Do the St. Louis Cardinals have enough to win NL Central?

jbuchheit
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The St. Louis Cardinals might have what it takes to wrestle their way into the postseason again, but it will likely be another close call.

The 2022 St. Louis Cardinals roster isn’t exactly a Murderer’s Row. Luckily for them, the National League Central looks even less so. The low quality of competition in the division might just be enough to let the Cardinals push for a playoff spot.

The rotation will likely comprise Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson. It’s not a top-tier rotation, and the Cardinals are obviously hoping Matz will have a strong first season in St. Louis.

Flaherty’s clock seems to be ticking toward free agency, so he needs to stay healthy and effective. Wainwright’s career renaissance has been nothing short of staggering, and even a small backslide would make him a solidly above-average pitcher. Mikolas will look to improve on his middling 2021 season where he walked a higher-than-usual 2.2 batters per nine innings. Finally, Hudson is a wild card, but he pitched well in his very limited action last season.

Starters not returning for 2022 are Kwang Hyun Kim, who had an adequate 2021 but is now 33 years old, and Carlos Martinez, who has shifted from the rotation to the bullpen and back again and delivered inconsistent results. Stopgaps Jon Lester, J.A. Happ and Wade LeBlanc are also unlikely to return.

The bullpen should continue to be a strength and could be the deciding factor on whether the Cardinals make the postseason. Gone is Luis Garcia, who was a revelation for the team in 2021, but the Cardinals still have a stud closer in Giovanny Gallegos. Jordan Hicks‘ health is a huge question mark, but if he can stay on the field, he can dominate. Alex Reyes will have to shake off some of the struggles from his second half last season; 2022 will be a good test of his mental strength.

Kodi Whitley has shown that he deserves to be a full-time member of the bullpen in 2022, and T.J. McFarland was another brilliant find. Ryan Helsley had some solid stretches until he got hurt in mid-August. Andrew Miller is gone, but left-hander Genesis Cabrera is still around and had a nice year. Johan Oviedo could round out the bullpen and serve as a spot starter again if needed.

The corner infield is in a “set it and forget it” status, as Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, although both in their 30s, are still very good players and will anchor the infield with their thunderous bats and elite gloves. The middle infield is less settled, with Tommy Edman, Edmundo Sosa and Paul DeJong fighting for two spots.

Edman might best serve as a utility player given his versatility, but he has the skills to fill in as more than that if needed. Sosa performed very well for much of last season, some of it thanks to his status as a ball magnet, as he was hit by 17 pitches last year. DeJong had a dismal season, but I’m not ready to give up on him, and I believe he can rebound in 2022. The Spring Training battle among these three will be the top competition to watch. The ineffective Matt Carpenter and his large contract are now off the books, freeing some salary space.

Yadier Molina is back for a final go-around in his Hall of Fame career. He’s not the player he once was offensively or defensively, but his work with pitchers continues to be lauded. Andrew Knizner will probably be the backup again, although Ivan Herrera should get some looks too as Molina’s likely heir.

The outfield could stand to have some more depth. Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill will be the regulars. Bader hit a career-high .267 and might have finally found himself as a hitter while playing his usual elite defense. Carlson proved he is likely here to stay, as he finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting. O’Neill, though, appears to be the star of the group, putting everything together for an outstanding season on both sides of the ball. Beyond them, only Lars Nootbaar has playing experience. However, Edman has experience in the outfield, and he might serve there in a pinch.

Designated hitter…will probably exist. Juan Yepez has torn apart the minor leagues and could be the leading candidate for the role.

We can’t forget the new manager. Nobody knows how Oli Marmol will perform in the role after the surprise firing of Mike Shildt, but the players seem to love him, and the clubhouse chemistry should be strong.

Next. Ranking the St. Louis Cardinals players with the most value beyond 2022. dark

The Milwaukee Brewers will likely be the favorite to win the division this year, but the Cardinals’ bullpen and their good problem with the infield logjam could still make them a contender, with no other team a real threat to make a push.

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