The St. Louis Cardinals ended a 3 year playoff drought and made it to the NLCS. BY ANY measure this is a season of success. For the majority of the year with a few exceptions the pitching carried the load. We saw the continued maturation of a young starter and the emergence of another young starter. We saw a cagey veteran revive his career. We saw different members of the bullpen step up time after time, both younger players and veterans. but fans wonder is this the start of something good or is it a flash in the pan?
A quick review of the season
The best way to describe the Cardinal season is at best a roller coaster. They started ominously going 1-4 vs the Brewers to start the season. By the end of April they were on top of the division with a 19-10 record and had won 9 out of their last ten. Then complete reversal in May and the ho hum 500 June had the Cardinals at .500 and brought out the doubters in force.
Then in July the Cardinals began to put it together. Many fans the believers and doubters were almost positive that we would see the Cardinals active at the trade deadline and bring in that one piece that, would ensure a post season bid. Fans envisioned Madbum or Matt Boyd in the rotation or Will Smith in the bullpen or even Anthony Rendon at 3B. The deadline came and went and there was no big deal for that missing piece. The Cardinals decided to play the hand they were dealt and went all in with what they had. That turned out to pay dividends with an 18-9 August. Flaherty and Hudson were looking like they were top seasoned veterans. Adam Wainwright pitched more innings than he had in the last two years combined and his lowest ERA in the three previous years, the most wins since 2014. The bullpen lead by; Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb, Ryan Helsley and Carlos Martinez. With contributions from Andrew Miller, John Brebbia and John Gant. As a team the Cardinals posted these numbers
Team ERA 3.80 2nd in the NL, 5th in MLB
HRs allowed 191 2nd fewest in NL, 3rd in MLB
Quality starts 76 4th in NL, 6th in MLB,
Shutouts 14 2nd in NL, 3rd in MLB
Saves 52 Lead MLB
So what does this mean for down the road?
The Cardinals used 8 starters in 2019. Flaherty, Hudson, Mikolas and Wainwright all started over 30 games. The 5th spot had it's ups and downs Starting with Micheal Wacha (24) mixed with Daniel Ponce De Leone(8). Then throw in two starts by Genesis Cabrera
The Maturation of Jack Flaherty was amazing to see. Before the All-Star break Flaherty had some struggles going 4-6 in 18 games with an 4.64 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and Opp BA of .237 and giving up 20 HRs in 97 IP (5 1/3 IP/G) After the All-Star break he was 7-2 in 15 games with an ERA of 0.91, 0.71 WHIP, OPP BA .142 giving up 5 HRs in 99 1/3 IP (6 2/3 IP/G)
The Emergence of Dakota Hudson. He had a better 1st half in terms of record and ERA than Flaherty did. Going 7-4 in 18 games with a 3.51ERA but had an inflated 1.53 WHIP, Opp BA .275, he only gave up 13 HRs in 92 1/3 IP (5 1/3 IP/G). After the All-Star break Hudson continued what he started. 9-3 in 15 games 3.17 ERA 1.28 WHIP, Opp BA .208 gave up 9 HRs in 82 1/3 IP (5 1/3 IP/G.
With a young one two punch like Flaherty(24) and Hudson(25) Still pre-arbitration and add Miles Mikolas(31) 9-14, 4.16 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in184 IP. He is signed thru 2023. The Cardinals would seem to have a stable core for the next 4 years. Then there is Adam Wainwright 14-10, 4.19 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, in 174 IP. Does he have another year left in his arm? If he wants to pitch next year I think he will get the opportunity. Now whether it will be in the rotation or the bullpen will remain to be seen. As for Micheal Wacha 6-7, 4.76 ERA, 1.56 WHIP in 126 2/3 IP. I really do not see a scenario where the Cardinals make a big effort to keep him. two pitchers already on thr roster will get looks to fill out the rotation. Carlos Martinez and John Gant both have been starters before and could be again. There are also a number of Young farm hands that will be looked at Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo, Austin Gomber, Ryan Helsley. Helsley would seem to have an inside track with his performance this year with St Louis. He never started any games but threw 36 2/3 in 24 appearances. he started 69 games in the minors between 2015 and 2019. Austin Gomber could get a serious look as well, given the fact he is a Left hander with MLB expierence. I can also see an off season acquisition of an experienced starter to boost the rotation. There a number of pitchers available. Names like Left handers Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel and Wade Miley. Right handers Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi. There could also be trade possibilities such as Matt Boyd or Cory Kluber. My gut feeling is that there will be at least one acquisition for the rotation and it will be a left hander.
Here again youth is the name of the game Hicks, Helsley, Gallegos, Fernandez and Cabrera, all turned in some very good innings for St Louis. Mixed with Gant, Martinez, Miller and Webb. The pen was one of the best in the business this year.
Lead the MLB in saves with 52
5th best ERA 3.82
Lowest Opp BA .219
3rd best SV% in MLB 71.23
This even after losing Hicks midway through the year.
Carlos Martinez did an admirable when he took over. Converting 24 of 27 Save opportunities. Although, due to his proclivity of allowing base runners in high leverage situations, he did leave a lot of fans questioning his ability to be the closer. This Spring the role of closer could be hotly contested, especially IF Martinez makes a transition back to the rotation as has been hinted by the front office earlier in the year.
There is a small group of roster players who could be in the mix
Ryan Helsley 2.95 ERA 1.25 WHIP in 24 relief appearances. At this point he is probably viewed more as multiple inning relief or starter but they could give him a look.
Giovanny Gallegos After only getting 1 1/3 innings in 2018 after the trade that sent Luke Voit to the Yankees Gallegos exploded in 2019 pitching in 66 games logging 74 IP with a 2.31 ERA a 0.811 WHIP, recording 93 SO and only 16 walks in 74 IP and an OppBA 0f .170 he did record 1 save. I don't any reason to not give him a shot at the job.
John Brebbia 3.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIP OppBA .216 in 72 2/3 IP is the most expierenced of the 3 and could get a shot at the job.
Would this open up a chance in the off season to pick up a closer type? Maybe, however the free agent list is very thin on top closers . Will Smith(LH, SF) Is the odds on number one target for a closer after that, Aroldis Chapman(LH, NYY) Reportedly Will opt out of his contract. Kenley Jansen(RH, LAD) could opt out of his contract as well. After that there is a drop-off. Sean Doolittle might be available if the Nats don't try to retain him. There are some low level options that have closed and could be a fill in until Hicks is ready. Names like Dellin Bentances although coming off an injury to his Achilles tendon will he suffer illeffects? or B I think it likely though the Cardinals will probably go internal to fill that role.