Heading into the 2019 season, I feel like I can say something I haven’t been able to say in a while: the St. Louis Cardinals feel like the St. Louis Cardinals again.
It’s been a hell of an offseason for Cards fans. Not only did St. Louis acquire all-around stud first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, but he didn’t even need regular season games to decide St. Louis was the place for him, signing a $130 million extension through 2024. Inking Goldy for a good chunk of time was the overall goal, however no one expected it to happen so soon. It speaks to this team’s win-now attitude for the upcoming season and the atmosphere of the squad and city as a whole: Goldy knew right away that he wanted to stay. With Andrew Miller, Drew Robinson, and Matt Wieters, St. Louis added some quality depth options as well.
St. Louis hasn’t graced the postseason since 2015. This season, though, the buzz and hype feels different. It feels fresh. Despite the very slow start to spring training, the Cardinals looked much more deadly in the final few games, and Goldy showed he’s already rounding into midseason form. Ozuna and Fowler are swinging a better bat. Tyler “Bro’Neill” looks like he could smash at least 40 dingers if given the playing time (not gonna happen yet, sadly). Outside of Mikolas — whom I’m not worried about after last season — every arm in the rotation has looked sharp. Dakota Hudson is looking more and more like a future ace instead of the fringe starter he had entered camp as. The bullpen will be downright dirty, pending health. But with the history of those guys, especially Andrew Miller and his multiple injuries last season, that’s certainly not a sure thing. Fireballers like Jordan Hicks scare me. I pray for that man’s arm every single night.
What stands out the most is that the Cardinals don’t seem to care about their weak spring. They have their swagger back. They know they’re good. They have their “guy” in Goldschmidt, a player already being worshipped by the fanbase. The rest of the baseball world is noticing the love, and they don’t like it. But for me, that’s exactly why the Cardinals feel like the Cardinals again. People are talking about them. We tried to make Matt Holliday the guy, but as much as I love him, it wasn’t quite what everyone wanted. There’s renewed hope in Goldy, who has been Hall-of-Fame good over the past several seasons. He plays superb defense as well, something sorely missed since the Albert Pujols days. Oh, and he’s got some wheels, too – only three years removed from swiping 32 bags in a season (124 for his career).
On paper, in my humblest of opinions, St. Louis is the best team in the division, from top to bottom. Excellent lineup, excellent defense, potentially excellent rotation, excellent bullpen (assuming health). Here’s my hasty evaluation of the rest of the division:
Chicago Cubs: Pretty good I guess. Javier Baez is the real deal. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant could always bounce back. Yu Darvish was supposed to save them, but he’s practically a bust in my book at this point. Jon Lester and Cole Hamels can show flashes of their old selves, but they’re over the hill. I like Kyle Hendricks.
Milwaukee Brewers: Christian Yelich won the NL MVP, but Josh Hader is their real MVP – don’t think the Brew Crew would have had the season they had without him. That rotation is really just a conglomeration of #3-5 guys, but the bats and pen will keep them in most games.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs could be annoying, with Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, and Trevor Williams leading the pitching staff. Not much else to say about them, though. The pen has potential?
Cincinnati Reds: They look a little better than last year, but they can’t compete with the rest of the division. Nick Senzel is a guy to watch. Maybe Puig’s bat licks will do some magic?
For years, the Cardinals have been more or less the Yankees of the National League. You either loved ‘em or hated ‘em. They’ve been somewhat of an afterthought the past few seasons, though. A Wild Card was the best you could expect. This season, I can realistically see a division title. I expect one, quite frankly.
Baseball is such a mental game, and the Cardinals mentality hasn’t been in the right place these past few years. I loved Mike Matheny as a player, but I don’t think he was the right manager for the organization. Firing him was the best decision of the decade. Mike Shildt has the team behind him, and they’re ready to win. Now. Everyone else can sit back and hate us again. Fine by me.