After reaching the National League Championship Series in 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals appear destined for another deep playoff run this season.
They remain mostly unchanged from a year ago, but this shouldn’t deter Cardinals fans from thinking their team can repeat as National League Central champions.
However, a key contributor from last season, Marcell Ozuna, signed with the Atlanta Braves in the offseason, which will certainly leave a big hole in the middle of that lineup.
After being traded from the Miami Marlins in 2018, Ozuna spent two years with St. Louis, where he was relatively disappointing throughout his short tenure.
Thus, it makes sense why the Cardinals are still co-favorites to win the division this season, as they are listed at +250 — tied with a rejuvenated Cincinnati Reds team. Moreover, their over/under win total is set at a meager 32.5, leaving a wide range of possibilities for St. Louis in what will be a drastically shortened season.
Although Ozuna underperformed during his time with the Cardinals, his absence will still loom large in this St. Louis lineup. This offense struggled to score runs last season, and this may continue once again in 2020.
They will need to get much better production out of All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, as he’ll be heavily relied upon to drive in runs for this offense.
Meanwhile, veterans Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter will also have to produce in the batter’s box this season, as they both struggled mightily to get anything going last season.
It will be interesting to see what this St. Louis lineup card will look like on Opening Day, as manager Mike Schildt will have his hands full ensuring he puts the right hitters in the right spots.
Shortstop Paul DeJong will certainly take on a bigger role in 2020, as he was one of the lone bright spots on this offense last season.
Situational hitting will be critical for this ballclub given the restrictions in this lineup, but if they can just produce at a league-average clip, it should be enough to carry the Cardinals to another playoff berth.
The starting pitching will be the bread and butter for this team, as the emergence of 24-year-old Jack Flaherty has changed the dynamic of this rotation. He has asserted himself as the ace on this staff, which will certainly help lessen the burden for veteran Adam Wainwright and the highly volatile Carlos Martinez.
Martinez spent much of last season in the bullpen, where he really found his groove — posting a 3.17 ERA to go along with 24 saves. However, he will likely have to step into a starting role this season, which could make or break this Cardinals pitching staff.
Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson will round out this group, as they’ve been solid backend starters for most of their careers. They won’t wow you with their stuff, but they are dependable arms that can eat innings for the bullpen, which shouldn’t go unrecognized.
You need starters who can go deep into games and spare the bullpen from time to time, as this condensed format will put even more pressure on the relief pitching this season.
Also, it’s important to note that the Cardinals play really solid defense, ranking third in defensive efficiency. For a rotation that doesn’t strike out many, it is increasingly important to play good defense behind them.
St. Louis had the fewest runners reach base on grounders against them, providing much-needed support for a pitching staff yielding the fourth-highest ground-ball rate.
All in all, the Cardinals really complement each other nicely, playing good solid baseball at all three phases of the game. This bodes well moving forward, and I fully expect them to repeat as National League Central champions in 2020, especially given their value at +250.