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12. St. Louis Cardinals (49-64 (.441, 26th in MLB), 525 RS, 563 RA, fifth in NL Central)
Look, sometimes you just have a year, and maybe the Cardinals, who haven’t finished below .500 since 2007 or lost 90 games since 1990, were due. The bullpen blew up, the young players didn’t launch, the big free-agent signing didn’t quite work out. It happens, and I have spent a lot of my year arguing that when it happens, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, that all the prior success has to count, too.
With all that said, the Cardinals did a lot of this to themselves. They let Jordan Walker’s Grapefruit League performance -- really just a couple of weeks of it -- push them into a decision that crowded the roster, and a lot of what has followed has stemmed from that. The Willson Contreras mess in the spring, playing guys out of position much of the year, failing to commit to the best of their young players, refusing to cut bait on Adam Wainwright...it’s been a decade’s worth of questionable choices jammed into five months.
There’s every reason to think the Cardinals will be fighting for the NL Central title a year from now, and to that end, the front office cashed in some chips last week, trading Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Stratton -- all pending free agents -- along with Paul DeJong for organizational depth. Baseball America ranked all 56 prospects who were traded at the deadline, and the Cards added five of the top 20. In Tekoah Roby they received the kind of high-velo starter prospect they’ve been lacking, and they built in future relief depth with Adam Kloffenstein, Drew Rom, and Matt Svanson. It wasn’t a sexy deadline, as the Cardinals didn’t move Nolan Arenado or Paul Goldschmidt. For a management team that had never been in this position before, it was a good execution of a sale.
Reasons to Watch: Sunday afternoon, with the tying run on first, two outs in the ninth, and the Cardinals down 1-0, Jordan Walker stepped to the plate with a chance to...no, wait, here comes Alec Burleson to pinch-hit. That move encapsulates the current Cardinals to me, taking opportunities away from better players for short-term concerns. The outcome of yesterday’s game doesn’t matter. Giving Walker a chance in a big spot does. I’m watching the Cardinals down the stretch to see if they’ll prioritize the players who can be part of a core in two years -- Walker, Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson -- over the ones who will not.
One Stat: The Cardinals’ Defensive Efficiency Rating, which measures how often a team turns a ball in play into an out, is the worst in baseball at .667. The Cardinals have not finished last in this stat since 1971, and the raw mark of .667 would be their worst since 1930.