ST. LOUIS — It's nice to be thinking about baseball again, isn't it?
The 2020 MLB season is just a few weeks away (or at least that's the plan), and the Cardinals are in the middle of summer camp at Busch Stadium.
So far, baseball has had good days and bad days when it comes to returning under a pandemic. There is still a very real chance we're not going to get baseball at all this year.
However, right now things are proceeding full steam ahead.
So let's make some predictions. And with this Cardinals team, there's no lack of places to start.
5: Matt Carpenter will rebound
It's no secret Matt Carpenter is in the dog house for a lost of Cardinals fans.
He had easily his worst full season in the Majors last year, hitting just .226/.334/.392. It was tough to watch, for a guy who had spent the last three months of 2018 destroying everything in sight.
Carpenter came into spring training in 2020 owning his poor performance, and vowing to be better for his teammates this season.
Now I'm not saying we're going to see the insane June 2018 version of Carpenter, but I feel pretty comfortable saying we'll see a different guy than we did last year.
If he gets into one of those hot streaks, heck, it could last for a good chunk of this 60-game season.
Nobody hated Carpenter's performance last year more than Carpenter himself. I'm betting on a bounce back.
4: Dylan Carlson will be in the Majors after a week and work his way into the everyday lineup
There's really no way to debate the fact that Dylan Carlson is one of the 30 best players on the Cardinals roster.
There's also no way to refute the fact that the Cardinals would be foolish not to keep Carlson down for a week to retain an "extra" year of control over the top prospect.
The 60-game season will equal a full year of service time, so the Cardinals will likely hold Carlson back to begin the season no matter what, as a business decision.
But he's coming, and when he does he needs to be in the lineup every day.
I know his sample size in the higher levels of the minors isn't huge, but when even John Mozeliak starts throwing around Oscar Taveras and Albert Pujols comparisons, it's time to plug the guy in as soon as you can.
Carlson is the real deal, and is no doubt one of the team's best options in the outfield, at any position.
The designated hitter arriving in the National League could help him, too. That's one more spot the Cardinals will be able to utilize and fidget with to get their uber-prospect into the lineup.
3: The Cardinals' pitching will be one of the best groups in baseball
Even though John Brebbia is out for the year and Jordan Hicks won't be ready to start the year, the Cardinals have one of the deepest pitching staffs in baseball. That's going to be crucial this season.
With a limited time to ramp up for games, we could see increased injuries, more caution around pitch counts and yes, we could and will likely see more and more players test positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals' depth gives them an advantage.
The Cardinals have Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Kwang-Hyun Kim and John Gant among others who have experience starting.
They have exciting bullpen arms like Ryan Helsley, Andrew Miller, Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb and Genesis Cabrera (if healthy) to turn to in the bullpen, along with some of those who won't be starting.
It's a loaded staff, and the Cardinals are going to need them. If St. Louis finds themselves playing in October this year, great pitching will likely be the main reason.
2: The offense will be inconsistent again, and necessitate lots of moving parts
While I may predict a comeback for Carpenter, that doesn't mean there isn't still a ton of questions when it comes to this offense.
Can Dexter Fowler and Harrison Bader also bounce back? Will Tyler O'Neill or Lane Thomas step up and show us something? Will Tommy Edman have a sophomore slump? Will Paul DeJong be more consistent than he was last year? Will Paul Goldschmidt, who had a nice year in 2019, be able to provide a little more thump like we thought he would?
There's a lot of "what ifs" still out there, that the team decided not to address in the offseason.
On opening day 2020, this is essentially going to be the same offensive team that the Washington Nationals carved up in four games in the NLCS. Minus Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez of course, who were two of the Cardinals' best offensive producers at the end of the 2019 campaign.
I foresee a lot of lineup shuffling from manager Mike Shildt, as the constraints of a short schedule necessitate more immediate results.
1: The Cardinals will repeat as NL Central champs, but lose in one of the first two rounds of the playoffs
The Cardinals do have a lot of things going for them though, and I do think they'll repeat as central champions.
The rest of the NL Central, other than Cincinnati, also has not improved from last year, and the Reds were significantly worse than the Cardinals last season. It's not a given their offseason moves have immediately put them on top as the favorites.
The Cardinals also get the benefit of playing the AL Central in their non-division games. The Royals and Tigers are two of the worst teams in baseball, and the Cardinals need to capitalize on those chances.
However, the gap between the Cardinals and the elite teams in the Majors still seems large. The Dodgers and Braves both look better on paper than the Cardinals, and the Mets and Phillies are right there as well. In the American League, the Yankees, Rays, Astros, Twins and Athletics really are in "another league".
But after all, they are the pesky Cardinals. We know anything is possible in the postseason, but without an offensive infusion or break out year from a few guys, this seems like a team destined to check out early in October once again.