The baseball season is a long, enduring affair. Good teams lose a lot of games; the lesser teams lose a ton of games. Therefore, focusing only on the standings night after night is typically not good for the soul. One must find distractions, games within the game. Things to cheer for and observe as the season progresses regardless of what's happening in the win-loss column. From that standpoint, here are three things - of varying importance, I should probably add - that I want to see from the Cardinals in 2019.
1. A player finish with 38 or 40 home runs
Not 39 home runs. Not 41 home runs. Either 38 or 40. Here's the simple reason why: No Cardinal has ever finished a season with 38 or 40 home runs. Take a look:
As you see, several have danced right around these numbers, but if you start with 0 home runs in a single season (proud owners: Ozzie Smith, among many) and go all the way to 43 (Albert Pujols and Johnny Mize), the only numbers that draw a blank are 38 and 40. After 43 it starts to get a little dicey. Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter have both hit 36 home runs in a season, a feat Carpenter pulled off just last year, so they are probably the best candidates to stamp out 38 or 40 in 2019. As soon as they do, we can start worrying about 44, 45, 48, 50-64, 66-69, and 71 to infinity.
2. A player swipe at least 30 bases*
Baseball players don't steal bases like they used to. That's especially true for the Cardinals, a franchise that took the genre to uncharted heights in the 80's. This on some level is a good thing. Stolen base attempts gone awry can thwart a promising inning. Read Russell Carleton's excellent book The Shift and you'll learn that even successful attempts aren't always what they're cracked up to be from a risk-reward standpoint. And, they can be dangerous. Any time I see a Cardinal slide headfirst into second while trying to beat the catcher's throw, I just assume he's going to stand up and start moving his shoulder around gingerly before waving for the trainer.
Still, stolen bases remain mostly a good thing. A player standing on second base with no outs is better than a player on first base with no outs. I think we'll all stipulate to that without seeing the supporting statistics. A stolen base is exciting to the naked eye, too. Unfortunately, not a single Cardinal - the franchise of Lou, Vince, Ozzie, and Willie - has eclipsed 30 stolen bases since Édgar Rentería did it in 2003. Tommy Pham set an ambitious and noble goal in 2018 to become the first Cardinal to reach the 30/30 mark, but, as we all know by now, it wasn't meant to be. But I'm setting the quota this season at an even 30 and that's what I want to see.
Harrison Bader, I'm probably looking at you.
*in 40 or fewer attempts, preferably
3. A pitcher strikeout at least 220 batters
Over the last ten seasons, there have been 74 instances in which a pitcher compiled at least 220 strikeouts. It's not exactly common, but it does happen. Unless you're a Cardinals pitcher. They're responsible for exactly zero of the 74. In fact, back up to the beginning of the 20th Century and you'll find 302 such seasons throughout baseball, and, but for Robert Gibson, the Cardinals only have one. (That roughly 25 percent of the 302 sample comes from the last ten seasons is probably worth it's own separate post by someone who is smarter than I. Or worth someone just pointing out how much the strikeout rate has exploded in recent years, and I guess that someone can be me.)
I don't have to tell you the reasons why a lot of strikeouts are good, but I'll offer up a few obvious ones anyway. First, 200-plus strikeouts are indicative of a pretty valuable season. Only three of the 74 seasons noted above came in under 3-WAR (Chris Archer interestingly enough has two of them). And, it signifies durability. All but eleven of these 74 seasons coincided with at least 200 innings pitched. You don't have to strikeout a ton of batters to be valuable - just ask Miles Mikolas - but strikeouts are the most surefire way to prevent the opposing team from crossing home plate, and it's high time someone joins Mr. Gibson in these ranks. Jack Flaherty and Carlos Martínez, this one is probably on you.
Good luck, gentlemen.
Credit to Baseball Reference's Play Index for the supporting stats.