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St. Louis Cardinals 2019 Fantasy Projections – Redbirds Ready to Return to Greatness
While there is a big gap between team greatness in professional baseball, it's still noteworthy when you're the second-most successful franchise ever. That is the honor bestowed upon the 11 time World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. They also have the third most National League Pennants in history.
In 2018, the Cardinals missed the NL playoffs for the third consecutive season. These rebuilding periods happen to a lot of franchises, but not the Cardinals. Before this current stretch, St. Louis missed the playoffs a total of four times since 2000. Ten NL Central Division titles and a pair of wildcard berths filled in the few empty seasons.
It was also the first time the Cardinals weren't in the playoffs that many years in a row since a similar three-year hiatus from 1997 to 1999. That type of historic success means fans begin to expect a lot and they may be in line for just that in 2019. Here is a recap of the Cardinal's 2018 season, plus a glance at their fantasy prospects heading into 2019.
St. Louis Cardinals 2018 Recap
The 2018 Cardinals were good enough to win 88 games. However, 88 victories weren't even enough to be more than an afterthought for the second wildcard spot. While they stayed in contention down to the final week, they were swept by the eventual division champion Brewers, and then lost two out of the final three against the Cubs to be eliminated.
The Cardinal's offense was 23rd in extra base hits, but 10th in home runs. Their team batting average was in the bottom half of baseball, but they were 10th as well in runs scored. The pitching staff was in the bottom third for WHIP, but landed 10th in team ERA.
It was this type of inconsistency that marked most of the Cardinal's 2018 season. They were competitive all year, but too often they just couldn't pull out close games. Over the last month of the season, when it counted most, this inconsistency was what caused the St. Louis season to unravel, and they missed the playoffs again.
2019 Fantasy Pitchers Projections – The Best Redbird Pitchers
The Redbird pitching staff has talent. They've actually had so much pitching talent over the years; they've unloaded a couple prize arms to fill other weaknesses on the team. Since statistics in baseball usually don't lie, most of the pitching problems on St. Louis can't be dumped at the feet of the starting staff.
Mike Mikolas was outstanding, winning 18 games, but no other Cardinal starter won more than eight games. Five middle relievers had ERAs over six runs per game, which didn't help matters. After Mikolas, there were three St. Louis starting pitchers with eight victories.
Mikolas, in spite of a masterful season, finished sixth in the NL Cy Young voting with only 6-percent of the vote. He actually had a far better won/loss rating than any of the top five vote getters. Mikolas goes into 2019 as the ace of the Cardinal staff and certainly worthy of being dubbed a fantasy pitching ace as well.
This is one part of the Cardinal team that showed some consistency, albeit average consistency. As a threesome, they won eight games apiece. Collectively this middle of the rotation went 24-17.
The Cardinal bullpen could easily be credited with snatching a half-dozen more victories from this trio's total. One pitcher that didn't lose wins to poor pen performance was Austin Gomber. Gomber was hittable at times, and ended with the worst ERA of the Cardinal starters.
However, he won six of his eight decisions in 2018. He will be looking over his shoulder because former Cardinal staff ace Adam Wainwright is currently listed as a member of the St. Louis bullpen. After Mikolas, Wainwright has as much appeal as any Cardinal starter, if he reenters the rotation.
For fantasy rotation purposes, both Flaherty and Mikolas should be drafted, with Flaherty, Wacha and Martinez all viable backend starters. Keep an eye on what the Cardinals do with Wainwright. He could be one of 2019's most intriguing sleepers.
2019 Fantasy Hitter Projections – The Best Bats on the Redbirds
Over the last couple of decades, a strong bat playing first base ignited the Cardinals offense. In fact, successful Redbird teams have historically had great first basemen. They have had some of the greatest in the game to play the one-bag, from Musial to Pujols.
In the off-season, St. Louis possibly envisioned this trend when they signed the most productive offensive first baseman in baseball, Paul Goldschmidt. This one addition, changes the entire dynamic behind the Redbird's offense.
Goldschmidt is the Cardinals highest rated fantasy prospect, but they have no less than four hitters who are definite roster additions. Matt Carpenter has position eligibility at three infield positions, boosting his fantasy value tremendously.
Marcell Ozuna actually regressed from his 37 homer, 124 RBI peak season in Miami. His first-year numbers in St. Louis were still good, but woefully disappointing compared to 2017. He'll be entering his sixth full MLB season, so hopes in St. Louis are that he returns to his all star caliber level of play.
Harrison Bader enters his second full season as a pro, and may have the most intrigue of every Cardinal hitter. He is hard to pass up in dynasty formats, but has yet to fulfill the must-own fantasy criteria in a crowded outfield.
It might appear that shortstop Paul DeJong came back down to earth in 2018. But, all his statistics maintained first-year levels except for hits, slugging percentage and batting average. DeJong actually struck out one less time, so he still makes consistent contact.
What gives him the biggest boost is his batting order spot between two potential all star hitters, Goldschmidt and Ozuna. The bottom of the Cardinals' lineup is loaded with hitters who have potential. Yes, Yadier Molina is still playing and playing well.
Dexter Fowler is shifting over to right field, and Kolten Wong will try to live up to his lofty potential at second base. Wong has swooned from back-to-back seasons with double-digit homers and stolen bases in 2014 and 2015.
The 36-year-old Molina, entering his 16th season, hit 20 home runs in 2018. He still sits in the top-10 for fantasy catchers. Other than Molina in a weak catcher field, the bottom four spots in the Cardinal order are best left to a wait-and-see approach for fantasy use.
Keep an eye on Bader. If he starts off well, he could shift from the eight-hole to leadoff because of his speed. That would bump everyone else down a spot and make the Cardinals an even more productive offense.
Fantasy Rank for the St. Louis Cardinals
History makes this Cardinal team intriguing from a fantasy perspective. They now own the number one fantasy first baseman in baseball. Goldschmidt balloons the value of every viable hitter in the St. Louis lineup. He especially adds value to DeJong and Carpenter, the hitters slated to surround him in the batting order.
Staff wise, St. Louis should maintain the consistency from last season, especially since it is essentially the same rotation. The question mark will be the bullpen. Andrew Miller comes to town earmarked to be the closer, something he did not have to do as a setup man in Cleveland. No matter where Miller pitches, he has proven nearly unhittable.
The Bottom Line for the Redbirds
Cardinal management obviously felt their pitching staff, other than the bullpen, was good enough to compete. They also feel the batting lineup they brought from 2018 was almost as accomplished. However, they clearly thought they might be missing one key component, a superstar back at first base.
They went out and signed maybe the biggest one in baseball. The NL Central is going to be a tough division in 2019, but if St. Louis can play with better consistency, both the Brewers and Cubs better not misstep. If they do, look for St. Louis to return to the playoffs after an uncharacteristic three-year absence.