The story of the 2018 Cardinals can best be described as an up and down rollercoaster ride. A ride that fell off the tracks just before reaching the finish line. The Cardinals were a team that showed spurts of greatness in 2018, along with showing spurts of weakness, that ultimately lead to their demise. Finishing with a record of 88-74, the Cardinals came up just short of the postseason and were cleaning out their lockers sooner than they had hoped. However, coming into the 2019 season, the Cardinals have found themselves as one of the most intriguing teams in baseball. They landed one of the biggest stars in the game during the offseason in Paul Goldschmidt to highlight one of the youngest rosters in the majors. The Cards are going to be a team you want to make note of this summer and are a ball club that will be competing for a division title all year long.
If the Cardinals want any chance of winning the NL Central in 2019, they are going to need considerable production from veteran Matt Carpenter. I think it is safe to say that no one and I mean NO ONE could have predicted the year Carpenter had in 2018. The 33-year-old Texan had a season to remember, as he hit for a .374 OBP, smashed 42 doubles, crushed 36 homers and drove in 81 runs. As a result of this great season, Carpenter finished 9th in MVP voting and showed the baseball world, that this old man still got it. The thing that makes Carpenter’s season so impressive, is that over the course of his career, Carpenter had never shown the ability to hit for power as he did in 2018. Prior to last season, Carpenter’s career high in HR’s was just 28, he had driven in 80 or more runs just once in his career and had been always been a player to get on base, rather than hit for power. We also have to keep in mind that Carpenter did all of this in his 8th year in the majors and as a 33-year-old man, it is extremely difficult to keep up with the young talent that this league presents. I am not sure how much Carpenter has left in his tank, but he has always been one of the best pure hitters in the game and you can expect him to have some sort of success come this summer.
Perhaps the most surprising move of the 2019 MLB offseason came in a trade that sent Diamondback superstar Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for seemingly nothing. Personally, I think this is a match made in heaven and feel that Goldy is going to absolutely rake with his new his new team and will fit in just fine. Goldschmidt is the type of player where no matter what park he hits in, he makes it his bitch. In 8 years with the Diamondbacks, Goldy hit 209 homers, drove in 710 runs and hit for an average OBP of .398. This was all accomplished while playing 81 games a season at one of the hardest hitters parks in baseball, Chase Field. With a much more hitter friendly ballpark now becoming Goldy’s new home, there is no telling just how much damage he could possibly do. If you thought I was going to talk about Paul Goldschmidt without bringing up his defensive play, you are just flat-out dumb. With the word gold in his last name, it was only inevitable that Goldschmidt would become an elite defender in the sport. Goldy is as reliable of a first basemen defensively as you will ever find. He has already earned 4 gold gloves and some can make the argument that he deserves to have much more. The Cardinals prior starting first basemen, Jose Martinez, was an absolute mess last season defensively, so with Goldy’s glove alone, the Cardinals are thanking their lucky stars. I promise you, by summer’s end, Goldy will become royalty to the city of St. Louis and will never have to buy a beer again.
The final offensive guy I want to talk about before transferring to the Cardinals arms, is my breakout star of the 2019 season. Unless you are a die-hard baseball fan, you may not know who Harrison Bader is. You may not know that he is one of the fastest guys in the majors and you mat not know, that he is going to win a gold glove in the next two years. You may not know that his approach at the plate reminds me of Jose Altuve and his baseball IQ reminds me of Mike Trout. Am a saying that he is going to turn into the next Mike Trout? No, but Harrison Bader is going to be a known name around the league come 2019. He will be a guy that makes plays that show up on Sportscenter every night and a guy that will hit 20 homers in 2019. I am warning you now, jump on the Harrison Bader train now, because once it leaves the station, it is not coming back and is going to hit the national scene like a freight train on steroids.
Now let’s talk about what I feel is the most exciting part about this Cardinals team, their starting rotation. The St. Louis Cardinals enter the 2019 season with one of the youngest, most entertaining starting rotations in all of baseball. Instead of talking about the whole staff from top to bottom, I want to rather focus on the two-headed beast that is made up of Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas. Starting with Mikolas, a 30-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, it had seemed as if he came up from the clouds and made his name from seemingly nowhere. He hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2014, and had only made 10 career starts. Then, in 2018, Mikolas took the St. Louis world by storm, finishing the season with a 18-4 record, accumulating a 2.83 ERA to go along with 200 innings pitched. Mikolas was also announced to his first career all-star game in July and finished 6th in the NL CY Young voting, Mikolas now enters the 2019 season as the ace of the Cardinals staff, and the sky is the limit for the former no name who has quickly turned into, a resurgent star.
Complimenting Mikolas at the 2, is my favorite player on the entire Cardinals roster, Jack Flaherty. Flaherty, a 23-year-old from Burbank, has all the tools to be the next great starter in this league. His mechanics are something out of an instructional video. His fundamentals are as sound as an early 2000s Duke Basketball team. His change-up, oh his change-up, melts like freaking butter. Flaherty is one of those guys I could watch pitch again and again, and fail to get bored with. In 2018, during Flaherty’s official rookie year, the young righty had accumulated a 7-8 record, an 3.34 ERA to go along with 182 strike outs. Are these numbers the most impressive numbers of all time? Not even close. But Flaherty is extremely young and it is going to take time for him to fully develop. What draws me to him so much, is the potential I see in him when he pitches, rather than the production that was shown in 2018. I expect Flaherty to continue to grow in 2019 and feel that within the next few years, everyone west of the Mississippi will know who Jack Flaherty truly is.
So what should we expect from the Cardinals in 2019? They are certainly one of the more compelling stories coming into 2019. With the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt during the offseason, they have turned into serious contenders. The Cardinals have a nice mix of young talent and veteran leadership on their roster that I feel could do wonders for them in 2019. When all is said and done, I fully expect this team to be competing for a division title all season long. With that being said, I think they will fall just short to the Cubs and finish the season with a 90-72 record. Although they are not yet ready to win the central, the Cards are ready to make the playoffs and I see them taking one of the two wild card spots. It should be a fun summer for the Cards and their fans, who are some of the most passionate in all of sports.