2018 MLB Preview: Can St. Louis Bounce Back to the Glory Years?

When it comes to the dominant franchise in the National League, no team compares to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards have won 11 World Series. The first World Series win was in 1926. The last World Series win was in 2011. That’s just it.

If the Cardinals don’t win the World Series in 2018, it will have been 7 years since St. Louis took home the top prize in Major League Baseball.  Although that’s not long between a championship in one of the major sports, it is a long time for St. Louis fans.

Why? The Cardinals have always dominated their biggest rivals, the Chicago Cubs. Not anymore. These days, the Cubs are the team to beat in the National League Central Division. Can the St. Louis Cardinals surprise the rest of the NL and stamp their ticket to the World Series? Once there, will the Cards resume their place as the best franchise in the National League?

Check out my preview of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals!

Cardinals 2018 MLB preview: Can St. Louis Bounce Back to the Glory Years?

The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t have the worst of seasons in 2017.  The Cards actually performed admirably in 2017. Due to major injuries, the Cardinals missed the post-season. But, St. Louis was in the post-season chase into the final week of the MLB Regular Season. They missed the final NL Wildcard spot by only 4 games.

Make no mistake, though. For St. Louis to get back to the glory years, they must find a way to catch their most hated rivals, the Chicago Cubs, in the deep NL Central Division. Not willing to rest on their laurels, St. Louis made a huge play for Miami great Giancarlo Stanton. The Cardinals had a deal in place to bring Stanton over from the Marlins.

Stanton didn’t want to leave Miami. The Cardinals called up new Marlins’ CEO Derek Jeter. Jeter said “no problem”. Instead of trading Stanton, Jeter traded Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis. The Cardinals also acquired starting pitcher Luke Weaver.

Will Ozuna and Weaver be enough to help the St. Louis Cardinals get back to the MLB Post-Season? Below, I try to answer that question.

St. Louis Cardinals Batting Lineup

1B Matt Carpenter (L)

CF Tony Pham (R)

RF Dexter Fowler (S)

LF Marcell Ozuna (R)

SS Paul DeJong (R)

3B Jedd Gyorko (R)

C Yadier Molina (R)

2B Kelton Wong (L)

The second, third, and fourth positions in the Cards’ batting lineup are the keys. Center Fielder Tony Pham has a condition called keratoconus in his left eye. Keratoconus is where the cornea of the eye “thins and bulges out like a cone”. Changing the shape of the cornea brings “light rays out of focus”. Once Pham got a new contact lens for his left eye, he rose his OPS to .931. Only Charlie Blackmon with the Colorado Rockies, and the aforementioned Giancarlo Stanton with the Miami Marlins had a higehr OPS in the NL than Pham once he got the new contact lens.

Dexter Fowler dropped to third after struggling as the Cardinals’ lead-off hitter. He only hit .222 as the lead-off hitter. By the end of the regular season, Fowler had raised his batting average to .264. Manager Mike Matheny has said that Fowler might start the season as the lead-off hitter. Matheny won’t wait too long before dropping Fowler to third in the batting lineup again if Dexter struggles to set the table.

St. Louis is counting on Marcell Ozuna to help their offense. The Cardinals ranked seventh in the NL in runs scored last season. St. Louis scored 761 total runs. The Cardinals team OPS ranked eighth at .760. Ozuna posted a .312 batting average along with a .924 OPS. Because Ozuna didn’t change leagues, there’s a good chance he produces the same numbers in 2018 that he produced in 2017.

One thing to note is that Ozuna won’t have the luxury of batting next to Giancarlo Stanton in 2018. That might have an impact on his numbers. Or, it might not. Tony Pham is plenty good enough to protect Ozuna. It’s just a question of Matheny finding out the best way to pair the two OPS monsters in the batting lineup.

The other players make for a strong overall batting lineup. Paul Dejong batted .285 with 25 home runs last season. He’s a viable number 5 in the lineup. Dejong should have no trouble protecting Ozuna. This is especially true because of Ozuna’s healthy OPS. Jedd Gyorko batted .272 with 20 home runs. Catcher Yadier Molina made an elevation shift in his launch angle. Yadier blasted 18 home runs last season. That’s 1 shy then what he hit in the last 3 combined seasons. Kelton Wong batted .285 last season.

Only Kelton Wong and Matt Carpenter are left-handed hitters. Carpenter, who eventually could end up leading off, hit .241 with 23 home runs last season. If Carpenter ends up leading off, that means Fowler wasn’t effective as the Cardinals’ lead-off hitter. The lineup I project tells you how I’m thinking might go down, right?

St. Louis Cardinals Starting Rotation

Carlos Martinez RHP

Adam Wainwright RHP

Michael Wacha RHP

Luke Weaver RHP

Mile Mikolas RHP

If the Cardinals expect their starting rotation to rival the Cubs’ starting rotation, two things must happen. First, Adam Wainwright must get back to being a dominant starting pitcher. At one time not too long ago, Wainwright had the best stuff in MLB. Last season, his stuff wasn’t great. His ERA was 5.10.  His WHIP was 1.50. He did go 12 and 5, though. That tells me Wainwright utilized his best stuff in key situations. If he utilizes his best stuff all the time this season, he could once again be one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Second, Luke Weaver must become a lock down pitcher. Both Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha struggle at different points during the season.  Weaver must be that guy that picks up the pieces. Weaver’s only 24-years-old. Last season, he went 7 and 2 with a 3.88 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. He could become the Cardinals’ next great starting pitcher.

St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen

Bud Norris RHP

Dominic Leon RHP

Tyler Lyons LHP

Brett Cecil LHP

Matt Bowman RHP

Alex Reyes RHP

Closer – Luke Gregerson RHP

There’s really only one thing to discuss when it comes to the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen:  will Luke Gregerson turn into a closer that Matheny can count on?

Gregerson returns to the Cardinals after a 10-year absence. It’s asking a lot to count on a guy who had a 4.35 ERA, a 2 and 3 record, and a 1.34 WHIP last season that played in the American League to shut down the great hitting teams in the National League. Maybe, one of the other pitches in the bullpen can step it up. Or, maybe, Matheny decides to win games the way the Houston Astros won the World Series, by not counting on a closer.

Or, I and others could be wrong and Gregerson steps it up big time.

Bottom Line:  Are the St. Louis Cardinals a Good Bet at 20 to 1?

That depends. If you’re a half-glass full bettor, the 20 to 1 screams overlay to you. Dexter Fowler is certainly talented enough to become one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball again. Tony Pham was brilliant once he got the new contact lens. Marcell Ozuna might be a better fit with the Cardinals than Giancarlo Stanton.

Also, Wainwright could return to glory and Gregerson could become an awesome closer. To me, asking for all of those things to happen is asking a lot. I believe everything must go right for the Cardinals to just make the playoffs.  Forget about winning the World Series.

I’d expect double the 20 to 1 odds. I’m not pulling the trigger on the Cards at anything less than 40 to 1.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson

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