St. Louis has a lot to learn from the Philadelphia Phillies
As the Phillies-Astros World Series gets underway, I certainly hope St. Louis Cardinals executives – already busy this offseason – are watching from the couch.
It may be hard for the team to take any lessons from the Astros. Past cheating aside, that team is a well-run juggernaut, with past success and a contention window still wide open. It’s a standard the Cardinals used to have, and should again. For now, though, I’ll give them a pass on matching the Astros domination.
But they certainly should be taking notes from the NL pennant-winning Phillies.
Yes, the Cardinals won more games than the Phillies this year. And yes, the Cardinals won their division and the Phillies placed third in theirs. But it’s the Phillies, not the Redbirds, representing the National League in the World Series this year.
Want more of a reality check? This is the first time the Phillies have made the postseason since 2011. And with their Game 1 World Series win against the Astros, the Phillies now have more postseason wins (10) since 2014 than the Cardinals (9). Yikes.
So yes, John Mozeliak and Co. would be wise to take some lessons from the team that cut their 2022 postseason so frustratingly short.
First up is the importance of elite starting pitching. The Cardinals had impressive depth this year, with the staff fortified by the trade deadline deals for Jordan Montgomery and José Quintana. Miles Mikolas was an All-Star and, at least until September, Adam Wainwright was as reliable as ever. But even with his return, this team lacks a true ace. Jack Flaherty is capable of becoming one again but his injury history is too long to ignore at this point.
Meanwhile, the Phillies can roll out Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, a one-two punch capable of flipping any short series. Just ask the Cardinals.
Two aces would be ideal, one is necessary. Whether it be a trade or an uncharacteristic free agent splurge, this team needs to have at least one frontline starter if it wants to start improving its playoff performance.
Second lesson? The need for another big bat. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado put up MVP-caliber seasons and Albert Pujols turned back the clock with a renaissance season. But with Pujols gone, the team needs another major threat in the lineup.
Could that big bat be Juan Yepez or Alec Burleson or Nolan Gorman? Maybe. Could Jordan Walker turn his monstrous minor-league season into huge production next year? I hope so. But it’s time for the Cardinals to stop placing their bets on optimistic outcomes and instead go get a sure thing.
The Phillies lineup is capable of churning through a pitcher and those dangerous bats have already helped spark plenty of comebacks this postseason. The Cardinals need to lengthen their lineup if they want to end the recent postseason tradition of having their bats go cold.
Arenado is opting in to his contract, which is great. But that shouldn’t stop the team from seeking more offensive help.
Which brings us to our third lesson: This team needs to extend past its so-called “puke point” in free agency and make multiple big moves. For years, the Cardinals followed up one big move with…crickets. Instead of going the extra mile to help craft a sure thing, the team rested on its laurels.
After trading for Goldschmidt, the Cardinals could have explored the interest that Bryce Harper reportedly had in joining the team. Would it have cost significant dollars? Of course. Would it have stopped the team from acquiring Arenado? It shouldn’t have.
And a season after trading for Arenado, with shortstop an obvious need and multiple options available, the team signed…Steven Matz, Corey Dickerson and a parade of forgettable relievers.
The Cardinals are capable of expending big dollars. It’s time to show it.
Mozeliak recently said the team’s payroll is going to rise next year. That’s good news, especially after the Cardinals reaped the benefits of the Albert Pujols Reunion Tour. But payroll rising won’t help if it’s spread across multiple mediocre players. The team needs to sign a top player, and not let just one move be the end of it.
Last spring training, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said anything less than a World Series title would be a disappointment. For that goal to be obtained next year, it’d be wise for the team to start taking notes from the one that may check that box off this year.