The St. Louis Cardinals went down with a whimper in the NLCS, but they are back at the top of the NL Central and can stay there with a strong offseason.
The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2019 season picked to finish a distant third in the NL Central behind the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. Outside of their hometown, expectations were fairly muted for the 2019 Redbirds, even with their acquisition of star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals had missed the playoffs three years in a row and were only a .500 team at the end of June.
The Brewers and Cubs, however, let the Cardinals hang around all year and they got and stayed red hot in the second half. St. Louis ended the season on a 51-30 run thanks to dominant pitching and an offense that did just enough. They powered through the NLDS and knocked off the heavily favored Atlanta Braves with a 10-run first inning in the deciding Game 5.
A return to the World Series for the first time since 2013 was not meant to be for St. Louis, though. The Cards ran into a Washington Nationals buzzsaw that nearly no-hit them in the first two games of a four-game sweep. Washington would score more runs in the first inning of Game 4 than the Cardinals would in the entire series. St. Louis registered only 16 hits in four games and never seriously threatened to make it competitive.
Going forward, the Cardinals are still positioned well to keep the Cubs and Brewers at bay in a tough division. They will need to focus on upgrading an offense that was just 10th in the NL in runs scored and 11th in OPS. A better second season from Goldschmidt will go a long way towards remedying that. There are also some big offseason moves that will need to be made to stay on top. These are five key moves that the Cardinals need to make.
5. Bring back Adam Wainwright for one more ride
Cardinals legend Adam Wainwright was on a one-year, $2-million contract this year, and he more than lived up to a deal that was probably extended as a favor to the 38-year-old right-hander. Wainwright had not carried an ERA+ better than 100 for a full season since finishing third in the NL Cy Young vote in 2014. He made 31 starts in 2019 and finished 14-10 with a 4.19 ERA.
Wainwright showed there is still life in his arm, gaining strength as the year went on. He was 5-1 with a 2.97 ERA in six starts in September before allowing only three earned runs in 15 playoff innings across two quality starts. Wainwright’s fastball showed life all year, and he does not look ready to ride off into the sunset.
The Cardinals won’t give Wainwright a contract solely for sentimental reasons, but he still has enough gas in the tank to be useful on another one-year deal. This is a franchise that values its icons, and Wainwright is that. Injuries derailed what looked like a potential Hall of Fame career in the making, but the right-hander can still go out on his own terms.