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The Cardinals are trying to break a string of missing the postseason in three consecutive seasons, which hasn’t happened since 1997-99.
That failure led to another rare event in St. Louis: for the first time in two decades the club fired a manager mid-season, replacing Mike Matheny with a former scout-turned-coach, Mike Shildt.
Shildt, who has managed at three different minor league levels in the organization, finished the 2018 campaign (41-28) and later signed a two-year extension.
With a new manager, and two aging stars (Yadier Molina & Adam Wainwright) nearing the end of their contracts — and their careers — St. Louis went big this offseason trading for Paul Goldschmidt (later signed to a 6-yr extension) and signing Andrew Miller.
Goldschmidt, the six-time All-Star, is off to a promising start:
9 HR, 19 RBI
Miller has struggled:
5.56 ERA through 11.1 IP.
The Cards posted the lowest starter-ERA in the division last year. This season the rotation of Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Michale Wacha, and Dakota Hudson have started every game except one (Daniel Ponce de Leon).
Bullpen arms John Brebbia, John Gant and closer Jordan Hicks have formed a formidable threesome having combined to allow 6 runs in 51.0 IP. Miller, meanwhile, has allowed 7 ER in 11.1 IP, including 4 HR.
Through five seasons in St. Louis second baseman Kolton Wong has played alongside nine different shortstops. Paul DeJong, 25, is the latest, and appears to be the staple going forward having signed a 6-yr extension.
DeJong missed six weeks in 2018 due to a fractured hand. He’s rebounded in a big way this year leading the team in hits (41) and doubles (14) …
5 HR, 13 RBI
Wong and DeJong are also the team leaders in WAR:
Last year was miserable all-around for Dex. A fractured foot ended his season prematurely; and off the field speculation raised questions about his commitment to his craft.
So far so good in 2019. Fowler ranks third on the team in WAR (1.2) ahead of Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter and Molina.
Matt Carpenter, 33, who’s already achieved All-Star status at three different infield spots, has settled into a full-time role at 3B with the arrival of Goldschmidt. He’s played well defensively, but his bat lags behind from what was an MVP-level run in 2018:
Carpenter through 29 games and 130 plate appearances this season:
Carpenter recorded one of the franchise’s greatest offensive games ever on July 20 last year at Wrigley Field:
Despite a nagging right shoulder, Marcell Ozuna, 28, played 148 games last year in his first season in St. Louis hitting .325, 23 HR, 88 RBI. With the shoulder repaired during the offseason, Ozuna has returned to his All-Star form leading the club in HR (10), RBI (29) and OPS+ (163).
There’s a ton of bench depth on the Cards roster led by slugger Jose Martinez; Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill and Jed Gyorko are all capable starters with plenty of pop. Pitchers Goivanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb and Ponce de Leon are all serviceable swing-men. Former All-Star Carlos Martinez is expected to return later this month; and setup man Luke Gregerson could return as soon as Saturday.
Yadi Molina, 36, started 27 consecutive games behind the plate last season, a new record for catchers older than 35.
Cardinals’ first basemen committed the most errors in the majors last season (20); Paul Goldschmidt (3 x Gold Glove winner) has committed 19 errors since 2015.
The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds have won consecutive Pacific Coast League titles.
Since the beginning of 2016, the Cardinals have spent a grand total of 22 days in first place in the NL Central, one day longer than the Reds (21) during that span.
Currently leading the Central entering Friday’s game (20-11), the Cards have spent 19 days in first place this season.
St. Louis has the third-best run differential in the NL (+35), trailing LAD (+36) and the Cubs (+38) … STL has not been shut out this year … and are (8-2) in their last 10 games.