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The 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Just Became a Problem for the Rest of the NL Central

The 2020 Season was a bit of a heat check for the Cardinals, and that’s a good thing moving forward, as their future begins to emerge.

Cardinals Nation by Jonathan Cutrer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Just Became a Problem for the Rest of the NL Central

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The St. Louis Cardinals are a quiet baseball team. Even in the most heated of playoff races, the Cardinals are still a presence. Now as the NL Central begins to unravel, the St. Louis Cardinals are about to hit their stride.

The 2020 Season was bit of a heat check for the Cardinals, and that’a good thing moving forward.

The St. Louis Cardinals

2020: Record: 30 – 28

2020 Finish: 2nd in the NL Central, 5th in the National League

Surprises in 2020

If you were to have told me that one of the best pitchers on the Cardinals in 2020 would be Adam Wainwright, I would have walked away from you shaking my head in absolute disgust. I would then be forced to call you and apologize for being so rude and then ask you how I’m going to die because you can see the future. And yet, Adam Wainwright was one of the best pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020. That’s a fact. It can be proven with numbers.

The last time Wainwright threw a season this good, it was 2013 and the Cardinals went to the World Series and he narrowly missed a Cy Young Award. That’s the kind of renaissance Wainwright experienced in 2020. His 5-3 record, 3.15 ERA, 1.051 WHIP, and 137 OPS+ were all reminiscent of Wainwright’s past. But the numbers don’t stop there. In 2020, Wainwright dropped his hits-per-nine innings by 2.1 points from the previous season, going from 9.5 to 7.4. That’s astounding for any pitcher, let alone a 38-year-old who has been in his last legs over the past few seasons.

Other Cardinals pitchers with great seasons were Dakota Hudson and Kwang Hyun Kim, who came over from the SK Wyverns of the KBO League. Both Hudson and Kim provided the Cardinals with consistency in their outings and look to repeat that same success in 2021.

Disappointments in 2020

On the other end of the pitching spectrum is Jack Flaherty. After a 2019 season that rudely saw him on the outside looking in at the top 3 finalists, hopes were high for a repeat performance. Things seemed to be trending up, as Flaherty’s sophomore season was a significant improvement from an already top-notch rookie effort.

The same, however, cannot be said for his 2020 season.

Flaherty’s hits-per-nine, the same metric we just mentioned in regards to Wainwright, jumped up 1.2 hits in 2020, and his WHIP added .300 pushing him above the 1.200 mark. Both of these stats aren’t terrible, if anything they are league average. However, looking at Flaherty’s ERA is a different matter.

Finishing the 2019 season with a 2.75 ERA was no easy task for Flaherty. Coming into the final two months of the season Flaherty’s ERA sat just north of 4.00. Over the next two months, Jack Flaherty would be suffocation savant on the mound, posting sub-1.00 ERA, a 7-2 record and kept opposing hitters below the Mendoza Line. Jack Flaherty was being to look like the Ace of the Cardinals staff.

However, in 2020 the wheels fell off as Flaherty finished with a 4.91 ERA in his nine starts. How does that happen? For Flaherty, it was the last month of the season, and the grueling schedule that came with a clubhouse Covid-19 outbreak.

After making his first start of the season, it was almost a full month until Flaherty pitched another. As the Cardinals rushed to get their full season in, the Cardinals arms had to make some sacrifices. For Flaherty that meant starting fives games in September, after pitching only 4 games in the first half of the season.

Jack Flaherty pitched every five days in the last month of the season. That’s no days off, with no travel days, it was nonstop and it took its toll. Flaherty ended September with an ERA of 7.48, and a WHIP of 1.569, giving up 18 earned runs, or 81% of his season total. Not great. Not great at all.

Looking Ahead to 2021

All that being said, this is the Cardinals we’re talking about. Ever resilient, ever the perennial postseason threat, the Cardinals are still one of the top teams in the game.

If anything, the Cardinals can look back at the 2020 season and see it as a learning experience, as a way of gauging their future. For the last few seasons things have seemed to have stalled in St. Louis as the Cardinals wait for their young arms to show up. They did in 2020, so now it’s time to kick things into gear.

As the Cubs turn towards rebuilding, the Brewers try to figure out what happened, and the Pirate run themselves aground, the only NL Central team the Cardinals need to dodge are the Reds. But even if they don’t, which they most certainly can, the Cardinals are a playoff team.

If the Cardinals stay the course, the NL Central is theirs for the taking. They just have to be the team they are on paper.

I wrote the above section prior to the outrageously insane Nolan Arenado trade with the Rockies… and my opinion hasn’t changed. The St. Louis Cardinals are definitely a playoff squad, and one to be feared for the next few seasons in the NL Central.

A St. Louis World Series title is back on the menu.

Projected 2021 Finish: 95-67, 1st in the NL Central

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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