2020 is over and it likely won’t be missed. While looking ahead to 2021, what are three things that St. Louis Cardinals fans won’t miss about 2020?
On and off the field in 2020, it was a strange year for the St. Louis Cardinals. Fans will never know how the COVID-19 outbreak started with the team. In just the same way, they will never know how much of an impact the 17-day break and subsequent 53 games in 44 days had on the team.
No matter how you slice it, it was a year full of trials.
The trials aren’t done heading into what won’t be a perfect 2021 by any means, but at least the world can finally say that 2020 is over with. Heading into the new year, what are three things we won’t miss about the 2020 season?
No Fans in the Stands
This one hurt both the spirit and the economics of the team. In the past, the only way the Cardinals have been able to punch above their weight class in payroll has been because of the number of fans that attend games.
With the absence of fans in 2020, teams around the league are cutting back on payroll and it is hurting the overall health of the sport.
Adding to this, games just weren’t the same without the usual sea of red crowding Busch Stadium. Any baseball was better than no baseball, but nobody could argue that the piped-in crowd noise and cardboard cutouts were the same. With the COVID-19 vaccines being sent out now through the rest of the spring and summer, there is a lot of hope that fans will be able to return to the stands at least in some capacity in 2021.
A 60-game season messing with sample sizes
While I wish I could say with certainty that the 2021 season won’t be any fewer than 162 games, there is a chance it won’t be a full year. However, whatever the season ends up being, it won’t be just 60 games.
Not only did a two-month season feel like it was over in a heartbeat, but it also messed a lot with player evaluations. Because of the off-field protocols, distractions, and added stress, many players underperformed. Add to it that the entire sample was right around a third of a full season, and it puts teams and fans trying to evaluate their players in a very tough spot.
Can this sample be trusted? Would the league have figured out how to get Player A out in a longer season? Would Player B have turned their year around? These are just a few of the hundreds of questions to ask about the results of the 60-game season.
Going back to what was written earlier, the Cardinals suffered a ton from their COVID-19 outbreak. Players who had the virus could’ve had residual effects. Hell, even players who didn’t have the virus could’ve performed worse simply because of the layoff and the schedule afterward.
The easy answer is that nobody knows and that nobody will know until there is a bigger sample to judge on in 2021.
The Powerless Offense of the St. Louis Cardinals
A lot of fans probably will take issue with this being included on things we will miss because there is a chance that the offense will be just the same in 2021. However, if the Cardinals execute their plan for the offseason and play a full schedule with normal rest, there is no reason that this team should be last in power in the MLB.
As a team, the 2020 Cardinals were last in the MLB with 51 homers, last in the MLB with a .137 ISO, and 27th in the MLB with a .371 team slugging percentage. It was bad and clearly the biggest issue with the offense. In 2019 though, the Cardinals were at least a little better, sitting 24th in the MLB with 210 homers and 23rd in ISO (.170) and slugging percentage (.415).
This is still not great, but the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 were pretty much the same team as they were in 2020 and the same team they will be going into 2021. Marcell Ozuna and his .472 slugging percentage and 29 homers helped, but didn’t take them from last to 24th in 2019.
From what the Cardinals have said themselves as well as what Derrick Goold has reported many times, the most likely acquisitions fans should expect are platoon guys to help improve the offensive matchups wherever possible.
Thankfully for the Cardinals, there are plenty of platoon bats on the market that can add pure power for cheap. The same season that Marcell Ozuna hit 29 homers with a .472 slugging percentage, Joc Pederson hit 36 homers and a .538 slugging percentage. While Pederson has his lumps against lefties, the Cardinals have plenty of right-handed hitting outfielders that are better against lefties that would make for a perfect platoon.
The Cardinals have been connected to Pederson by multiple different outlets this winter and fits in the price range of the team.
While many fans have no hope that John Mozeliak will make any moves this winter, realize that it has really only been one team, the Padres, to make any sort of moves this winter. Almost every other team has been sitting on their hands waiting for more certainty. Expecting the Cardinals to do nothing this winter goes against everything they have said. Mo has recognized the need for more offensive consistency, so I expect him to make moves to reflect that weakness.
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The top-end free agents aren’t necessary to move the needle.
The team’s schedule also seemed to do a number on their ability to hit for power. Any team that is worn out from a stretch of 53 games in 44 days is going to lose some strength. It was pure survival at that point, and that was reflected on the stat sheet.
I am not arguing that the Cardinals are going to even be in the top half of the MLB in power stats in 2021, but if a couple of platoon power bats are brought in, this team could easily win the division. The difference in the standings between being ranked just 23rd and last in power between 2019 and 2020 was huge.
I would have loved to put the negotiations between the owners and players on this list as well, but sadly it seems that is going to continue to be a theme of the next 15 months. Owners already want a shortened 2021 season that the players won’t easily agree to and the upcoming CBA negotiations after the 2021 season still have to be ironed out.
The eternal optimist in me says that 2021 will be a better year for the Cardinals than 2020. Even if the only change is a longer season, there will be plenty to smile about.