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The St. Louis Cardinals have been one of two teams that have significantly jeopardized the baseball season via a clubhouse outbreak of COVID-19, and there’s at least reason to strongly suspect that it was the result of some irresponsible behavior. As I originally sat down to write this, it was unclear whether the games this weekend would happen at all, let alone which Cardinals would be eligible to participate. Whether the games take place feel secondary to the health and recovery of all involved. 17 members of the organization have tested positive, including ten players and seven staff members. The ten players have been revealed to be SS Paul DeJong, C Yadier Molina, DH Rangel Ravelo, INF Edmundo Sosa, SP Carlos Martinez, RP Junior Fernandez, RP Kodi Whitley, RP Ryan Helsley, OF Lane Thomas and 1B/OF Austin Dean. There’s been some emergency room visits, though fortunately no overnight hospital stays.
Given the health implications of the situation, it feels a little silly to say anything about the baseball attributes of the Cardinals. Nonetheless, the rest of this piece is going to attempt to do just that. If such details feel a little trivial to you right now, I can’t really blame you.
As a result of the outbreak, the Cardinals have only played five games this season and it’s uncertain how the defending NL Central champs are going to manage to play out their schedule in such a compressed time frame. The speculation is that they’ll face a grueling amount of double-headers from here on out. Even if that’s likely to hurt their postseason chances, the one advantage they’ll have for this upcoming series with the White Sox is the ability to reset their rotation, so they’ll be trotting out ace Jack Flaherty at some point in the series. Flaherty’s breakout 2019 featured the lowest WHIP in the National League, and it was thanks to a drop in walk rate. Hit suppression has been a theme over the last two seasons, and his xwOBAs of 0.285 and 0.283 the last two seasons don’t suggest the low BABIPs of .257 and .242 have much to do with luck.
Adam Wainwright is on his 15th year of pitching for the Cardinals, and at the advanced age of 38, he’s not the ace he once was. He’s more of a back-end starter at this stage of his career, and he makes his bones with a sinker-cutter-curve mix that relies on opponents hitting the ball into the dirt. Dakota Hudson led the major leagues in giving out free passes last season, but he wiped out so many of them with double-play grounders that he posted a 3.35 ERA anyway. It didn’t hurt that DeJong and Kolten Wong are an excellent up-the-middle duo, either. Unsurprisingly, Hudson favors the sinker and cutter over a fourseam.
With DeJong out, third baseman Tommy Edman will likely slide over to short. Edman’s the latest off of the Cardinals’ never-ending assembly line of guys who come up from the minors and flat out hit. He racked up 3.9 bWAR in about a half-season of work thanks to an average around .300 and strong defensive chops, the latter of which can be deployed all over the diamond. The aforementioned Wong is a very well-rounded player and underrated star who showed last season he can beat you with his legs (24/28 in stolen bases), his on-base skills (.361 OBP), a little power (40 extra-base hits), and his glove (19 Defensive Runs Saved).
Completing the infield picture are first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and likely third baseman Matt Carpenter. Goldschmidt didn’t quite provide the expected punch upon coming over from Arizona. You’d think a juiced ball and a slugger like Goldschmidt would be a match made in heaven, but his homer total remained stagnant while his doubles total dropped substantially. Carpenter has fallen hard since his days of being an OBP machine, and the spread between his walk and strikeout rates has continued to widen — not in a good way. Now 34, he might be nearing the end of his shelf life.
Although the Cardinals’ infield is strong, the outfield is rather weak by contenders’ standards. Center fielder Harrison Bader is St. Louis’ answer to Adam Engel. You know the type. He’s an excellent glove man, and fans say “man, all he needs to do is hit .250 to be good.” Last year he hit .205. The Cardinals opted to replace Marcell Ozuna from within by giving 24-year-old Tyler O’Neill the left field job. O’Neill has loads of power, but a 35.8% strikeout rate in his early career has made it tough to translate into value. To his credit, he has two homers and only one strikeout in his first five games this year, so that’s a step in the right direction. Dexter Fowler is in his fourth year of the five year, $82.5 million deal he signed after winning the World Series with the Cubs. He gave them one strong season of hitting before living below the Mendoza line in 2018. A dead-cat bounce was in store in 2019, but there’s not much exciting about a 34-year-old league average hitter with declining defense in an outfield corner.
Given the general weakness of the outfield situation and the COVID outbreak shattering St. Louis’ depth, the Cardinals are electing to call up top prospect Dylan Carlson (18th overall on MLB Pipeline’s rankings). There’s been questions about Carlson’s ability to handle center-field long term, but the Cardinals could choose to utilize him either in center or left in the near-term. The 21-year-old crushed pitching in the upper-levels of the minors last season and figures to give St. Louis a good shot at restoring star power to their outfield.
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The Cardinals have been the National League’s gold standard for competitive baseball this century, as they’ve only finished with a losing record one time since 1999. While they’ve stayed consistently above the league median payroll, they’ve never spent quite as much as the top tier of teams, which makes their sustained success extremely impressive. They’ll be testing that above-.500 streak in 2020, but given what the team has been through these past couple of weeks, simply completing the season with all members of the organization having recovered from the virus will feel like a victory. Until then, it’s going to be hard to think of the 2020 Cardinals as anything except an indictment on Major League Baseball’s failure to take the necessary precautions to play in this environment, and the responsibility extends from league leadership all the way down to the players themselves.
Probable Starting Pitchers
- Saturday, August 15 Game 1: Starting to Be Named Later vs. Lucas Giolito
- Saturday, August 15 Game 2: Not Sure vs. Bullpen Day
- Sunday, August 16: To Be Determined vs. Dallas Keuchel
- Kolten Wong – 2B
- Tommy Edman – SS
- Paul Goldschmidt – 1B
- Matt Carpenter – 3B
- Dexter Fowler – RF
- Tyler O’Neill – DH
- Matt Wieters – C
- Dylan Carlson – LF
- Harrison Bader – CF
- SP1: Jack Flaherty – RHP
- SP2: Adam Wainwright – RHP
- SP3: Dakota Hudson – RHP
- SP4: Kwang-Hyun Kim – LHP
- SP5: Daniel Ponce de Leon – RHP
- CL: Giovanny Gallegos – RHP
- RP1: Andrew Miller – LHP
- RP2: John Gant – RHP
- RP3: Tyler Webb – LHP