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.

Albert Pujols Hitting 700 Home Runs is Something Special

Major League Baseball’s 700 homer club just grew by 33 percent Friday night.

Albert Pujols hits career home run number 700
Photo Credit: Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That Was Unexpected

Heading into tonight’s game, nobody thought that this would be the night Albert Pujols would reach 700 home runs. He was still two away from that mark and the Cardinals were on their way to L.A. for a tough series against the best team in baseball. Suddenly, in the third inning, Pujols did what he has done best this year: crush lefty pitching to left field. His latest victim was Dodgers pitcher Andrew Heaney. Now, Pujols is at 699, it’s early in the game, and the night starts to feel potentially magical.

An inning later, Pujols finds himself up again. The lefty Heaney was still on the mound. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was not going to make it that easy. He brought in righty Phil Bickford. Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter who’s pitching when you are up against destiny. ‘The Machine’ pounced on a breaking ball and Dodger stadium immediately erupted.

Albert Pujols at 700: This One Feels Special

With Albert Pujols, this is the fourth time the baseball world has seen a player hit 700 home runs in their career. This one just seems to hit different. This may be found rude, but the hitting prowess of Babe Ruth before World War II just feels like a Paul Bunyan tale at this point.

Hank Aaron doing it the 1970s feels more real. Still, Almost everyone that was alive for his 700th homer is over the age of 50. Most of the people that actually watched the bulk of Aaron’s are probably not around anymore.

Then you have Barry Bonds. For a good portion of the public, he is the guy that we associated with 700 home runs. Steroids have made that whole thing just feel icky.

Pujols is someone everyone can get behind. He’s likable, he’s a real baseball guy who relies on more than just pure power, and, most importantly, no evidence that even remotely points to steroid use. Then you have him coming back to St. Louis this year for his swan song season. Baseball has been waiting a long time to be able to enjoy such a special moment like this. This feels perfect.

The Missing Piece: Jack Flaherty Return Looks Imminent

Photo credit: @CardsPlayerDev

After making his final rehab start in Memphis on Friday night, Jack Flaherty looks ready to return to the St. Louis Cardinals for the stretch run. Could he be what pushes St. Louis over the top?

Jack Flaherty Looked Solid in Memphis

After doing most of his rehab in double-A Springfield, Flaherty ramped it up for one last minor league start. He spent Friday night with triple-A Memphis. The righty looked ready enough to head back to the big leagues. In 5.1 innings, he gave up just one run and struck out three batters.

Flaherty got into a bit of trouble early, but worked out of it. His command is still not where it once was. Still, tonight was a step in the right direction.

If this was indeed his final rehab start before returning to St. Louis, he could be back on an MLB mound by the middle of next week in Cincinnati. That would give him a little more than a month of regular season baseball before the playoffs roll around.

Flaherty Still Isn’t Totally Himself

While the Cardinals pitcher is probably ready to return to the majors, don’t expect to see the ace that he usually looks like. At least not right away. He is going to have some rough starts, or at least some short ones. The key for Flaherty is to slowly work his way back into a groove without re-injuring himself.

By the postseason, he could be back to being a quality starter around the top of the rotation. However, it may be unrealistic to expect him to be the dominant ace that he once was by then.

Is Flaherty the Missing Piece?

The Cardinals have been on a tear as of late. They are currently 17-6 in the month of August. That run has propelled them to a comfortable lead in the NL Central. A couple of deadline additions to the pitching staff in Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery were a huge part of that. They shored up what was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. St. Louis now looks poised for a postseason run.

Still, the ceiling on their potential in the playoffs feels low. When compared to the top contenders in the National League, the Cardinals pitching staff does not measure up. Their top starter right now is probably Adam Wainwright, though newcomer Montgomery’s case gets stronger with every start. Either of those guys would probably be third at best in the rotation on the Dodgers or the Mets.

Adding Flaherty likely won’t change that much, especially with where he is at right now. If he can at least get back to being a high quality starter, it could be enough for St. Louis to close the gap on the top of the NL. He would give them good enough starting pitching to at least keep them in games when they face the likes of Clayton Kershaw and deGrom.

With the way Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are playing right now, that could be all the Cardinals need.

White Sox ace Dylan Cease Is A Lot Better Than You Think

White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease
Photo Credit: Getty Images

In July 2017, the Southsiders made a trade that would change the team’s trajectory for good when they sent Jose Quintana to the Cubs for prospects. Among those prospects the White Sox received was highly touted young pitcher Dylan Cease.

After moving through the White Sox minor league system, Cease would make his debut in 2019. He started fourteen games that season en route to an ERA of 5.79. Over the next two seasons, Cease would continue to develop his arsenal and his ERA would drop.

Even still, he was still considered a player with high potential that had to “figure it out” going into 2022. With elite stuff, as evidenced by his 226 strikeouts in 2021, the sky was the limit — if he could just get over the hump.

