The St. Louis Cardinals are perennial contenders in the NL Central. They are an imperfect team going into the year. The offense should be stout enough, and the team defense is elite. While many fans wanted to see the addition of a free agent shortstop, the pitching staff presents the biggest question mark on a very good roster. The biggest signings of the offseason for the Cardinals were were Steven Matz and Albert Pujols. The most noteworthy departure was manager Mike Shildt. Is the team ready to make a serious run for a World Series title? Or was last year’s Wild Card loss a preview of what’s to come in 2022 for the Cardinals?
2022 Cardinals Infield Preview
One of the biggest stories of the season is Yadier Molina playing his final season. He is slated for full-time duty. The team would benefit from getting extended looks at Andrew Knizner throughout the season as they try to determine whether he is the catcher of the future. This is probably unlikely to happen barring any injuries to Molina.
The corner infield positions are manned by Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. Arenado is looking to improve on a bit of a down year in 2021. Of course, a down year from Arenado is still a fine year by nearly any standard. Goldschmidt had a monster second half in 2021 and looks to continue that high level of production out of the gate. Juan Yepez is the planned back up at first. Pujols might make a few appearances there as well, but he will predominately serve as the designated hitter and pinch hit against lefties, if the team plans to maximize his value. The recently re-signed Pujols has also announced that it will be his last season.
Up the middle could be a bit less cut-and-dry than the corners for the Cardinals this season. To open the year, Tommy Edman will be the starting second baseman with Paul DeJong at shortstop. In addition to being the backup third baseman, Edmundo Sosa will play behind both Edman and DeJong. Should DeJong disappoint, Sosa could feasibly push for time. Nolan Gorman will start the season in Triple-A Memphis, but he should see some opportunity at second this year. If Sosa regresses and DeJong falters, shifting Edman to shortstop and giving Gorman an extended opportunity at second isn’t out of the question. Regardless, the infield will feature three gold glovers from 2021, Molina, and another good defensive middle infielder.
2022 Cardinals Outfield Preview
There may not be a more dynamic trio of young outfielders than the three in St. Louis. Tyler O’Neill is the leftfielder, and when healthy he absolutely mashes. He is among the top leftfielders in the league right now. He is coming off of a second consecutive gold glove winning season. O’Neill hit 34 home runs last year and managed a .912 OPS. The other Gold Glove winner in the Cardinals’ outfield is centerfielder Harrison Bader. Bader took a step forward with the bat last year as well, hitting .267 with occasional pop. In right field, switch-hitter Dylan Carlson will try to build on a strong rookie campaign. His numbers were in line with Bader’s as he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He could be primed to breakout.
Corey Dickerson is also in the mix both as a designated hitter and fourth outfielder. Each of the three starters spent time on the IL in 2021, so having Dickerson available to play corner outfield is valuable. Both Carlson and O’Neill can shift to center if Bader is unavailable. Yepez and Lars Nootbaar are likely to see some time as corner outfielders this year, and Edman can shift to the outfield if necessary.
2022 Cardinals Pitching Staff Preview
The rotation could be one of the team’s greatest weaknesses in 2022. The potential for it to exceed expectations is there, but that will depend largely on whether or not the group can maintain health. So far they are off to a tough start. Still, the team has a lot of good arms and if the rotation holds together, they could have a strong year.
Adam Wainwright will return for what many believe will be his final year. He has recently stated that no decision has been made regarding his retirement. Regardless, Wainwright continues to outduel Father Time and opposing players. His 2021 season provided ample evidence that his strong showing in 2020 wasn’t a small-sample fluke. He may no longer have the best “stuff” in the rotation, but he remains the staff ace until someone can surpass him.
Matz is the biggest addition to a rotation that was often patched together last year. He is likely to benefit from the defense behind him in St. Louis. His approach should allow him to eat a lot of innings and keep ballgames close. Playing in front of an improved defense could mean that he has an even better year than his strong showing in 2021. Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas return to the rotation after missing most of last year to injury. Hudson is coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2020. He threw fewer than nine innings last year, but appears to be all the way back this year. He has appeared fine so far in spring training. Mikolas has looked strong this spring overall. If the two can remain healthy, they should be assets this season.
Jack Flaherty will be the number two starter once he is available. He is currently dealing with inflammation in his throwing shoulder. His return date is not known at this time. What is known is that Flaherty is one of the best pitchers in baseball when he is healthy. No matter how well replacements might perform, the Cardinals will miss him until he returns.
Until Flaherty returns, the Cardinals will need a fifth starter. For now they are going with Jordan Hicks. Hicks has never started a major league game in his career. He threw 10 innings last year. The team has acknowledged that he isn’t stretched out to go deep into games, but instead he will stretch out on the fly. Despite concerns about Hicks’ ability to go deep into games, he’s been electric at times and is clearly the best internal option right now. Jake Woodford filled the role occasionally last year, as did Johan Oviedo. Offseason additions Aaron Brooks and Drew VerHagen have looked particularly strong this spring and either could slide into the fifth rotation spot should Flaherty’s injury linger and Hicks falter. Matthew Liberatore is planned to open the year in Memphis, but he will likely pitch in St. Louis at some point this year.
Last year the Cardinal bullpen often struggled. They were a big reason the Cardinals set the record for bases loaded walks. The relievers rarely completed innings without some traffic on the basepaths. Their season ended on a hanging slider from Alex Reyes, who begins the year on the 60-day IL. But it’s important to note that the pen was absorbing a lot of innings due in large part to an injury-riddled rotation. Reyes started the year out by recording 22 consecutive saves. The guys in the bullpen are there to have a great season, but there are already question marks with the rotation. Additional injuries could force a repeat of 2021.
T.J. McFarland will be called on to induce grounders and escape traffic with double plays. It was his strength last year. The team is also likely to turn to Kodi Whitley in the middle innings and some combination of Brooks, VerHagen, and Woodford.
Giovanny Gallegos will start the year as the closer. How rigid first-year manager Oli Marmol will be with the role remains to be seen. Ryan Helsley and Genesis Cabrera are also options for late and close situations. Whitley is a bit of a wild card and could easily find himself in the mix as well. Marmol should go with the hot hand in the late innings, but he must avoid the same mistakes that eventually caught up with Mike Shildt. An over-reliance on too few arms could be disastrous this year. Last year it eroded the effective of Cabrera, Gallegos, and especially Reyes.
As is often the case, health will determine how well the Cardinals compete this season. The team looks primed to compete with the Milwaukee Brewers for a Central Division crown. If the rotation battles injuries all year, they will need reinforcements to make it into the postseason. There is a chance that the Milwaukee Brewers falter, but it seems unlikely that any of the remaining teams in the NL Central make a strong push. The most likely scenario is the Cardinals find a way into a wild card spot, especially with the new expanded format for 2022.
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Steven Matz, Albert Pujols, Mike Shildt, Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Juan Yepez, Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa, Nolan Gorman, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Corey Dickerson, Lars Nootbaar, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Jake Woodford, Johan Oviedo, Aaron Brooks, Drew VerHagen, Matthew Liberatore, Alex Reyes, T.J. McFarland, Kodi Whitley, Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera