ST. LOUIS — At last, your long, lost love has come along, St. Louis Cardinals fans. At last!!
After a brutally long winter stuffed full of activity from every team except for your home team, pitchers and catchers have officially reported to camp.
Pencils are sharpened, uniforms are super clean and the backpack is hanging on the back of the chair. 2020 is off and running, and for the most part, this roster is just about set.
There are questions. One could argue there are many pending areas on this team. Who is closing games? Who starts in left field? Where is Tommy Edman playing on opening day? Can Alex Reyes stay healthy? Can Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina stay healthy? How much push should the Cardinals expect from the Cincinnati Reds?
So many questions and nothing but time to see them all get answered. Some will come easy and others will take time, perhaps longer than fans would like.
But like it or not, the season has begun and everyone is second-guessing. Even the local media is poking the beehive a little as spring unfolds.
Now, I've written extensively about what this team needs, should have done, didn't do, and what can still be done. But for the time being (basically, this article) I'll look at the bright side of things.
Since I, and several other writers, love the number five, let's stick with that. Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the Cardinals.
5) Paul Goldschmidt is going to bounce back
Book it right here. I don't think this is a guy who is going to commit to being a 3-4 WAR player for the rest of his days. 95% of baseball players wouldn't classify Goldschmidt's debut season in St. Louis as a disappointment, but then again, the former Arizona Diamondback is usually a member of the 5% I am not addressing. The ease of a second season and the comfort of being at home in your surroundings is huge even for a guy like Goldschmidt, so I don't think he'll take a step back this year.
Protection is a big question. Who protects Goldy in the lineup? Well, last year he had Marcell Ozuna protecting him and with no offense to the Big Bear, overall, he didn't really put a scare into many pitchers. He was too inconsistent to attain that. Goldschmidt didn't exactly have a bodyguard in Arizona guarding him, so I don't think it's as necessary as some think. When he's on, he's on. I expect a bounce-back, and so does Steamer over at Fangraphs. He has Goldschmidt at a 3.4 WAR, but I think the slugger can beat that.
4) Giovanny Gallegos=Jack of all trades
It doesn't matter if he is closing, setting up, working the bridge innings, or just doing a little of everything. This guy is a lethal weapon in the bullpen, a deadly adversary for any Major League hitter. When you allowed an earned run last season, it felt like a freak occurrence, like a pitbull being suddenly overmatched by a poodle. Gallegos stranded 87.5% of the runners he inherited in 2019, averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He could close until Jordan Hicks is ready, or the man could be a useful Jack of all trades for Mike Shildt and Mike Maddux. I am confident the box score will be preserved with him on the mound.
3) Cardinals will have the best middle infield combo
This team isn't about home runs and outright power anymore; it's a defense and pitching team. At the core of that defense is the middle infield package of Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong. The latter may have won the Gold Glove in 2019, but their force is cohesive and can singlehandedly shut down opposing teams trying to find a hit on the ground against St. Louis. They turn double plays like magicians, and scoop up would-be singles every game. DeJong and Wong saved the Cardinals a combined 28 runs in the field last year, according to Fangraphs. DeJong, for all the flack he got from fans about a rough offensive season after April, finished with 4.1 fWAR. Wong produced 3.7 fWAR. Two of the highest marks on the team will only get better in 2020, especially if DeJong gets some rest days.
2) Dylan Carlson is going to make an impact
Don't mind the fact he may not be on the opening day roster, but know this kid is going to be on this team and making a dent before summer officially gets here. This is the main reason I believe the team didn't make advancements on free agent outfielders. I don't buy the Tyler O'Neill opportunity narrative one bit. That's basically them stalling on starting the Carlson engine. The kid is the #1 ranked Cards prospect and projects to be a #2 threat in the lineup. John Mozeliak and company are just being patient with their shiniest toy. That's all. Just wait. This kid will get his chance and I think he'll own it.
1) Jack Flaherty is around
Seriously, every fifth day transforms an ordinary baseball game into an event. I won't try to talk to you about pitch tunneling or any other unique advanced pitching stats. All I can tell you is this kid casts a spell on baseball bats. He doesn't keep bats warm at all. Flaherty turned into Nolan Ryan midway through the second season. Mozeliak noted that he got smarter and more accurate with his pitches. Flaherty allowed ten earned runs after the All Star Break in nearly 100 innings. He'll win a Cy Young award within the next 2-3 years. Flaherty is a reason to know a losing streak should rarely stretch past four games.
Watch: Jack Flaherty talks about following up his breakout season in 2020
Sure, this team has questions. Every team does. Well, every team except for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals are depending on a lot of "what if" scenarios to pan out, and don't have the farm system firepower at hand like they used to. The outfield, minus Randy Arozarena and Jose Martinez, looks a little more bare. Lane Thomas could change that. Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter have to stay viable assets, and every year comes with the preconceived notion that Yadier Molina will play through an injury, even if it costs the Cardinals at-bats.
Later this week, I'll hit you with five reasons to be worried about this team's chances ...right after I break into PECOTA's headquarters and find out why they have this team winning just 80 games after losing only Ozuna in the offseason. That time will come. For now, enjoy the sweet and table the bitter for now. The bright side of things should be focused on during the early days of spring.