Cheap Seats

Behind Flaherty and Hudson, the St. Louis Cardinals have the start of a good rotation

My gripe with the St. Louis Cardinals the past three years is that the team didn’t have enough front of the rotation pitching to reach the playoffs and succeed there.

I’m not convinced, as Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty gather steam as starters, that the team is there in 2019. The Cardinals might make the postseason. In fact, it’s likely they’ll do so. But, if they do, can they match up with the hurlers of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves or even the Chicago Cubs in a short series? If I’m honest, as much as I want the Cardinals to win another big one, I don’t think it’s likely.

But, it really looks like the team might have a couple of difference makers in its second-year starters — and that, even if Alex Reyes never reaches his enormous potential, Ryan Helsley might step in and give the team a big 1-2-3 combo for years to come. I haven’t given up on Reyes yet, as easy as that would be after a third lost season in a row. If he can bounce back in 2020, it might just be the cherry on top of the sundae. If Carlos Martinez can return to the rotation and be effective, well then St. Louis would really have something to crow about.

The Cardinals of 2016-18 were good. But there was nothing about them that was truly great. The bullpen, the offense, the defense, the base running, none of them were dominant or intimidating. With the change of Mikes from Matheny to Shildt, St. Louis has become much better at execution. The fielding went from a liability to an asset and the base running went from the bottom of the heap in Major League Baseball to near the top.

In 2019, the bullpen was a disaster. But Jordan Hicks was becoming a force as closer before the need for Tommy John surgery ended his season prematurely. Giovanny Gallegos looks like he might be an elite setup man — if not a closer — and John Gant has been a very good bullpen contributor.

Time for Cardinals to focus on offense

If the rotation is better next year with valuable experience under its belt, that makes the mandate very clear: add to the hit-and-miss offense and this team is suddenly somewhere between a contender and an elite performer.

Although the Cardinals have wasted a ton of money on Matt Carpenter for the next three years and Dexter Fowler hasn’t exactly been the dominant player St. Louis thought he’d be when he was acquired as a free agent three years ago, having three difference making youngsters in the rotation — while subtracting the salary of Michael Wacha and possibly Adam Wainwright —- the Cardinals ought to have a substantial amount of money in the budget if the team plans to pursue guys like Mookie Betts or Anthony Rendon this offseason.

I don’t know how I feel about the team dumping talent to acquire Betts when he’ll be a free agent at the end of the year. Rendon seems like a much better fit — but would the St. Louis front office be willing to double down on a position it’s already paying Carpenter to play? Rendon is much better third baseman in the field and he’s a much more consistent hitter at this point of his career. But Carpenter would be an awfully expensive bench player and he’s not getting his former jobs at first or second base back with Paul Goldschmidt and Kolten Wong entrenched in those positions.