What’s next for the Cardinals after a Wildcard loss?

Bradley Piros, Courier Staff

Obviously, this was an MLB season like no one could have ever expected. After it kept getting delayed, the MLB finally got the green light to start back up on Friday, July 24. They announced that it would be a shortened 60-game season with a somewhat normal postseason.

Everything didn’t go so well, though, for the Cardinals. They got five games in with a 2-3 record, and then had to postpone 18 games straight as nearly half the clubhouse came down with the Coronavirus.

When they got back, they had to play 10 doubleheaders to make up for the games that were postponed. They had the most grueling schedule by far leading into the postseason. Not only is it hard to play 55 games in 42 days, but it’s also extremely hard to come back after sitting around for two whole weeks.

After the COVID postponement, the Cards went 28-25 and punched their ticket in an N.L. Wildcard series against the San Diego Padres. It all went downhill from there.

Game 1 looked promising. St. Louis jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first and a 6-3 lead after three innings. The Cards eventually took Game 1 by a score of 7-4.

The Cards did the same thing in Game 2. This time they had a 4-0 lead after two innings. But then they let the Padres put up 11 runs, capped off by a four-run seventh inning. Manny Machado hit a home run. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Will Myers both took two over the fence. It was indeed all about “Slam Diego” in Game 2 and STL just couldn’t match that kind of firepower. Paul Goldschmidt homered in the ninth inning, but it was too little too late to get back into the game.

This meant a detrimental Game 3, winner takes all. This game was much different from the two before. This one went scoreless until San Diego finally put one on the board. The Cards only had four hits this game and just couldn’t make anything happen offensively. In the seventh, the Padres made it 3-0 and then 4-0 in the eighth with a home run from Jake Cronenworth. St. Louis just simply couldn’t match that kind of offense, so the Padres went on to win that game 4-0 and take the series 2-1.

So, what do the Cardinals have to do if they want to make a deeper playoff run next season? I’ll give you two huge things they must do.

The first is to strengthen the batting order. They brought in Goldschmidt and he certainly helped, but after that number three spot, it dropped off. They don’t have a consistent clean-up hitter. This regular season, Dylan Carlson did that job with a .200 batting average and .616 on-base percentage. He had 16 RBIs and three home runs.

After him is Yadier Molina. His bat is always reliable, especially in big moments, but after him that’s it. Then you have the atrocious Matt Carpenter, the streaky Dexter Fowler and the strikeout master Harrison Bader. The last three spots in that order need to go. The Cards have to bring in some bigger bats if they want to keep up with teams like the Padres who rely so heavily on the home run ball.

Here’s where I put on my tinfoil hat. The Nolan Arenado trade is still plausible to help out with this problem. He batted .253 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs, much more impressive than half the current Cardinals dugout. It’s a long shot, but it is still a possibility.

The other thing the Cardinals have to do is re-sign Molina and Adam Wainwright. These guys are Cardinals legends. Not only that, they’re locker-room leaders. They’re guys you just want to have around.

Like I already said, Molina is very reliable in that No. 5 spot. Oh, and he’s quite possibly the greatest catcher of all time, too. Losing Molina would crumble this team offensively but even more defensively.

What about Wainright? Well, in a time where the Cards only have a handful of quality starters, now would really be a bad time to lose him. We have our ace Jack Flaherty, Kwang-Hyun Kim, the South Korean star, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jake Woodford and Wainwright right now on our current roster.

Sure, we had a couple of guys hurt down the stretch like Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas who you can both usually depend on, but the point is, the Cards cannot afford to lose a quality starting pitcher right now.

Hopefully, next season’s different, in that we actually get a 162-game season to enjoy. Hopefully, the Cardinals push to win the Central Division. I’m just tired of watching an inconsistent team float around .500 all season long. I’ve seen better and I want better.