ST. LOUIS — It's no real surprise that the 2020 Cardinals are going to go only as far as their pitching will take them.
Barring some sort of unforeseen explosion from multiple members of the lineup, we know what we're getting. This is essentially the same squad we saw last year, minus two of the biggest offensive contributors in Marcell Ozuna and Jose Martinez.
So the burden is going to be on the pitching staff to keep scores low once again. But this staff is more than up to the task.
The Cardinals' pitching staff depth has been talked about a lot this offseason, and for good reason. That depth is no doubt going to be tested in this 60-game sprint of a season. It helps that this team has two not-so-secret weapons available to fill any need that may arise.
Even though they're likely around seventh and eighth on the team's starting pitching depth chart, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber could end up being two of the Cardinals' most important players this season.
If you saw any of the Cardinals in spring training, you know how dominant Ponce de Leon was. In 13 innings in Florida, Ponce de Leon gave up just eight hits and one run. And it wasn't a fluke.
From his scintillating big league debut in 2018 — where carried a no-hitter through seven innings — to now, Ponce de Leon has been solid. He has a 3.31 career ERA in the big leagues and a 9.1 K/9 average. That's superb. There just hasn't been a spot for him to crack the roster consistently.
This year, there will be. Whether it's from an injury, a player testing positive for COVID-19, or an expanded role in the bullpen, Ponce de Leon deserves a real shot this year. He's too good.
If you've seen any of the Cardinals in summer camp, you know Gomber has been tearing it up as well.
He dominated his teammates in one of the intrasquad games and earned rave reviews from the media and coaches.
Because of injuries, it's been nearly two years since the lefty has pitched in an actual Major League game, but now he's ready for whatever role awaits him.
"I think with everybody just being flexible and being versatile is kind of what this season is going to be about. It's going to be about guys doing stuff they haven't typically done in the past," Gomber said during a recent Zoom interview. "The season is going to be played in a different way than it's been done in the past. So I think as long as you're just there and present, knowing every day could look completely different..."
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt announced on Monday that both had deservedly made the 30-man roster to start the 2020 season.
There aren't many teams in baseball that have the kind of luxury the Cardinals have with these two guys. The can start regularly, they can start in a pinch, they can be used in long relief, they can be used to put out fires for an inning and just about everything in between.
In a weird season like 2020, Gomber and Ponce de Leon are going to be more important than ever.
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