The Cardinals went into the Winter Meetings looking to land an impact bat. They did so in the form of Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins. St. Louis acquired Ozuna without severely impacting their team long term, with the best prospect being Sandy Alcantara, a bullpen piece they used in 8 games in 2017. The Ozuna trade allowed them to move Stephen Piscotty to the Athletics and essentially gain back the prospects they lost in the Ozuna trade.
However, is the Ozuna trade enough to push them over the top after being playoffless for the last 2 years? Ozuna is coming off a career year where he hit 37 home runs with 124 RBI in Miami. Certainly a heavy add to a lineup that was short on power in 2017. So with Ozuna slotting in, how does the Cardinal lineup look going into 2018?
- Matt Carpenter
- Tommy Pham
- Dexter Fowler
- Marcell Ozuna
- Paul Dejong
- Yadier Molina
- Jose Martinez
- Kolten Wong
A solid lineup to be sure, but let’s match that against the Cubs lineup, who have won the division in back to back years.
- Albert Almora Jr
- Anthony Rizzo
- Kris Bryant
- Willson Contreras
- Ian Happ
- Javier Baez
- Kyle Schwarber
- Jason Heyward
It’s clear the Cubs have the better lineup even with the addition of Ozuna to the Cardinals outfield. To put it in simpler terms, the Cardinals don’t have any batters that “scare” pitchers, like a Kris Bryant or an Anthony Rizzo. St. Louis has a bunch of good players in their lineup, but they also have plenty of question marks, which we will get into a little later.
Now let’s take a look at the Cardinal’s rotation. If you dive into their rotation, it gets even dicier. Not because the Cardinals don’t have depth, they have plenty of that. The reason is that most of their pitchers are young and inexperienced. If the Cardinals started Spring Training today. Their rotation would look something like this
- Carlos Martinez
- Adam Wainwright
- Mike Mikolas
- Luke Weaver
- Michael Wacha
You have the steady hand of Carlos Martinez to lead the staff, but after that you have a bunch of question marks. Wainwright has been “Wainwrong” for a couple years now, and I’m not overly optimistic he will rebound in 2018. He has had an ERA above 4.60 for the last 2 years and in 2017 it was 5.11. The new addition, Mike Mikolas, was great in Japan, but the Cardinals have no idea what they will get out of him in 2018. Luke Weaver was great in 2017 with a 10.7 K/9 and an ERA below 4, but like Flaherty and Alex Reyes, who will also get some starts in, will almost assuredly be on an innings limit in 2018.
I think to take this team back to the playoffs, they need at least one more veteran starter. The Cardinals have been linked to Jake Arrieta and he could be the guy to push them over the edge. Slotting in Arrieta in the rotation would likely lead to Wacha entering the bullpen. This makes sense as Wacha has trouble going through the batting order more than once. Most pitchers have the same issue, but not to the degree that Wacha does. Through the 2nd time in the order, batters teed off with a .302 average and a .452 slugging percentage. It gets even worse the 3rd time around, when they hit .329 with a .504 slugging. A move to the bullpen for Wacha would also help a woeful bullpen that lost Trevor Rosenthal to injury and Zach Duke to free agency.
The Luke Gregerson signing should help bolster the bullpen, but there is no set closer in St. Louis for the time being. Wacha could fill that role. I mentioned his terrible numbers through the 2nd and 3rd time through the order, but his first? Wacha held opposing hitters to a .194 average with a .320 slugging.
Moving on from pitching, there are a lot of question marks for the Cardinals heading into 2018 offensively speaking. For example, was Tommy Pham’s 20/20 season in 2017 legit? Is Jose Martinez a guy you can count on to play every day and hit like he did last year? Can Matt Carpenter rebound from a down 2017? There are certainly more questions than answers with this Cardinal squad. A positive note? The Cardinals finished 7th in OBP, likely due to the bolstering effect of having the on-base machine of Dexter Fowler in the lineup. The first six teams that led in OBP made the playoffs. If they can repeat their on-base skills together with a 2017-esque season from Marcell Ozuna, it could be just enough for a Wild-Card berth.
The Cardinals have missed the playoffs two years in a row. While to some fan bases that might seem like a short amount of time, for a Cardinal fan base that has been spoiled since 2000, 2 years seems like an eternity. There is still plenty of time left in the off-season and the Cardinals may make more moves, but for now, this author is not convinced Ozuna alone will push them to a playoff spot.
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