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Opinion | Looking at the bright side with the 2019 Cardinals

While the end of the road wasn't pretty for the Cardinals this year, there were some great moments and player developments.
Credit: AP
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright celebrates after striking out Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman to end the top of the sixth inning in Game 3 of a baseball National League Division Series on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — Thursday afternoon, the Gold Glove nominations were released, and six St. Louis Cardinals were on the finalist lists for their position: Harrison Bader, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, and Jack Flaherty.

That's a serious number in these parts and a sign that the Mike Shildt way is taking shape after just one full season in the manager's chair. The Mike Matheny teams weren't known for strong defense or sound baserunning, and Shildt has flipped the table on those notions in a little over a season and a half. It bodes well for the future with this club as they navigate from a mere contending team to true World Series-worthy ballclub.

It made me realize that while the end of the road wasn't pretty for the Cardinals this year, there were some great moments and player developments. The out-of-nowhere variety as well as the simple claim to more fame.

Since everyone, including myself, has already popped the hood and talked about what the team didn't do, what they need, and why it may be hard to return to the final four of MLB in 2020, let's take a few minutes and look back on the silver developments in 2019.

Jack is here!

Flaherty entered the season as that hot sports car that you admired from afar but hadn't quite seen its true powers just yet. The league knew about him coming into the season, and he struggled with command, gave up too many home runs, and experienced some turbulence in the first half.

He became ruthless in the second half, compiling a 0.91 ERA post All Star Break. Flaherty allowed just three earned runs in 38 August innings, striking out 47 with nine walks and 19 hits. In a matter of weeks, he became the Cardinals' true ace. Someone who could take the mound and stop the bleeding, no matter the location. He's only 24 years old by the way.

Edman Out of Nowhere

Tommy Edman had a great spring training but wouldn't take his first MLB at-bat until June 8. He would launch four home runs in his first stretch of games, and he did that while playing a number of positions. At times, he was even in the outfield, a place he gradually became better defending.

Edman's bat slowed down at one point, but he kept playing, much to the chagrin of fans and columnists. There was an idea that Shildt was depending on him no matter how bad things seemed. The faith paid off, because no one hit better in the last few weeks of the season than Edman.

In 103 September at-bats, Edman slashed .350/.417/.660 with six home runs and four triples. He became the suture for a struggling Matt Carpenter, elevating the defense at third and helping the outfield became a steel trap for the pitching staff.

He started out 2019 as "that one guy" and ended it as a name competing for starting reps in 2020. Not bad for someone who looks like he's starting high school.

Hellloooooo, Gio!

Acquired in an abrupt July deadline move in 2018, few could tell just how good Giovanny Gallegos would become for the Cardinals. Above average reliever with some lightning and mischief in his arm perhaps, but nothing too special.

And then 2019 happened. Gallegos became the everyman in the bullpen, striking out 93 batters in 74 innings. He appeared in 66 games and didn't wear down that much, composing a sharp WHIP of 0.81.

He could blow a heater by a hitter, change speeds at a wicked pace, and just befuddle grown men with a baseball bat in their hands. He could pitch any inning and come off as a closer, slamming the door on teams. He's just getting warmed up, with an endless array of possibilities. I hope they keep him in the versatile bullpen role instead of assigning him one role. Keep him mobile.

Adam Wainwright turning back the clock

I gave up on the dude. He told the media about being healthy, and I took that as an old man telling Father Time to get off his lawn. Wainwright insisted that this newfound health was different than previous off seasons, and maybe he was right.

The Wainwright that got obliterated on opening day at Busch Stadium in 2018 was gone, and a new and improved Georgia product arrived. The 2013-14 Wainwright was beamed in one of those Terminator cyborg type lights, mowing down hitters and reminding us never to close the book on a bulldog performer.

He saved his best for last, putting a 2.97 ERA together in September. Wainwright offered up two stellar postseason starts, getting no wins to show for it. He went seven innings or more in eight starts in 2019, something that seemed unheard of heading into the season. In short, he recovered what was lost and gave hope that the future wasn't decided yet.

Easily the best story of the season.

Not So Great Goldschmidt Still Wasn't So Bad

Perception is so important when it comes to grading Goldschmidt's first season in St. Louis. Brought in to save the world, he instead produced a quality season that served as a pillar more than a stabilizer.

A torrid start delved into an extended struggle, one that Goldschmidt broke out of midseason, but found again near the end of September and during the NLCS.

But remember this: Goldschmidt didn't have a bad season; he had a disappointing season according to his own standards. When you crank 34 home runs, put up a .821 OPS, and collect 155 hits, you're not doing it wrong. There simply wasn't an MVP flourish to Goldschmidt's 2019 season, and that's the biggest takeaway. If this is an off year, you should take it. For example, Steamer on Fangraphs projected a 3.9 WAR for Goldschmidt; he ended up with a 2.9 fWAR.

2020 will be huge for the newly signed first baseman who could win another Gold Glove, because it will reveal whether or not a true decline is settling in for the seasoned vet.

Does he have another 6-7 WAR season in him? We shall see. For now, appreciate what he did offer for the team while making $14.7 million.

There were other bright spots to be seen. Before he went down for Tommy John surgery, Jordan Hicks was having a great season. Ryan Helsley found a true stride in the postseason. Wong edged closer to an .800 OPS with another stellar year defensively. Miles Mikolas righted a ship that was headed for a bad season. Before he ran out of gas, John Gant was one of the best relievers in the league.

The Cardinals need some tune-ups, especially in the outfield, but they showed some true fight in 2019. Remember when it was nearly another lost season and fans were ready to throw in the towel in July? That changed and playoff baseball returned to St. Louis.

While you wait and see what that evolves into next season, make sure to stop and appreciate the thrills that this year brought back.

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