Dominance Begins

Early in the 2022 season, Dylan Cease looked like his usual self for the White Sox. With high strikeout and walk numbers, he looked great against lesser teams while struggling against the good ones. The lowest point of the season was his start against the Red Sox on May 24th when he allowed seven earned runs in just three innings.

Since then, Cease has completely turned his season around. In the thirteen starts since that day, he has allowed just five earned runs. Perhaps his best display during this stretch came against Minnesota. In that contest, Cease pitched seven shutout innings with just one hit allowed and eight strikeouts.

Following the start against Boston, his ERA sat at 4.24. Now, he has lowered it all the way to 1.98, good for third in the MLB. His 166 strikeouts also sit at third in the league. His K/9 however, sits atop the league at 12.2.

Flying Under The Radar

Despite being one of the best pitchers in the league in nearly every category, Cease has not always been given the recognition he deserves. In fact, he was not even named to the A.L. All-Star team. This was despite the fact that he led both Nestor Cortes and Paul Blackburn in every statistical pitching category.

Furthermore, in the MLB’s flagship video game MLB the Show 22, he has not once been named to the game’s Player of the Month program, despite inferior pitchers like Jon Gray and Brady Singer receiving acknowledgment.

Currently, Cease is second in betting odds for the A.L. Cy Young award. However, his +300 odds don’t even sniff the -155 odds owned by the Astros Justin Verlander.

Just How Dominant Is Cease?

Last season, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom had one of the most dominating stretches of pitching excellence we have ever seen before losing his season to injury. Through fifteen starts, he owned an ERA of 1.08 with 146 strikeouts and 40 hits allowed.

Over Dylan Cease’s thirteen starts in this unbelievable stretch with the White Sox, he has an ERA of 0.60, 95 strikeouts, and only 47 hits allowed. Now, is Cease as good as deGrom? Of course not, no one is. Alas, over this stretch, he has been nearly as untouchable. However, in deGrom’s case, it was much more publicized.

Going forward, there is not much reason to expect a drop off. Simply put, his stuff is too good to fail. A visit to Cease’s Baseball Savant page shows what you would expect, a lot of red. With a fastball spin rate in the 97th percentile and a whiff rate in the 96th percentile, his fastball is not getting touched.

How about the off-speed you might be wondering? Well, his 95 strikeouts on the slider are the most on any pitch in the league. That pitch offers opposing hitters a startling -30 in run value.

So, despite the lack of recognition around the league (outside of Chicago), Cease is unquestionably one of the leagues very best. With the White Sox just a few games out of the division lead, this magical thirteen game stretch from Dylan Cease is keeping them afloat. Absolutely deserving of a playoff start, he just might get one if he keeps this up.

BREAKING NEWS: Nationals Trade Juan Soto to the Padres

Juan Soto and Josh Bell continue to go tit for tat for Washington  Nationals' home run lead - Federal Baseball
Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto has finally been traded. He is on the move to San Diego for a flurry of top prospects. The Padres were already one of the most fun teams in the MLB and they just added the most electric player in baseball. Furthermore, Josh Bell is on the move to San Diego along with Juan Soto in the trade.

The Padres side of things:

Juan Soto, the 23 year old, World Series champion, and former batting title champion is on the move. With a top tier 1b by his side, Soto costs a pretty penny but is definitely worth it. The superstar outfielder is in the 98th percentile for xwOBA (expected weighted on base average) during a down year. In every year of his career, Soto has been in the top 3% for walks and top 10% for wxOBA. Everyone knows Soto is a once in a generation talent, coupled with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado… watch out world.

Another piece of this trade was Josh Bell. If you are a big baseball fan you probably know Bell from his time with the Pirates. Bell he has been solid for the Nationals this year. A lot of fan bases wanted him this offseason, but the Padres get him as they make a world series push.

The Nationals side of the Juan Soto Trade:

Firstly, Mackenzie Gore is the biggest part of this deal. He is a bonafide future ace, and he has already shown big league production this year. Furthermore, Gore can still keep you from being a horrible team for the next few years as the Nationals ownership looks to sell the franchise away.

Second, We all knew the Juan Soto trade was going to get the Nationals a good amount of top prospects, but adding Bell on top takes this deal to the next level. The Nationals receive CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell, James Wood and Jarlin Susana. CJ Abrams is going to be a top defensive shortstop in this league. Pairing him with SS/2B Brady House (Nationals #1 prospect) will be a lot of fun for Nationals fans. Hassell and Wood are top tier outfielders in the minors right now who are expected to be up quickly. Susana has been making waves in the minors recently with some great outings on the bump.

What’s Next:

Finally, the big fish has been moved, and Soto is off the board. However, This makes the the Giants situation a lot more interesting. Now, with two top 3 teams in the NL, the Giants will look to sell. The Yankees reportedly are in on Carlos Rendon already but have made no progress.