photo: Jordan Hicks (Jeff Curry/Imagn)
Last year at this time, as I do each January, I published my predictions of the topics I thought could evolve into the top five stories across the St. Louis Cardinals Nation for the then-New Year of 2019.
Now with the benefit of full hindsight, including the top 10 stories of 2019 countdown now on the books, it is time to take my annual look back at my initial forecast. After all, anyone can make predictions, but how many actually return after the fact to review how they fared?
The original top five* projections follow, along with where the stories actually ended up, including links to the appropriate articles. I won’t be repeating my 2019 summaries here, so click on the hot links if you’d like to read those detailed 10 stories.
* I cheated a bit and actually had six for 2019.
My predictive powers were not particularly notable this year. I was on target with three of my top guesses from one year ago in the final top 10. However, I completely whiffed on three others and two of the ones I am taking credit for are debatable.
Almost always, how the season ends up becomes my number one story of the year. That did not change, with the news much better in 2019 as the Cardinals returned to the top of the National League Central and reached the Championship Series.
|Pre-2019 prediction story||rank||rank||Post-2019 actual story|
|October Bound||1||1||Final Four Finish|
|Goldy Going, Going, Gone?||2||6||The Underperforming Core|
|More Mikolas?||3||not ranked|
|Ozuna Up or Up and Out?||4||not ranked|
|Bullpen Rebirth?||5||8||No Hicks, No Problem|
|Right-field Rebound?||6||not ranked|
Revisiting my predicted top St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2019.
- October Bound
After three consecutive years of sitting at home in October, there was considerable pressure on the Cardinals to reverse the trend. The players stepped up, particularly the pitching and defense, and injuries were limited to a minimum.
The result was 91 wins, an increase of three victories over 2018, and more importantly, an improvement from third place to first in the division. The Cardinals defeated Atlanta in the Division Series before being dominated by eventual World Series champion Washington in the Championship Series.
While this story was destined to be on top in 2019, this time, the news was good.
- Goldy Going, Going Gone?
The Cardinals and newly-acquired slugger Paul Goldschmidt headed off what was shaping up to be a season of repeated questions over the first baseman’s future post-2019. The two sides agreed to a five year, $130 million extension before Goldschmidt had played a single home game at Busch Stadium.
However, Goldschmidt still made the top story list because of his career-worst performance in terms of OPS+ in 2019. It was a good year for most players, but Goldschmidt is not just “any” player.
He was joined by Matt Carpenter as underachieving Cardinals front-line hitters last season.
- More Mikolas?
Another Cardinal who headed into 2019 on the final year of his contract was 2018 pitching staff leaguer Miles Mikolas. Though his level of contribution ahead was unknown heading into 2018, his first year back in the States from Japan, Mikolas quickly allayed any concerns.
In his St. Louis debut, the now-31-year old won 18 games, posted a 2.83 ERA, delivered 4.1 bWAR, was named to the NL All-Star Team and finished sixth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting.
As was the case with Goldschmidt, the Cardinals moved to lock Mikolas up. In February, the pitcher agreed to a four-year extension guaranteeing him $68 million for the 2020 through 2023 seasons.
However, Mikolas did not perform at the same high level in 2019. Over the same number of starts, 32, his win total was cut in half, his ERA increased to 4.40 and his bWAR fell to 1.7.
- Ozuna Up or Up and Out?
A third key Cardinal on a contract set to conclude in 2019 was left fielder Marcell Ozuna. The now-29 year old played two seasons with St. Louis after having been acquired from Miami in December 2017 for four players.
Ozuna’s second year with the team opened with ongoing concerns about the strength of his throwing shoulder. His defense continued to be inconsistent in 2019, far below his Gold Glove Award-winning past level. His offense improved only slightly over 2018, and was not close to his Marlins 2017 peak.
There seemed no in-season interest on the part of the team to open contract extension talks, despite the player stating a desire to return. In the fall, the Cardinals made a one-year qualifying offer to Ozuna, knowing he would decline and giving them a 2020 draft pick if the outfielder signs elsewhere.
The Cardinals have not closed the door on Ozuna returning for 2020, nor do they appear to be aggressively pursuing him. He is rumored to be looking for more years and money than St. Louis may be willing to grant him.
Even if Ozuna signs with another team, the Cardinals are rumored to be looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder on a short-term contract.
- Bullpen Rebirth?
After a 2018 season in which the Cardinals relief corps was a major disappointment, the club moved to make improvements in 2019. I felt this would be a difference-maker during the season, and it turned out to be.
St. Louis’ relievers’ aggregate ERA was 3.82, second-ranked in the entire National League. The bullpen held opposing hitters to a very strong .219 batting average against, best in all of MLB.
All this occurred despite closer Jordan Hicks blowing out his elbow in June.
Cardinals relievers to post a positive fWAR in 2019 include rookie Giovanny Gallegos, Hicks, Carlos Martinez, John Gant, Ryan Helsley and Tyler Webb. However, the most expensive new acquisition, lefty Andrew Miller, was not among them, nor was Brett Cecil, who was still/again injured.
6. Right-field Rebound
Outfielder Dexter Fowler was a huge disappointment in 2018, batting .180. Yet his contract and the hope for a rebound to prior levels of success dictated that the Cardinals would play him each day in 2019. Would a new manager in Shildt and a winter to heal enable Fowler to recover?
Fowler did improve over his lowest point, yet his 98 OPS+ in 2019 was two percent below the National League average hitter. Believe it or not, on the Cardinals offense, that made him the fourth-most productive performer, after Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna and Kolten Wong, and ahead of Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Harrison Bader.
In my final article of this annual series, I will outline my predictions for the top five St. Louis Cardinals stories of 2020.
The Cardinal Nation’s top 10 stories of the year countdown
Concluding this annual series will be my predictions of the top five Cardinals stories of 2020. Links to all stories can be found here.
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