Over the last 15 years or so the St Louis Cardinals have been a competitive team year in and year out and that was no different in 2018. Yes, they did part ways with manager Mike Matheny when the team was sitting one game over .500 at 47-46, but they then hired Mike Shildt as interim manager, and they went 41-28 under Shildt, for a total of 88 wins on the year. 88 wins on the year, and they finished 3rd in the very tough NL Central, and 2.5 games behind the 2nd Wild Card spot, missing the playoffs for the 3rd straight year, their longest playoff drought since they missed it 3 years in a row from 1997-99.

The Cardinals were led by guys like Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Miles Mikolas. Mikolas had a breakout season in 2018, with an NL leading 18 wins, 137 ERA+, and a 1.07 WHIP. Carpenter led the Redbirds with a 4.9 WAR and had a .897 OPS while only missing 6 games all year.

The Cardinals were obviously disappointed in the end result of 2018, but they liked what they saw from Shildt at the helm so they gave him a 3-year contract to stay at Manager, but they did more than just that to try and get back to October in 2019.

One of the earliest major transactions of the offseason came in early December when the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to trade 6x all-star Paul Goldschmidt to the St Louis Cardinals for 3 prospects. Adding a gold glove, power hitting first baseman to the Cardinals immediately closed the gap between them and the Cubs and Brewers in the NL Central. Goldschmidt despiting getting off to a bumpy start in 2018 still finished with a .290/.389/.533 slash line and 33 home runs.

One of my favorite things about Goldy is that over the last 4 seasons he averages 158 games played-it’s always a huge plus knowing you can pencil him in the middle of your lineup day in and day out.

The other big move the Cardinals made this offseason was signing left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to a 2-year deal. The veteran southpaw posted his lowest ERA since 2011 in 2018, a large part of that is likely due to injuries and never being able to get in a consistent rhythm in 2018. Miller has bounced around in his 13-year career, spending the last 2 ½ years in Cleveland, which includes deep playoff runs, including all the way to the World Series in 2016. The Cardinals hope that in the right role Miller can return to his elite form and help boost them back into the playoffs.

Coming back for the Cardinals, Matt Carpenter is coming off the best power year of his career hitting a career-best 36 home runs and .897 OPS in 2018. Mike Mikolas is coming off of his breakout season where he finished 6th in the CY Young voting. Paul DeJong had a good sophomore season but only played in 115 games because of a fractured left hand. Yadier Molina made another all-star game and won his 9th gold glove.

Jack Flaherty had a solid rookie season, making 28 starts, pitching to a 3.34 ERA and finishing 5th in the NL rookie of the year voting. The Cardinals won 88 games in 2018, they were a good team, in a really good division and a really competitive National League. If they can repeat what they did in 2018, the additions of Goldy and Miller, and a full year of Paul DeJong could be enough to get back into the playoffs. Carlos Martinez will start 2019 on the IL and has said he is willing to pitch in any role when he comes back, whether the Cardinals need him to be a starter or come out of the pen. Wherever they use him, that will be a good spark they will get in the middle of their season to help push them into contention.

The good news for the Redbirds: they won 88 games and added Paul Goldschmidt. The bad news for them: the Brewers and Cubs are still very good baseball clubs within the division and the Dodgers and Rockies can’t both win the NL West, so they’ll still be around in the Wild Card race, and the NL East has 4 teams that have the talent on paper to make the playoffs.

The NL has 0 “no-brainers,” and the Cardinals will have to get out of the gate strong and stay hot all year if they are going to get into the playoffs. Do I think this Cardinals team can make the playoffs? No. I think the Brewers are the best team in the Central, and I’m all in on the Cubs this year, and I just do not think the Cardinals have what it takes to hang with them in the division, and they don’t have enough to compete with the Rox/Dodgers in the wild-card race.

I can see the Cardinals realizing they are out of it before the deadline, and flipping Goldschmidt if they fear he won’t resign since he is on an expiring contract. The keys for the Cardinals to avoid that, will be Goldschmidt doing what he did in Arizona in STL, Carpenter playing at the MVP level he’s shown flashes of, and Mikolas and Flaherty having continued success in the rotation after solid 2018 campaigns by both. If they can do that and Jordan Hicks can be a solid back end of the pen guy, the Cardinals can have plenty of success in 2019.

Record Prediction: 82-80

Team MVP: Paul Goldschmidt

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