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2022 MLB Playoffs Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are back, chasing their 12th World Series while they prepare to say goodbye to icons.

St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It was an interesting offseason for the Cardinals, as they rather abruptly parted ways with their former manager Mike Shildt, despite the skipper leading them to a 90-72 record in 2021 and the second Wild Card spot. It would perhaps have been no surprise to see the club fall off a bit this season ...

Color me shocked. The 2022 calendar turns to October and the St. Louis Cardinals are right where they always seem to be, locked into a playoff spot and hoping to make a deep run, aiming for another appearance in the Fall Classic. The NL’s winningest franchise, with 11 World Series titles, hopes to add another to the trophy case, in the last hurrah for at least a couple of its franchise icons.

2022 record: 93-69

Manager: Oliver Marmol

Top hitter by fWAR: Nolan Arenado, 3B (7.2 fWAR)

Top pitcher by fWAR: Adam Wainwright, SP (2.8 fWAR)

The St. Louis Cardinals spent a considerable amount of the 2022 season as the pursuer in the NL Central, rather than as the front-runner, making it look like they might finish in a WIld Card spot as they had in 2021. But on August 4th, they caught up to the then-first place Milwaukee Brewers. And that was all she wrote. The Redbirds surged to a large lead in the division, at one point sitting 9.5 games ahead of the Brew Crew, and clinched the Central in late September.

Offensively, the Cardinals are buoyed by a devastating one-two punch, one that could finish one-two in National League MVP voting. Nolan Arenado, their all-world third baseman, has had another outstanding season, as evidenced by his team-leading 7.2 fWAR and gaudy stat line. And of course, because it is Arenado, his defense has been elite, ranking in the 99th percentile in Outs Above Average.

Across the diamond, meanwhile, Paul Goldschmidt has been ever more devastating at the plate. Goldy has put together some great counting stats (35 HR, 106 R, 115 RBI, 7.1 fWAR), and some eye-popping rate stats (.419 wOBA and 178 wRC+). The two bats in the middle of the Cardinals lineup are as formidable a dyad as you’re likely to encounter.

But St. Louis doesn’t just rest its offensive laurels with those two. Second baseman/outfielder Brendan Donovan (129 wRC+), outfielder Lars Nootbaar (123 wRC+), and second baseman Tommy Edman(106 wRC+ and a team leading 31 SB) are all comfortable above-average offensive assets for the Cardinals. Oh. And there’s one other guy.

Albert Pujols. Once thought done, his 2022 renaissance has been one of baseball’s best stories. He has rediscovered his power stroke, and has climbed the all-time home run and runs batted in leaderboards, now resting in fourth and second place, respectively, with 703 HR and 2218 RBI. LOL. The Machine’s last ride has been one to remember.

Pujols is not the only Cards icon who is riding off into the sunset. Yadier Molina, the venerable St. Louis backstop, is also playing his final season. Never Pujols’ equal at the plate, Yadi is nonetheless beloved by Cardinals fans for his defense and leadership. A close friend, the biggest Cardinals fan I know, said to me a couple of years ago that, “I would get into a knife fight with my grandmother to defend Yadi’s honor.” Point taken.

Last month, Molina and frequent battery mate Adam Wainwright, who as of publication has not confirmed whether he will retire after this season, broke the record for the most starts by a pitcher-catcher duo. Then, Cardinal faithful had the opportunity to see Waino, alongside Molina and Pujols, walk off the field to thunderous applause during the club’s final home game of the season. Lots of franchise nostalgia and tradition on display for the Cardinals as we get deeper into autumn.

Overall, the Cardinals represent a formidable opponent, though the eye test likely leaves them in a second tier below the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. St. Louis finished the season in the top-5 of a number of offensive categories in the National League, including runs scored (third), home runs (fifth), batting average (fifth), on-base percentage (third), slugging percentage (fourth), and on-base plus slugging percentage (third).

Their pitching meanwhile, anchored by the aforementioned Wainwright, held up its end of the bargain. The Cardinals’ team ERA ranked fourth in the Senior Circuit at 3.78, and as a staff they excelled at limiting the long ball. Their 146 home runs allowed finished second in the National League. Defensively, their 65 errors and .989 fielding percentage both paced the NL. They can hit, they can pitch, and they can field.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Yankee connection to St. Louis’ 2022 roster. At the trade deadline, the Cardinals sent then-injured CF Harrison Bader to New York in exchange for portside slinger Jordan Montgomery. Since joining the Redbirds, Gumby has averaged almost six innings per start (63.2 IP in 11 GS), pitching to a 3.11 ERA.

The Cardinals open the playoffs against the No. 6 seed in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies. If they can make it past the Phils, they’ll face the daunting task of knocking off the defending champion, and white-hot, Atlanta Braves. Finally, should they advance past that formidable foe, they’ll have an appointment in the NLCS, and it would shock no one if their LCS opponent is another juggernaut.

First things first though: Game 1 is Friday in St. Louis. Whether that is merely the first of many Cardinals games this postseason is up in the air, but I would not be shocked in the slightest to see this club, that has a faint whiff of destiny about it, advance deep into the playoffs.