After a slow start to the season, the St. Louis Cardinals finally kicked things into gear just before the All-Star Break and got on track toward winning ways. With a 40-34 record after the break, the Cardinals inserted themselves back in the National League Wild Card race and stayed in contention as late as Sept. 27. St. Louis finished the season in third place in the NL Central at 83-79.
The Cardinals were a pretty solid hitting team. Though they didn’t hit for a ton of power, the Cardinals did their damage at the plate with patience. They drew the third-most walks and third-highest on-base percentage in the NL. Patience led to wins, and big ones, because the Cardinals finished with a 28-17 record in blowout games. However, St. Louis struggled in one-run games with a 24-29 record. Some more power likely would have lifted them in late innings of close games.
Pitching was another area the Cardinals did well. Of the five regular starting pitchers, four finished the season with winning records, including Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright with 12 wins apiece. The starters also led the NL with three complete-game shutouts. The staff on the whole allowed just 1.1 homer per nine innings, which was good enough to tie with four other teams for the best allowance in the NL.
Average is the best way to describe the Cardinals defensively. With the decline of catcher Yadier Molina, left fielder Tommy Pham turned out to be the best player on the team. Pham finished 11th in the NL MVP race as a result of eight assists, a double play and just one error for a fielding percentage of .996–highest among Cardinals who played more than 200 innings.
Molina will turn 36 this season and has started to decline, by his standards. Of course, 90 percent of Molina is still better than 100 percent of most catchers in Major League Baseball. However, it’s time for the Cardinals to start looking forward to the future behind the plate. Current backup Carson Kelly hasn’t seen much game time, but there’s a reason for that–he’s not very good right now. But, he’s only 23 and still spent five seasons in the minors. Kelly is listed as the No. 2 prospect in the Cardinals’ farm system, but if he’s going to replace a Hall of Famer in a few years, he’ll need to see more time behind the plate during the season.
The Cardinals should be set to have a solid year in 2018. If they can avoid another slow start to the season, they should be solid contenders for the division. But things aren’t going to be any easier than they have been with the moves the Milwaukee Brewers made last week and the Chicago Cubs holding together the majority of their core.
Photo by Brigham Berthold