by Micah Greenhill

NL Central Opponent Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Over the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to work for many different people. Each of them have brought their own unique perspective and have coached me in different ways. They’ve all contributed to my career and personal growth, and I’m very grateful for them. One of my favorites was a man named Mukul. He’s incredibly smart, strategic and a great supporter of his people. He has one flaw, though.

He’s a massive Cardinals fan.

All kidding aside, the Cardinals have been a thorn to the metaphorical side of Reds fans for several years. They’re successful as a franchise, their fans can be obnoxious and don’t get me started on Yadier Molina.

I distinctly remember a conversation I had with Mukul about his favorite team. At the time, the Cardinals — while locking down a winning season — were not going to make the playoffs, which frustrated him. When he brought it up, I laughed and just told him to be grateful that they had a winning season.

His response: “Reds fans have gotten used to having a losing team. The Cardinals have gotten used to being in the playoffs. I guess they’ve spoiled us.”

Herein lies the core of why I hate the Cardinals so much. It’s not just because of their winning, their fans or their players.

I’m just jealous.

2021 Recap

Record: 90-72, 2nd in NL Central, Lost Wild Card Game

For a large portion of the season, it looked like the Reds would be playing the Dodgers in the Wild Card. That was before the Reds completely collapsed in September, while the Cardinals went on an incredible winning streak, winning 22 of their last 25 games. The Cardinals would ultimately lose the Wild Card game, ending their incredible run.

Overall, the 2021 Cardinals were a talented but flawed team. They hit fairly well, with the team netting a 101 OPS+ for the year. Their offense was led by some familiar names, such as Paul Goldschmidt (143 OPS+), Nolan Arenado (121 OPS+) and rising star Tyler O’Neill (150 OPS+).

Of course, even a strong offense can lose games if pitching is poor. Overall, the Cardinals had decent pitching. As a team, they achieved an ERA+ of 98, just below league average, with a FIP of 4.30. Veteran starter Adam Wainwright led the starting rotation, both in innings pitched (206.1) as well as ERA+ (127).

While Cardinals fans are disappointed at their Wild Card loss, they can be optimistic about the future. There’s plenty of talent on the roster and several young stars emerging. The future is bright for St. Louis.

Offseason Losses/Additions

Overall, the Cardinals roster will look fairly familiar to Reds fans. While several pieces of last year’s team will not be returning, there is one familiar face that Cincinnati will have to see again: Albert Pujols. Knowing that I’ll see the future Hall of Famer alongside Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright gives me a weird sense of nostalgia.

Notable Additions
  • RHP Ljay Newsome (Acquired off Waivers)
  • LHP Steven Matz (Signed as Free Agent)
  • RHP Nick Wittgren (Signed as Free Agent)
  • OF Corey Dickerson (Signed as Free Agent)
  • LHP Packy Naughton (Acquired off Waivers)
  • 1B/DH Albert Pujols (Signed as Free Agent)
  • RHP Drew VerHagen (Signed as Free Agent)
Notable Subtractions
  • LHP J.A. Happ (Declared Free Agency)
  • LHP Wade LeBlanc (Retired)
  • LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim (Declared Free Agency)
  • LHP Andrew Miller (Retired)
  • RHP Luis Garcia (Declared Free Agency)
  • LHP Jon Lester (Declared Free Agency)
  • RHP Carlos Martinez (Declared Free Agency)
  • 1B/3B Matt Carpenter (Declared Free Agency)
  • SS Jose Rondon (Non-Tendered)
  • RHP Seth Elledge (Released)
Projected Position Players (2021 Stats)

That’s not a bad crew to be running out there. There’s solid players at every position and a good mix of veterans with up-and-coming stars. The baseball world is very familiar with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Yadier Molina, but as a Reds fan, the guy who makes me nervous is Tyler O’Neill. The 26-year-old can absolutely mash the ball. During the 2021 year, his hard-hit percentage and xwOBA were both in the 93rd percentile. Based on his batted-ball metrics, O’Neill’s expected batting average and slugging are .279/.583. His only weakness is his swing-and-miss rate. His strikeout and whiff rates are both in the bottom 4th percentile. If he can improve this part of his game, he’d become one of the premier active hitters in MLB.

Projected Pitchers (2021 Stats)

On paper, the Cardinals pitching shouldn’t be quite as good as their hitting. That’s not to say they’ll be terrible, either. Overall, they should be a pretty average group. Adam Wainwright, their most effective starter in 2021, returns for what may be the final season of a great career. The 40-year-old utilizes a very old-school approach to pitching. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, and his fastball is actually fairly slow. Where he excels is inducing weak contact and not walking hitters. If Wainwright can stay healthy, it’s reasonable to expect him to have another effective season for St. Louis.

Steven Matz is a newcomer to the Cardinals. While most recognize his name as a pitcher for the Mets, Matz was actually a solid starter for the Blue Jays last year. Outside of his above-average fastball, he profiles very similarly to Wainwright. During the 2021 season, the leading contributor to his success was his ability to limit hard contact.

Key Stories to Watch

I mentioned earlier about Albert Pujols returning to the team. It honestly gives me a really weird sense of nostalgia. It’s kind of like watching the old band get back together (except in this case, the band is a trio of guys that always beat up on your favorite band). The aging future Hall of Famer will use this year as a final lap to his excellent career. I’ve actually always been a huge fan of Pujols, so I’m excited at the thought of getting to see him one final time before he retires.

Outside of aging stars, there’s young blood to watch out for too. I’ve already written about O’Neill, who has the potential to become one of the premier hitters in the game. Dylan Carlson is another solid up-and-coming player. He’s shown the ability to hit for power and can be a dangerous hitter, particularly to left-handed pitchers.

W-L Projections
  • FanGraphs 82-79, 2nd in NL Central
  • PECOTA 81-81, 2nd in NL Central

The fact that the Cardinals are projected to be a .500 team and get second place in the division should show how easy this division could be. It’s frustrating as a Reds fan to not see a greater urgency to go for it now, while the division is ripe for the taking. At the end of the day, though, I guess we’re used to it. It’s like my boss said.

“Reds fans have gotten used to having a losing team. The Cardinals have gotten used to being in the playoffs.”

And that makes me jealous.

Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/Cardinals/status/1122600753196097545/photo/1

 

Micah is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up watching games at Cinergy Field with his family. A recent MBA graduate, Micah has always had a passion for data analytics and uses his understanding of big data to better understand and appreciate what is happening on the baseball diamond and in the front office. When he's not watching baseball, you can find Micah and his wife frequenting different restaurants and coffee shops in the area. For questions and inquiries, please reach out to micahgreenhill@gmail.com.