N.L. Central Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals fans are all aflutter over the Nolan Arenado trade… as well they should be. So who’s protecting him in the lineup?

Leftfielder Tyler O’Neill has plenty of power and looks to be capable of 30 home runs a year. The question is: can he hit better than .230? Shortstop Paul DeJong has similar power for a middle infielder. Can he hit better than .245? Harrison Bader has the speed to steal base but can he hit better than .230? All of these are important questions because somebody Hass to get on base in order for Paul Goldschmidt or Nolan Arenado to have opportunities to drive-in runs. I worry that Saint Louis’ offense is going to revolve around Goldschmidt and Arenado rotating between the three and four spots in the lineup every night in order to give each other equal opportunities. Right now it looks like 38-year-old catcher Yadier Molina (.280 career average, 160 home runs) will be tasked with protecting them both.

The Cardinals quietly enacted a youth movement even while trading for Goldschmidt and Arenado. Dylan Carlson and Tommy Edman will also see that time at centerfield and second base respectively. Is Jack Flaherty a number one starter? He’s been pretty good so far and his WHIP of 1.10 is a good indication. He’s at least a very good number two starter. It looks like St. Louis is going to send John Gant back to the bump every fifth day. He has experience out of the bullpen and as a starter. I love the fact that he does not give up or give in to hitters. He may give up more walks but he also doesn’t get hit nearly as much as your typical starter. Sometimes the different way is the best way. Left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim looks like he could be the real deal. He had a great 2020 campaign. But we’ll see. Adam Wainwright won’t win any Cy Youngs but he still one of the best fifth starters in the league.

Middle reliever Ryan Helsley hasn’t been great out of the bullpen but he’s been solid enough. A lot of his experience came last year however. I’m not so sure that 2020 pitching statistics shouldn’t have some sort of asterisk after them because there are a whole lot of pitchers who had career years last year. The same goes for Carlos Martinez (3.50 career ERA but in many more appearances). Giovanni Gallegos could be a closer. He strikes out plenty of opposing hitters and doesn’t walk many (career WHIP is under 1.00). Alex Reyes has plenty of stuff to straight guys out but his strike out to walk ratio is really bad. The good news is when he does get it over the plate opposing hitters aren’t going to hit better than .200 against him. Hit the bull!

What does it all mean? The Cardinals have plenty of pitching to go all the way. But that pitching can’t disappear in the postseason if they are to have any chance. Arenado and Goldschmidt spaced out in the lineup could protect a couple of other hitters and make them decent offensively. We will see who else decides to bring a live bat to the ball park. They could use it.

85 WINS.

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