September 30th marked the official end of the 2018 season for the St. Louis Cardinals, and the first time since the 1997-1999 seasons that the Cardinals have missed the playoffs three consecutive years. The final six games of the season sealed their fate, as they went 1-5 to finish out the year. While these last few games may have soured our view, there are many positives to come out of this season in St. Louis. It’s easy to lose where the light is while walking in the dark, so I’ve decided to detail some of them here for you.
First and foremost, the Matheny and Mabry era in St. Louis is over, a move that was hailed as possibly the greatest moment in the entire season, and for good reason. On the night of July 14th after a 2-8 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, Mike Matheny, along with John Mabry and Bill Mueller, was fired, leaving behind a 47-46 record a day before the All-Star Break. Mike Shildt immediately became interim manager, and won his first game as manager the following day. This move marked the end of six and a half seasons of the Matheny era, full of questionable decisions and disappointing moments. Obviously, the entire Matheny era wasn’t bad, they did win the NL pennant in 2013, and the Central division title 3 consecutive years between 2013-2015. However, the majority of fans remember Mike Matheny as a poor manager, who made astoundingly poor decisions on a regular basis. Maybe that’ll change with time, and St. Louis can go back to remembering Mike Matheny the Catcher, and not Mike Matheny the Manager.
Next, the youth movement is alive and well in St. Louis. One of the most encouraging things about this season was the level of production from multiple rookies. Harrison Bader, Jack Flaherty, Yairo Muñoz, Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks, Tyler O’Neill, and Daniel Poncedeleon, among others, all made a huge impact on this club. Harrison Bader established himself as the starting center fielder with incredible, and quite frankly, gold glove defense, putting up 19 defensive runs saved in only 907 innings across three outfield positions. Jack Flaherty put up 2.3 WAR in 151 innings, with almost 11 strikeouts per 9 innings he pitched, at the young age of 22. Jordan Hicks powered not one, but TWO pitches of 105 mph, showing the world his arm is not to be messed with. Yairo Muñoz showed us that he can put up solid offense and defense at multiple positions on the field. The future in St. Louis will be powered by young players who can play with the best the MLB has to offer, and I think that’s cause to be excited for what’s to come.
One of the more important things to remember is the huge seasons we saw from players like Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and Harrison Bader. I highlight these three specifically because these were all players who put up seasons nobody saw coming. Matt Carpenter has always been a solid player, but if you told anyone in the Cardinals Nation that he’d probably finish around the top 3 in MVP voting before the season started, they’d think you’re crazy, and they may have institutionalized you before May 15th. However, Carpenter went on one of the most torrid offensive runs we’ve seen in a long time, going .288/.399/.589 from May 16th to the end of the season, good for a 161 wRC+. That’s more than 50% league average. Carp proved that not only is he the good player we thought he was, but he can get on base and hit for power with the heaviest hitters in the MLB. While no one is really raving about Kolten Wong’s offense, he did finish the season with a 98 wRC+ only 2 points below league average. From July 19th (his first game after Matheny was fired) to the end of the season, Wong was good for a .317/.384/.439 batting line with a 126 wRC+, to go along with what should be undisputed gold glove defense. For the defense, Wong put up 19 defensive runs saved, first in the league at his position, and 18.4 UZR/150, third in the league at any position, and 13.7 UZR fourth in the league at any position. Having a second baseman who can play average to above average offense, paired with that kind of defense is incredibly valuable. Harrison Bader, who really isn’t being talked about as a true candidate in the Rookie of the Year conversation, put up 3.6 WAR, only behind Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto, by 0.2 and 0.1 WAR respectively. While Acuña Jr. and Soto put their WAR up almost solely in offense, Bader had almost an direct split between offense and defense, putting up a solid .264/.333/.424 line, with a 106 wRC+, and a stellar 19 defensive runs saved. Hopefully these are the types of seasons we can expect from these players, who will be crucial in helping the Cardinals get back on track, and back to October.
While there is always room for improvement, and there are some very obvious areas in need of improvement for the Cardinals, the future looks bright. St. Louis has a nice core of young players, who we’ll have the benefit of seeing for quite some time to come. With some additions, I look forward to seeing what a full season of Mike Shildt can do to a team like this. Our hearts may still long for that playoff baseball that St. Louis is so accustomed to, but for now the Cardinals have many things to look forward to and be proud of in out of this 2018 season. Let’s ring in the offseason with the positivity that is headed our way in 2019.