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St. Louis Cardinals Team Preview (2020)

by March 9, 2020

The Cardinals reached the postseason in 2019 after winning the National League Central, but the 2020 version of this squad is a bit different. Marcell Ozuna left as a free agent. The veteran outfielder’s 2.5 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) was the fifth-highest total among the team’s position players last year, and his 109 wRC+ was the third-highest total among hitters who totaled more than 300 plate appearances for the Red Birds last season, per FanGraphs. They’re counting on internal options to replace his production, and that’s just one of the major questions the Cardinals face this season.

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2020 Futures Odds for the Cardinals

  • Regular Season Wins: 86.5 (Over -110/Under -110)
  • National League Central: +220
  • Win National League: +1000
  • Win World Series: +2300
  • Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook

Hitting Outlook

In 2019, the Cardinals’ 94 wRC+ was tied for just 15th in MLB. As I noted in the intro, the lineup is now without Ozuna. Prospect Dylan Carlson is the most exciting, high-ceiling option to fill the void. Having said that, the 21-year-old outfielder might have to bide his time before he receives an opportunity on the parent club. He reached Triple-A and raked last year, but he played in only 18 games at the minor’s highest level.

Paul Goldschmidt is the biggest name in the lineup this year. However, he’s coming off of a disappointing first campaign away from the desert. Goldy’s 116 wRC+ in 2019 was his lowest mark in his career. Veteran Matt Carpenter also had a down year. In fact, his offense cratered in 2019. Carpenter’s production tumbled from a 140 wRC+ in 2018 to 95 last season. If the Cardinals’ offense is going to be average or better, they’ll need both Goldy and Carpenter to bounce back.

Tommy Edman (123 wRC+), Kolten Wong (108 wRC+), Dexter Fowler (103 wRC+), and Paul DeJong (100 wRC+) are the other returning hitters from the Cardinals who posted an average or better wRC+ last year. As a whole, the offense looks average at best with a reasonable chance of being below average.

Pitching Outlook

Pitching was the backbone of last year’s team. Their starters posted the fifth-lowest ERA (3.78), while their bullpen tallied the sixth-lowest ERA (3.88), per FanGraphs. The advanced metrics weren’t as kind, though, as the starters ranked 15th in SIERA (4.61), and the bullpen posted the ninth-lowest SIERA (4.09). It’s likely they pitched a bit above their skis.

The rotation is fronted by Jack Flaherty, and he’s very good. Although, as I noted in a fantasy piece published last month, he’s not quite this good. Also featured in that piece is rotation mate Dakota Hudson. While Flaherty’s numbers should still be good, Hudson appears poised for a rude awakening this year. Hudson’s 3.35 ERA in 174.2 innings pitched last year is in stark contrast to his 5.08 SIERA. Even if he merely splits the difference instead of regressing fully to his SIERA, that would be a steep slide in production that would hurt this year’s rotation immensely.

Miles Mikolas was solid with a 4.16 ERA that was a bit better than his 4.39 SIERA in 32 starts spanning 184.0 innings in 2019, but his 2020 has gotten off on a sour note. Mikolas won’t be ready for Opening Day after receiving a platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) injection late in February for a sore right forearm. As Christina De Nicola noted in the first linked piece, Mikolas also received a PRP injection late last October for an issue with flexor tendons. Suffice to say, his 2020 outlook is murky and carries injury risk.

The rotation could get a lift this year from a familiar face, but the club is essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul by removing a key cog from the bullpen. Carlos Martinez is battling for a rotation spot after saving 24 games and spending the entire 2019 season in the bullpen. St. Louis’s bullpen will be without flamethrowing closer Jordan Hicks for at least a few months this year while he recovers from the Tommy John surgery he underwent late last June. Hicks’ absence plus the high probability of Martinez claiming a rotation spot takes a bite out of last year’s bullpen. Bullpens are fickle season to season, but these are noteworthy changes for 2020.

The ceiling doesn’t look especially high for the pitching staff. Additionally, the floor looks quite low. My money’s on an average or below-average season from the Red Birds’ pitching staff.

2019 Record and 2020 Record Projections

Source Wins
2019 91
2019 Pythagorean Win-Loss 92
FanGraphs 81
PECOTA 81

*Baseball Prospectus uses fractional wins in their PECOTA projections, and I rounded to the nearest win in the table.

The Cardinals were a legitimate 90-plus win team last year with their Pythagorean win-loss record supporting their 91 wins. This isn’t the same squad, though. Both FanGraphs and PECOTA at Baseball Prospectus project the Cardinals to finish almost a half-dozen wins short of their total of 86.5 wins.

Prediction

I’m in agreement with FanGraphs and PECOTA and expect the Cardinals to win fewer than 86.5 games in 2020. The Cardinals look the part of an average, .500-caliber team.

Pick: Cardinals Under 86.5 wins in 2020

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Josh, check out hisĀ archive and follow himĀ @BChad50.

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