Tyler O’Neill has emerged as a star for St. Louis Cardinals

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Tyler O'Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals receives a curtain call after hitting a go-ahead two run home run during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium on September 18, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Tyler O'Neill #27 of the St. Louis Cardinals receives a curtain call after hitting a go-ahead two run home run during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium on September 18, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) /
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Tyler O’Neill has emerged as a star for St. Louis Cardinals in 2021.

Entering the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals envisioned Tyler O’Neill taking the next step. After all, they didn’t sign a veteran outfielder when many analysts thought they should, believing that O’Neill would benefit from extended at-bats.

Boy, were they right. O’Neill, 26, has emerged as a star, hitting .282/.353/.536 with 28 home runs and 66 RBI, and forming a dynamic trio with Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, leaving many to wonder: where would the Cardinals be without O’Neill?

The Cardinals, of course, lead the second National League wild card spot by three games. They have won eight straight games. In that stretch, O’Neill is hitting .391/.481/.826 with three home runs and 10 RBI, including the game-winning two run home run on Saturday to give the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres. But not only has he emerged as a star, he has transformed into one of the best left fielders in baseball. These numbers, via STL Sports Central, are where he ranks among left fielders:

fWAR: 1st (4.5)

wRC+: 2nd (140)

xwOBA: 2nd (.386)

DRS: 2nd (10)

UZR: 1st (5.9)

Range rating: 1st (5.3)

The Cardinals knew that O’Neill’s numbers would improve with more at-bats, but they couldn’t have envisioned anything like this coming. Perhaps more impressive, and equally important moving forward, is his maturation as a player. He was rung up on two consecutive at-bats on questionable calls from home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi on Saturday, with O’Neill expressing his frustration, but he was able to hone his anger in and walk away without being ejected. In years past, that may not have been the case. This year, however, he stayed in the game and hit the game-winning home run only innings later.

Next. 7 pleasant surprises for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2021. dark

For now, O’Neill will continue leading the Cardinals offense alongside Arenado and Goldschmidt. Going forward, however, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak would be smart to consider an extension for O’Neill. His performance this year has warranted it and all indications are this version of O’Neill is here to stay — and if this season has been any indication, perhaps he could be even better in 2022 and beyond.

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