St. Louis Cardinals
2019 Record: 91-71
1st Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 3.80 (5th in MLB)
Team OPS: .737 (22nd in MLB)
What Went Right
The Cardinals returned to the postseason following a three-year drought, just edging out the Brewers in the NL Central. They topped the Braves in the NLDS before getting swept by the Nationals in the NLCS. St. Louis was 20 games over .500 in the second half and that run coincided with a historic second half from Jack Flaherty, who posted a microscopic 0.91 ERA after the break. All told, Flaherty held a 2.75 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 231/55 K/BB ratio over 196 1/3 innings. No one walked more batters (86) than Dakota Hudson this season, but his first full year in the majors was still a success with 16 wins and a 3.35 ERA. Kolten Wong posted his best season to date with a .285/.361/.423 batting line, 11 home runs and 24 stolen bases. Tommy Edman came up in June and eventually won a spot in the everyday lineup, finishing with an .850 OPS, 11 dingers and 15 steals across 92 games. Giovanny Gallegos didn’t make the Opening Day roster but wound up being one of the best relievers in the NL with a 2.31 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 93/16 K/BB ratio over 74 frames. An injury and a poor September dragged down Marcell Ozuna’s numbers, but it was still a pretty successful walk year overall with an .804 OPS, 29 homers and 89 RBI.
What Went Wrong
The Cardinals handed Matt Carpenter a contract extension just after Opening Day following a 2018 campaign that saw him slug a career-high 36 home runs. They undoubtedly wish they could take that back, as Carpenter just never got going in 2019, hitting just .226/.334/.392 with 15 homers. He was banished to the bench late in the season. Miles Mikolas was unable to duplicate his breakout showing in 2018, finishing this past season with a pedestrian 4.16 ERA. Most players would take the numbers that he put up, but Paul Goldschmidt’s performance was unquestionably a disappointment relative to expectations, as his .821 OPS was more than 100 points lower than his career mark coming into the season. Jordan Hicks pitched well when healthy, but he blew out his elbow in late June and needed Tommy John surgery. It was also another injury-plagued season for Alex Reyes, who made just 16 appearances between the majors and minors. Harrison Bader had just a .680 OPS and spent some time back in the minors.
** Jack Flaherty entered the season with plenty of buzz but suffered through a disappointing first half that saw him put up a 4.64 ERA over 18 starts. He then took off in the second half, posting a 0.91 ERA, 0.72 WHIP and 124/23 K/BB ratio over 99 1/3 innings. It is the third-lowest second-half ERA since 1920, coming in behind Jake Arrieta (0.79 in 2015) and Greg Maddux (0.87 in 1994). How high will Flaherty climb in fantasy drafts in the spring? At minimum, he figures to slide into the top three rounds and the top 10 at starting pitcher.
** Will Matt Carpenter get another shot at third base? Carpenter was one of fantasy baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2019 as he watched his slugging percentage fall a whopping 131 points even amidst baseball’s offensive explosion. The Cardinals turned to Tommy Edman as their regular third baseman late in the year, but they could shift Edman into a super utility role in 2020 and give Carpenter another shot at the hot corner. If that happens, Carp’s leash would certainly figure to be short. The good news is he should be dirt cheap in fantasy leagues.
** Can Paul Goldschmidt bounce back in 2020? Again, 34 homers, 97 RBI and 97 runs scored is nothing to sneeze at. However, it was unquestionably Goldy’s worst full season in the majors and it occurred as power was plentiful across the game. Goldschmidt’s Statcast data was a little worse across the board, so it’s possible we’re just seeing the natural aging curve with the first baseman turning 32 last month. Goldy is also no longer an asset in the stolen base department. Goldschmidt should be a perfectly fine fantasy option again next season, but he doesn’t appear terribly likely to return to being an elite option at first base.
** What role will Carlos Martinez fill? The Cardinals and Martinez weren’t optimistic about the right-hander’s shoulder holding up in a starting role this season, so they used him exclusively as a reliever. He eventually took over as the team’s closer after Jordan Hicks (elbow) went down. Martinez had some ups and downs but mostly pitched well, leading baseball with 21 saves after the All-Star break. He had a minor cleanup procedure on his shoulder earlier this month and it sounds like he’ll at least enter spring training as a starter. However, it’s still possible that the Cards ultimately decide Martinez is better utilized in the bullpen, especially if they add rotation help over the winter. It’s a situation to track in spring training.
** Dylan Carlson was one of the biggest risers among position player prospects this season. The 21-year-old put together a .292/.372/.542 batting line with 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases between Double- and Triple-A in 2019 even as he was among the youngest players in both leagues. The Cardinals seemingly don’t have any locked-in starters in their outfield as it stands right now, potentially setting up Carlson to compete for a job in spring training. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, Carlson could make his major league debut relatively early on in 2020 and he figures to be an interesting fantasy asset from the jump.
Team Needs: Offensive help is the Cardinals’ biggest need, as they were in the lower third in baseball in OPS and disappeared in the NLCS loss to the Nationals. A marquee starter might also be on the shopping list, especially if the club decides to keep Carlos Martinez in the bullpen.