Well, almost. For the St. Louis Cardinals this will be one of the shortest spring trainings ever as there grapefruit schedule in Florida will end just after the first official day of spring this year as MLB has decided it would be better to start the season in dicey weather than the end it where tricky weather awaits in late October, early November. With that said there is only one team that would like it and that is the team that wins it all. For the Cardinals, it will be back to work on some unfinished business from the 2019 season that ended in a manner that was quick and unfulfilling. The Washington Nationals ended the Cardinals post season return as quick a Yadier Molina snap throw to second with a four-game sweep in the league championship series. And while there was much to feel good about in 2019, two things come to mind… 2019 is in the rear-view mirror and just what will the 2020 Cardinals look like? Questions, questions, questions have run rampant this off season so let’s address a few of the most raised.
Matt Carpenter. To say it was a disappointing season would be putting it milder than mildly. The traditional numbers of hitting .226, 15 home runs and 45 RBI’s is just the start of disappointment for Carpenter, the Cardinals and their fans. No matter where he hit in the order or played in the field, it didn’t work to anyone’s satisfaction. Throw in the fact that Carpenter has hit an average of .241 in the last three seasons has created concern to some as the question is can, he turns it around and be a reasonable offensive threat. The Cardinals and Carpenter seem to think so as he was going to work on his swing and himself physically to be ready for 2020. Only time will tell as he is considered a key player for this team to have any success.
Dexter Fowler. A comeback of sorts from a disappointing, injury plagued 2018 season for the Cardinal right fielder. The 2019 season saw Fowler put up his best power and RBI totals of his career with and 18 and 67 respectively. His post season was not what anyone had hoped for as he went 2 for 33 against Atlanta and Washington. The question here is What Dexter Fowler will we see in 2020?
While Carpenter and Fowler are just two of a few questions about the 2020 Cardinals, what team doesn’t have questions going into a season? Players change, rosters change, the game has changed so you can look beyond two players and look at the competition set forth for a variety of positions on this team. Let’s take start with the pitching.
The one thing from day one of 2019 was the confidence in the pitching staff. While the early loss of closer Jordan Hicks was a setback, the Cardinals found several arms who found was to get the job done. The starting rotation saw more ups than downs. Miles Mikolas was not the dominant starter he was in 2018 but despite his record of 9-14, the Cardinal righthander gave his team more than a chance in many of his outings having logged 184 innings and having two less strikeouts than the 200 inning effort he turned in in the previous year where he won 18 games. Mikolas competes and that’s always a good start to any staff. The emergence of Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson has a lot of people smiling in anticipations of what’s to come as they turned outstanding seasons as full-time major-league starters that should never see the minors again to work on their game. Then there was Adam Wainwright. No one knew what to expect from the veteran of 14 seasons. While statistically Wainwright could boast of better seasons but when it came to big games this season, Adam Waiwright was there front and center including the last game in Washington where he stopped the bleeding and gave the Cardinals a punchers chance of climbing back into game four. What Wainwright has in store or what will his role be is worth watching. Then there the competition for another spot in the rotation. Virtually every pitcher on the staff aspires to be a starter. It’s a long list that will include Carlos Martinez, Austin Gomber, Ryan Helsley, Kwang-Hyum Kim and Daniel Ponce De Leon. Those are just some as there is always someone who pops up and catches an eye or two and that is including Alex Reyes who as we speak is physically fit and ready for duty.
The bullpen will be stacked as well with a lot of experience. Don’t look for Jordan Hicks before the All-Star Break and Carlos Martinez is hoping to start. With that comes the anticipation of who will close games. There will plenty of time for that and it may not be decided by the end of spring training. There are several candidates for the job though starting with Ryan Helsley and Giovanni Gallegos. Both accounted for themselves well in various roles last season and will be key to the success of this team. Then there is Junior Fernandez who showed promise in his brief stint with the big club. A stint that saw him make the post season roster. There will be competition galore as the Cardinals will have at least three legitimate left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Tyler Webb and Genesis Cabrera. From the right side the same can be said as there will be jobs open as everyone who aspires to be a starter can find an effective place in the bullpen. Overall the pitching is alive and well and will be counted on heavily throughout the season. As for the next tier of arms, it would be great if they can develop a bit with some minor league seasoning as the Cardinals are trying to bridge somewhat of a gap between their youth and being big league ready. The best thing about what the Cardinals will provide within the Central Division is pitching depth. If the offense can live up to the expectations and hope for 2020 then deep post season play is more than an idle thought. As for the Offense, that discussion is in the on-deck circle and comes your way on Tuesday.