Projected Top St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2022

To begin our annual year-end series, we counted down the top 10 stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals in 2021. The big three stories were the surprise managerial change, the acquisition of Nolan Arenado and the historic 17-game winning streak that opened the door to the Wild Card. .

The Cardinal Nation’s Top 10 St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2021

To close out the subject for now, it is time for my annual predictions for the top story lines that may grab the headlines during this New Year.

The top story is customarily the easiest and most logical entry – the results of the team on the field during the upcoming season. However, that does not mean considerable twists and turns are not ahead, just as the acquisition of Arenado and the sacking of Mike Shildt could not be predicted in 2021.

As I compiled the list and set the rankings, I considered the staying power of the story – how long it might remain in the headlines – as well as its potential short- and long-term impact – both on the 2022 Cardinals and the organization’s future.

Without further ado, here are my projected top St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2022. As always, your comments are encouraged at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.

1. Marmol’s Maiden Voyage

No matter what the “philosophical differences” were that led to the sacking of former manager Mike Shildt, his St. Louis Cardinals made the playoffs in all three full seasons of his tenure.

Oliver Marmol (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

That expectation continues and in fact, may be heightened under the new administration of Oliver Marmol, as Shildt’s clubs only won one playoff round and were eliminated immediately in both 2020 and 2021. The first step would be wresting the division crown back from the Milwaukee Brewers.

All key players from the 2021 team return, with Arenado moving into his second season as a Cardinal, the young outfielders standing on much firmer ground and the rotation bolstered by the returns of Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty, all of whom missed considerable time last season.

The coaching staff is intact with the exception of one change – former Cardinal Skip Schumaker is replacing Marmol as bench coach.

As will be discussed more in the next section, 2022 may also be the final season of future Cardinals Hall of Famers Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.

So there are high expectations to achieve and considerable pressure upon the 35-year-old skipper in his maiden voyage.

  1. The End of the Waino and Yadi Era?

2022 is set up to be a celebration of the careers of arguably the greatest battery and certainly the longest running one in team history.

While neither pitcher Adam Wainwright nor catcher Yadier Molina have definitively said that this will be their final seasons as players, the odds seem more likely than not at this juncture.

In recent years, Molina has seemed to solidify his eventual Cooperstown candidacy while still competing at a high level.

Yadier Molina

Coming off his best season since 2014, Wainwright earned a big salary increase and it is hoped the 40-year-old has one more standout season in his right arm.

Adam Wainwright

One thing seems clear. Neither player wants 2022 to become a nostalgia exercise. They want to go out as winners.

  1. Top Prospects and Friends Reach the Bigs

Much has been written about the Cardinals’ top prospects closest to the majors – second baseman Nolan Gorman and left-handed pitcher Matthew Liberatore. The long-time friends from the Phoenix area both finished 2021 at Triple-A Memphis.

Liberatore spent the entire season with the Redbirds, leading the Cardinals system in wins and innings pitched and Gorman earned a promotion from Double-A and continued to hit the ball with authority while learning a new defensive position.

Nolan Gorman

Given we don’t know when the 2022 season will begin and what the service time and free agency rules will be, it is difficult to predict exactly when we will see the two with St. Louis.

But in a vacuum, Gorman could be ready enough to make the team out of spring training, though current rules would probably keep him in the minors for a month or two.

Matthew Liberatore

The timing of Liberatore’s arrival may coincide with the first injury to the projected starting rotation of Wainwright, Flaherty, Mikolas, Hudson and newcomer Steven Matz.

Whenever they debut, the two nationally-ranked prospects are expected to provide a boost to the fortunes of the 2022 Cardinals – and for years following. 

  1. Matz’ Mastery?

Speaking of Matz, the Cardinals struck early in the now-suspended 2021-2022 free agency period by signing the former Mets and Blue Jays lefty to a four-year, $44 million contract just before Thanksgiving.

Steven Matz

The 30-year-old replaces free agent Kwang-Hyun Kim as the sole left-hander among the Cardinals starting five. (Stop gap lefties Jon Lester, J.A. Happ and Wade LeBlanc also left the team as free agents following the 2021 season.)

It is hoped that the noted ground ball specialist justifies his long-term contract by his play and does not become another free agent misstep by a team that has a lower level of financial tolerance for them.

  1. A Shortstop Solution

When Paul DeJong broke onto the major league scene in 2017, expectations were established that he could continue to be an above-average offensive and defensive shortstop. In fact, DeJong was recognized as the second-best first-year player across all positions in the National League.

Paul DeJong

Since that 121 OPS+ campaign, however, the right-handed hitter’s offense has declined each year. In each of the last two seasons, DeJong has been 13% and 14% worse respectively than the average league hitter.

Edmundo Sosa took more and more playing time away from DeJong as 2021 progressed, but it is unclear if the youngster has enough in his bat to become a big-league regular.

The Cardinals’ OPS of .715 from the position ranked 11th of 15 National League teams and worst by a playoff club. Their collective .397 slugging, DeJong’s supposed forte, was 12th.

With a record number of top-flight free agent shortstops available, some Cardinals fans are hoping for an upgrade at the position. Others would be fine with 2021 Gold Glove second baseman Tommy Edman sliding over.

Whatever the solution, the 2022 Cardinals could go further with better production from the shortstop position.

The Cardinal Nation’s Top 10 Stories of 2021

This article concludes our annual series for another year, but we will be back in 12 months to see how we did and start the process all over again. Please join us!

The Cardinal Nation’s Top 10 St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2021


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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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