With MLB's postseason still knocking teams off, Bally Sports is reviewing the performance of each club with a look at what happened in 2021 and what could happen next season.
Our next Exit Interview is with the St. Louis Cardinals.
What went right
• How about a little 17-game winning streak? On the morning of Sept. 11, the Cards were three games over .500 and 2 1/2 games back and were trailing three teams in the NL wild-card race. By the time Sept. 28 came around, they had set a franchise record for consecutive victories and had eliminated the rest of the wild-card field.
• Over the full season, Cardinals pitching performed slightly above average when compared to the league and slightly below average at the plate. They excelled on defense, leading the league in outs above average and scored 81 defensive runs saved at Fielding Bible. Center fielder Harrison Bader ranked highest on the team in both systems, but Tommy Edman and Nolan Arenado rated well too, as did Edmundo Sosa, Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler O’Neill and Yadier Molina.
• Adam Wainwright continued his late-career renaissance, posting a 3.05 ERA (11th in MLB) and 174 strikeouts (28th) in 206 1/3 innings (third). Remarkable.
• At age 26, O’Neill broke out, batting .286/.352/.560 with 34 home runs and 15 stolen bases. Goldschmidt also had a strong season at the plate, batting .294/.365/.514 with 31 homers. Arenado performed as advertised, slugging just under .500 with 34 homers in his first season away from the Rockies. Bader and rookie Dylan Carlson — just 22 — were positives on offense too.
What went wrong
• Jack Flaherty pitched well, but a strained shoulder limited him to 15 starts. He was back by season’s end, pitching only for one inning or so at a time.
• A ligament injury in his thumb led to a lost season for Carlos Martínez, who has been plagued by problems for the past two years.
• No one on the staff aside from Waino and Kwang-hyun Kim exceeded 100 innings.
• Alex Reyes made the All-Star team but lost his closer role late in the season. He also gave up the season-ending home run to Chris Taylor in the NL wild-card defeat.
• Andrew Miller posted a 4.75 ERA and has a 4.31 ERA over the past four seasons combined. He does have 175 strikeouts over 137 2/3 innings in that span, but he’s been troubled by walks.
Goldschmidt was a complete offense-defense package.
Carlson, a switch-hitter, batted .266/.343/.437 with 18 homers, 31 doubles and 57 walks in 619 plate appearances. He might find another gear offensively and defensively in 2022.
Reasons for optimism
• Wainwright, pitching as well as he has in five years, said he’s coming back for at least one more go.
• Carlson slugged .505 in the second half, and Lars Nootbaar looks like he’ll be at least a good player off the bench.
• Sosa was a great addition from the minors, batting .271/.346/.389 with six homers in 326 plate appearances and playing terrific defense at short.
• Miles Mikolas made nine starts returning from injury and looked better as his season went along.
• Dakota Hudson was pitching again by the end of the year following his Tommy John rehab.
• The bullpen as a unit was performing well late in the season, with T.J. McFarland, Luís García, Kodi Whitley and Génesis Cabrera providing a good lead-in for Giovanny Gallego, who struck out 95 in 80 1/3 innings and was one of the top relievers in the league.
What needs work
• The Cards rank in the lower third among farm systems, but they do have several top-60 or so prospects, including infielder Nolan Gorman, pitcher Matthew Liberatore and infielder Jordan Walker.
• They not only need Flaherty, Mikolas and Hudson to bounce all the way back, but dipping into the free-agent money to add another 150-plus inning pitcher would help ease the strain on the bullpen.
• Molina’s offense has dipped well below average over the past three seasons; no wonder — he’s almost 40. His pitch framing is nearly neutral, but his overall defense is still helpful because he can throw out baserunners.
Watch for more MLB Exit Interviews as the dominoes fall in the playoffs. Check out our earlier MLB Exit Interviews below.