Happy Opening Day! Why the Cardinals are favorites, but still World Series longshots

Mar 29, 2021; Jupiter, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) gestures back to the dugout after hitting a solo homerun in the 1st inning of the spring training game against the New York Mets at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports


Every spring, Cardinal Nation gathers in anticipation of another summer run down nostalgia lane. Casual fan or diehard Redbird adorer, you were parked at Busch Stadium on a warm yet bearable summer afternoon. While the spring season is still on the mound throwing pitches, let’s dig into this year’s St. Louis Cardinals roster now that it has been finalized. 

This year’s team is better-equipped for contention than the past two years of contenders. The reason is as simple as March rain: They didn’t have both Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. It’s like having Captain America and The Hulk. Yes, I am referring to the former Colorado Rockies third baseman as Bruce Banner’s alter ego, and that’s because he enters a much higher level of intensity when games start to count. Count the smiles now, because we may have Chris Carpenter 2.0 on our hands. Oh sorry, on the minds of the opponents. 

Arenado and Goldschmidt give the Cards a formidable one-two punch that teams will deal with just about every day. A couple of workhorses who can do damage in the field and at the plate. They save runs and produce extra. But the lineup outside of their services is anything but solid. Paul DeJong doesn’t look like any better of a clean-up hitter than Yadier Molina, whose defense is holding up even though his bat is deteriorating. Tommy Edman was pretty solid off the bench two years ago, but he’s a starting second baseman now. Can he perform for 140 games? I feel like Dylan Carlson is on a clear-cut road to being a great player, but fans may have to settle for just good this season. 

It’s Tyler O’Neill who could be the equalizer to the lineup becoming a much-different threat. With Arenado and Goldschmidt taking so much attention, bats like O’Neill and Justin Williams can sneak up on bullpens. These guys can hit mistakes and maybe a couple other pitches in their third opportunity. The outfield’s mystery is both its blessing and curse. You just have no idea what they are going to give you this year, even minus Dexter Fowler’s underachieving bat. 

Advertisement for the J

Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright (ageless as ever) have a license to shut down lineups, but afterwards it may be a toss-up in the early goings of a game. Carlos Martinez was an above-average starter a few years and many struggles ago, but what is he now? Can the Cards count on him for 30 starts? They can’t be asking that from Daniel Ponce de Leon or John Gant, who fill out the backend of the rotation. This group is in dire need of another very dependable arm. I have doubts about Miles Mikolas. 24-year-old Jake Woodford had a great spring, but what exactly is his long-term role? 

It is the bullpen who may push this team further into the postseason. That’s when the two-inning guy is as lethal as the starter, laying down a bridge to the setup and close. Alex Reyes could be either one of those guys this year. Heck, he would tell you the last three innings were handled if Mike Shildt let him. He’s the secret weapon, like O’Neill for the lineup, for this pitching arsenal. I think he will be starting by late August. Do Giovanny Gallegos and a just-about-ready-to-close Jordan Hicks really need any description? Nope. Forget about it, hitters. You’re done. Andrew Miller is another player that could be pretty good or bad. But Genesis Cabrera and Ryan Helsley offer another lethal righty/lefty mix. 

Matt Carpenter’s prospects right now are reliable late-game at-bat and dependable lineup sub. He has to work up from that. Austin Dean, John Nogrowski, Andrew Knizner, and Edmundo Sosa round out the bench. If someone goes down, are those guys ready to produce at a starting level? 

Strengths: Arenado/Goldschmidt power, great defense, deep bullpen, Flaherty-Wainwright punch

Weaknesses: Rotation depth, outfield production, bench depth

This team has more questions than answers, but still lacks completion if they carry *late* October plans. While the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds won’t quit-and the Chicago Cubs surely won’t go away-the Cardinals would be a betting soul’s best friend still, two days away from the first pitch of the 2021 season. It’s anything outside of that-the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves for instance-that still seems another year away for St. Louis. 

Record Prediction: 87-75.