“Sometimes, you win. Sometimes, you lose. Sometimes, it rains.” – Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, from the classic baseball film “Bull Durham”
It is with those words of existential wisdom that we kick off our 2018 St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Preview. Let’s be honest with ourselves, Redbird Nation, sometimes it does not just rain, it pours. Take, for example, when two of your most bitter rivals have won the two previous World Series [Cubs in 2016, Astros in 2017]. That certainly qualifies as a serious storm.
But fear not, hometown fans, all is not lost.
The clouds are parting and the sun is peaking through. To keep this overlong analogy running, the “sun” in this instance goes by the name of Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna joins our Cardinals as the most significant offseason addition of any team in the major league, in our opinion. But that is not the only bright spot for the 2018 Cardinals.READ: Ozuna makes winning look easy
While we did miss the playoffs last year, we identified two “new” players, who each ended last year as top five for their respective positions, notably Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong. Pitching phenom Anthony Reyes is set to return a month or so into the season, and a full year of Luke Weaver is a definite upgrade over Mike Leake.READ: Brought to you by the letter ‘W’ – Wacha, Weaver and wins
The Cardinals are built to be consistently competitive. We measure time in generations, not peaks and valleys. To put it another way, storms blow over pretty quickly around here.
ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
Hey, does everybody remember when we were all so bummed out because Jason Heyward left town? If our editor would let us use emojis in our stories, we would insert the one where the bright yellow face laughs so hard it cries. Heyward went to Chicago and his offensive statistics drowned in Lake Michigan.
This year’s version of Heyward seemingly comes in the form of Lance Lynn. He was a beloved Cardinal, mostly because of his bulldog-style of pitching and ability to eat innings like White Castle sliders. Where Lynn differs from Heyward, however, is that it doesn’t seem like the Redbirds wanted Lynn back at almost any price, no matter how bad his market cratered. The Cardinals front office seemed to value the draft pick compensation they received if he signed with another team more than they did Lance Lynn. That should tell us something. While Lynn’s simple metrics of wins and earned run average looked great last year, his advanced metrics were concerning to say the least.
Other ‘birds leaving the nest include Stephen Piscotty [traded to the Oakland A’s], Randall Grichuk [traded to the Toronto Blue Jays], Zach Duke, Seung Hwan Oh, Juan Nicasio and Trevor Rosenthal [all free agents]. There is more name recognition on that list than there is baseball importance, most likely. The only player that would have been very nice to hold on to was Juan Nicasio. There is no such thing as too many relief pitchers who can generate swings and misses. By the way, if you have not read all the back story behind why the Cardinals traded Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland A’s, you really should. It does the heart good.
In regard to players added by the Cardinals, we already referenced that there was no more important addition than former Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Beyond the hard statistics, Ozuna provides the Cardinals with a very subjective element they lacked in their lineup last year: fear.
While the Cardinals had a successful offensive team, there was no single player that opposing teams were necessarily afraid to pitch to. That element of fear trickles down and changes the way that every hitter is pitched to in the lineup. In the past, the Redbirds had Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols serving in that role. Despite the breakout performances from Pham and DeJong, and the strong power year from Dexter Fowler, there was not a single player in the 2017 lineup that would dictate how another team would pitch to the other players. Ozuna gives that to the 2018 version of the Cardinals.
Perhaps the most interesting addition of the offseason was starting pitcher Miles Mikolas. Mikolas was a massive success pitching in Japan and has electric stuff, but it remains to be seen how that stuff will translate to getting major league hitters out. Mikolas pitched in the big leagues before and, well, he ended up in Japan.
Another key addition is presumptive closer Luke Gregerson. The Cardinals also added relievers Dominic Leone and Bud Norris, but it is Gregerson who is in line to become the next Cardinals closer. Gregerson is a veteran reliever who has had an up-and-down career, mostly serving as a setup man, but he has swing and miss stuff.
This also is a good place to mention some critical additions to the Cardinals coaching staff. We certainly celebrate the return of “secret weapon” José Oquendo and the addition of fan favorite Wille McGee. Yet it is likely new pitching coach Mike Maddux who will have the greatest direct impact. Never mind. It always will be Oquendo who has the greatest impact, but Maddux has been a highly successful coach in the past and should be able to sculpt some of the Cardinals young pitchers into successful career superstars.READ: Star power added to coaching staff
This is the part of the column where we talk about the contributions needed from some of the “old guys” on the Cardinals roster, but it is important to add one caveat: there is not a single active player on the Cardinals team who was alive in the 1970s. So, understand that when we say “old,” everything is relative, and we are speaking solely in terms of baseball years.
Maybe we should say “veterans” instead? Yes, let’s use that.
In order to have a successful 2018, the Cardinals need a big year from a few veterans. For the position players, the straws that stir the drink are Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina. Carpenter had a down year last year, due largely to lingering injuries. This spring, he started with a troublesome back issue. If Carpenter is healthy and can return to his 2016 form, he can propel this team a long way.READ: Carpenter predicts he may not leadoff in talent-packed lineup READ: Molina: ‘Three more years, three more chances’ to win a World Series
It seems every year we ask exactly how long Yadier Molina can keep producing at such an exceptionally high level. Mere mortal catchers eventually break down, but this is Yadi, not a mortal. While we hope he takes a few more days off this year [and lets his heir apparent Carson Kelly catch some games], we do not expect it. Rather, we fully expect Yadi to continue to be Yadi.
On the pitching side, no Cardinal shoulders bear more responsibility than Adam Wainwright. He no longer is the best pitcher on the Cardinals staff, but he still is undeniably our “ace.” Just as Ozuna’s fear factor trickles through the rest of the lineup, Wainwright’s ability to get outs impacts the rest of the staff. There still is no Redbird pitcher we would rather see on the mound if we need to get a single out.READ: Waino ‘the warrior’ is ready to get back to the top of the mound
Pitchers [5 Starters, 7 Bullpen]
Carlos Martinez: 15/3.00
Michael Wacha: 17/3.50
Adam Wainwright: 14/3.50
Miles Mikolas: 10/4.00
Luke Weaver: 14/3.70
Luke Gregerson: 3.00
Tyler Lyons: 2.75
Dominic Leone: 2.50
Brett Cecil: 3.00
Matt Bowman: 4.00
Sam Tuivailala: 2.50
Bud Norris: 4.50
John Brebbia: 3.00
Yadier Molina: .260/15/70
Matt Carpenter: .290/20/75
Kolten Wong: .275/15/50
Jedd Gyorko: .270/25/75
Paul DeJong: .275/25/80
Marcell Ozuna: .260/30/90
Tommy Pham: .280/20/80
Dexter Fowler: .280/15/60