Pitching, pitching, and more pitching
This point can be broken down into multiple facets, but the bottom line, the way the Cardinals have handled their pitching over the last few years has been a disaster.
This club is a far cry from where they were a decade ago, when they made the 2013 World Series on the backs of a dynamic pitching staff, led by veteran arms with a strong influx of youth who were on the rise in the game of baseball.
If you look at this year's staff, the only starter who was truly a difference-maker was Jordan Montgomery, who was traded for a really nice return at the trade deadline. Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Steven Matz, and Miles Mikolas all disappointed relative to their expectations this year. Each of those starters had question marks entering the season, and yet the Cardinals felt locked into that uncertainty, and it cost them dearly.
The bullpen had the same issues. They barely made any additions during the offseason and experienced a host of injuries and down-years from their returning group. Bullpens fluctuate year to year around baseball, but there were clear warning signs last offseason that it could go poorly
It would be an easier problem to solve if the Cardinals just needed a number one starter or just needed pitching depth, but they need both. This offseason, the Cardinals realistically need two new starters to top their rotation, if not three, and to bring in some help for their bullpen. If they are able to accomplish those things, they'll be right back in the National League race. Look at the teams who have been fighting for the final Wild Card the last few weeks. The Cardinals can easily leapfrog those teams with a strong offseason, but they should really be pushing for even higher expectations as well.
The next lesson I identified will be critical for this retool, though.