB debut in 2016. A 12.36 K/9 ratio sits within the top four pitchers on the team and his .186 xBA is in the top 25 of all MLB relievers ahead of the likes of Kenley Janson! This was accentuated by his five-out, two-strikeout save to ensure the win and postseason clinch for the Redbirds on Sunday.

2020 will be Reyes’ first postseason ball of his career, after years of bad injury luck. If he can make the most of the opportunity and pitch like he has been so far in 2020, then Reyes could be making strides towards a major impact pitcher in 2021 and ensuring a positive memory within the Cardinals fanbase.

Dylan Carlson – Now we couldn’t run a heroes and villains section here without mentioning Dylan Carlson. He initially struggled after his mid-August call-up, batting just .162 with four extra-base hits in his first 23 games as a St. Louis Cardinal. Carlson was sent down in early September, then after nearly two weeks in the alternative camp in Springfield, we saw him back in the majors on September 18th.

Since his return to the big time, Carlson has 11 runs batted in, improved his season batting average to .200, and was the Redbird’s most prolific offensive player per fWAR (0.4) over this time period! Things are pointing towards Carlson finding his form at just the right moment. If he can continue to improve and make an impact during this upcoming Padres series, we could see Dylan Carlson already starting to etch his name into St. Louis postseason folklore!

Unfortunately with any high-pressure situation, you’re always going to get some villains too

Jack Flaherty – I could have put JFlare in the heroes section quite easily and there is every chance that he could and will come good on that! But based on his 2020 so far and his last outing of the season, Flaherty has some improving to do back towards 2019 numbers if he is to make the switch into 2020 hero status!

After a near Cy-Young caliber 2019, there were a lot of expectations for Flaherty to continue that form going into 2020. Unfortunately for the Cards, Flaherty has struggled somewhat this year. His 4.91 ERA in nine starts is his second-lowest year to date and his average of fewer than five innings per start has also been challenging for an overworked bullpen. This included the obliteration by the Brewers where he allowed nine earned runs in three innings.

Flaherty has historically owned the Padres with a career 1.10 ERA in three starts but if you look deeper he has a 4.09 FIP, which shows he didn’t pitch quite to the level his ERA necessarily shows. The two earned runs that he did allow were both off of home runs, so his 1.1 HR/9 against Slam Diego could be a challenge. Plus in his three postseason starts to date, if you exclude the 13-1 win over Atlanta where he could essentially coast through, he has a 5.73 ERA from 13 hits in two games.

I have every faith Flaherty will come good and show us all exactly why we love him – but if there were anyone to become the Cardinals postseason villain I would really hope it’s not the Redbird’s future long-term ace!

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – SEPTEMBER 22: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals makes a sliding catch during the 3rd inning of the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on September 22, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – SEPTEMBER 22: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals makes a sliding catch during the 3rd inning of the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on September 22, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Dexter Fowler – Dex came into the season with a lot of distaste among Cardinal Nation after a poor 2018, but started the season very hot. He maintained a 130 wRC+ through August 30th which was third on the team. Plus his four homers and 12 RBI lead the Redbirds over their first 25 games.

Unfortunately, at the start of September, Fowler was placed onto the IL due to an ongoing stomach ailment and since his return to the majors on September 21 he has struggled. With just two singles in 26 plate appearances, his .091 was the worst in all of MLB of any player over this time with at least 25 plate appearances.

Additionally, fans will remember back to the 2019 postseason where Fowler fell of a cliff offensively, batting just .061 with a .253 OPS. If he continues his 2019 postseason numbers, expect him to be vilified by the fanbase (and rightly so if the numbers don’t improve). Then it will come down to a management decision of whether he gets pulled from the lineup to make way for more power, or if the team are to stick it out. Though in a three-game series, there is very little time for lineup tinkering!

Mike Shildt – Now speaking of managers, being a manager is never an easy job. Particularly in a season of new rules with runners starting on second in the tenth inning, a three batter minimum and a designated hitter becoming the norm. Not only has Mike Shildt had to deal with this in 2020, but he has had to manage his way through a COVID outbreak in Cardinals camp and still maintained a winning record and a postseason berth for the Redbirds.

The 2019 National League Manager of the Year will continue to have his managing abilities tested, now having to set up his side for a three-game playoff series without any travel days during the series and with the team having their first off-days since September 9th! There will be a lot of challenges to continue to face in this series and one wrong move can easily leave Shildt in hot water with the fanbase.

In my opinion, Shildt has been a breath of fresh air since his arrival at the Cardinals manager and his .561 career record speaks for itself. But the postseason is a whole other ball game and with the added pressure, let’s hope Shildt can maintain his calming presence on the team and manage to record a series W.

SAN DIEGO, CA – JUNE 28: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres throws passed Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals as he tries to turn a double play during the third inning of a baseball game at Petco Park June 28, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA – JUNE 28: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres throws passed Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals as he tries to turn a double play during the third inning of a baseball game at Petco Park June 28, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

Over the three-game series, there will no doubt be standout performances and also potential no-shows from players. If we can maintain our strong defense, get some offense cooking from a few players hitting hot streaks and continue the Cardinal pitching dominance, we could be in with a real shout.

Bring on the powerful Padres offense. dark. Next

Everything is lined up for this National League Wild Card three-game series with the Padres to be a real challenge for the St. Louis Cardinals! Though after a COVID-affected season and still making the playoffs, the 2020 Cardinals are able to do anything. If they can emulate the 2011 Cards and continue deep into the postseason, then we could well be in for a wild ride. So lets get behind our heroes in red and white!

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