Final Thoughts on St Louis Cardinals 2022 Season

St. Louis Cardinals trio Adam Wainright, Albert Pujols, and Yadier Molina in what may be their final season
Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/MLB Photos via Getty Images

After being eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night, the St Louis Cardinals 2022 season has come to an abrupt end.

St Louis Cardinals 2022 Playoff Season Review

Farewell Yadi and Pujols (and maybe Waino?)

This season, we were treated to farewell tours for at least two future Hall of Famers. It could be three, depending on whether or not Adam Wainwright hangs it up, and depending on whether or not he gets in. If it was his last, it was not exactly a great end, but that shouldn’t overshadow what was a fantastic career.

That career was spent as part of arguably the most accomplished battery of all time with catcher Yadier Molina. The two set an MLB record this year for the most starts by a battery. Speaking of ‘Yadi’, he capped off his career with a clutch hit that extended the game by another at-bat.

This was a perfect way for him to punctuate one of his most underrated qualities: clutch hitting. Molina gets knocked often for only being average at best offensively for most of his career. This causes his ability to get hits in crucial situations to get overlooked. He got to remind us all of this trait on his way out the door.

Then we have departure of the greatest hitter of the 21st century: Albert Pujols. Having Pujols come back to St.Louis for a swan song season was perfect in itself. He somehow made it better with a miraculous run in the second-half of the season to reach 700 career home runs. It was one of the coolest things that has happened in baseball — and sports in general — in a while.

Having all of this happen in one year was truly special. It is not something that happens very often. Including a playoff run made it even sweeter. Unfortunately, they were unable to capture the ultimate storybook ending with a ring. That would have been almost too perfect anyway.

Pitching Finally Does Cardinals in

In a three-game series, being out-matched on the mound is basically a death sentence. Starting pitching had been a glaring weakness for St. Louis all season. They added two solid pieces to the rotation at the deadline in Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery. Still, they lacked the high-end starting pitching that the Phillies put on full display this weekend.

Quintana had earned the right to start game one of the series. He pitched well, but his limitations reared their head in the sixth inning. Despite playing great, Quintana is not someone that has earned the trust to face an opposing lineup three times.

He was pulled, and the job for the bullpen proved to be one inning too big. Ryan Helsley and Andre Pallante were shelled for six runs in the ninth. On the other side, Philadelphia starter Zack Wheeler was able to lighten the load for his bullpen by pitching into the seventh inning.

Game two is when the pitching disparity became most obvious. Aaron Nola was brilliant as usual for Philly. He went 6.2 shutout innings, gave up just four hits, and struck out six batters. The Cardinals sent out a committee of starters and relievers. Miles Mikolas got the start, but made it less than five innings and gave up two runs before ceding to Montgomery.

The former Yankee finished the fifth and pitched the sixth and seventh, as well. Giovanny Gallegos and Jordan Hicks finished out the last two innings. The game ended 2-0.

The Cardinals pitching staff did not play bad in this series at all. In fact, outside of the ninth inning in game one, they largely kept the team in it. But at the end of the day they just weren’t quite good enough to keep up. Aces reign supreme in October, and St. Louis doesn’t appear to even have one right now.

Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado Need to Step up

This seems silly given the pair will likely finish top-two in the National League MVP voting. Regular season awards are nice, but they mean nothing in October. Both Goldschmidt and Arenado were hardly noticeable offensively in this series.

The former was just horrible, going zero for seven with one hit-by-pitch and four strikeouts. The latter was slightly better. Arenado had just one hit, but if a couple of things went his way, his numbers would have been more respectable.

This wouldn’t be a huge deal by itself. What is alarming is that this seems to be part of a trend. In last year’s Wild Card game against the Dodgers, Arenado was hitless in four at-bats. Goldschmidt was solid in that game, getting a hit and drawing two walks.

However, that was one of his better postseason performances since joining the Cardinals in 2019. He has gone 14 for 60 in the playoffs with St. Louis, which is a .233 batting average. These two have simply not lived up to expectations when it has mattered the most.

Looking back at their pre-St. Louis postseason numbers doesn’t help much, either. Arenado went a dismal 4-for-21 in Colorado. Goldschmidt was decent with Arizona, hitting 10-for-32. These are very small sample sizes due to the fact that the Rockies and Diamondbacks were pretty bad for most of their respective tenures. The ability to play postseason baseball on regular basis is a big part of what brought them to St. Louis in the first place. Now that they have the opportunities, it is up to them to make the most of it.

With the Cardinals’ elder statesmen retiring, ‘Goldy’ and Arenado will become the de facto leaders of the team. What made the old guard so great was their ability to turn it on in October. It has been time for these two to start doing the same. They need to find that playoff magic soon, or they could start to wear out their welcome.

Oliver Marmol is Still Green

There is a lot to commend Marmol for in his debut season. He navigated the hoopla of the final seasons for the team’s stars very well. He also oversaw the emergence of a lot of young talent. Finally, he got a club without an ace pitcher a division crown.

Yet, when the playoffs rolled around, Marmol’s inexperience was felt. Typically, pulling Quintana when he did would have made a ton of sense. In the playoffs, that ‘three times through the lineup’ rule goes out the window. If your starter is dealing, you ride the hot hand. This is especially true when your closer is not a hundred percent healthy.

Trying to pitch Helsley for more than three outs was also a mistake in and of itself. That Helsley implosion is totally on Marmol, and it cost the Cardinals the game — and likely the series. Had St. Louis made it to a game three, they would have gotten to feast upon lefty Roger Suarez, in what would have been a favorable match-up. That one mistake in game one makes the whole thing moot, though.

Looking Beyond the St Louis Cardinals 2022 Season

The Future Looks Bright

While the departures of Yadi, Pujols, and possibly Waino mark the end of an era, a new one is already taking shape. They have several other veterans ready to lead in Goldschmidt and Arenado. There are budding stars beginning reach their prime in Tommy Edman, Brendan Donavan, and Lars Nootbaar. Plus, you have plenty of promising talent ready to come out of the pipeline in Nolan Gorman, Jordan Walker, and Masyn Winn. They also have a promising young manager who will surely grow into the job.

Just looking at it on paper, St. Louis will only have to replace a catcher, a starting pitcher, and a designated hitter who didn’t even play every day for most of the season. 2023 should be more of a reload than a rebuild.

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