The Cardinals have concluded their 2018 Grapefruit League play with a 16-12 record. After a two-game exhibition series in Montreal with the Blue Jays, the Cardinals will open up the regular season at Citi Field against the Mets on Thursday afternoon.
Between the start of spring camp over a month ago and the recent breaking of it, the team’s Opening Day roster has been sculpted. With nagging ailments and undeniable performances leading to some reconfiguration, the Cardinals’ 25-man roster features several fresh faces.
St. Louis has opted to carry 12 position players and 13 pitchers to begin the new season, with a four-man bench and eight-man bullpen.
The Cardinals’ starting outfield projects to be one of the fiercest in the league, with trade-acquisition Marcell Ozuna joining Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler. Ozuna smashed 37 long balls in 159 games for the Marlins in 2017, injecting plenty of power in a lineup that can never have enough pop. Pham hit 23 home runs and stole 25 bases last season across 128 games, making his goal of becoming a 30/30 player sensible if he can play a full(er) season. Fowler achieved career-highs in homers and runs batted in (18 and 64, respectively), despite heel and wrist issues limiting him to just 118 games.
Not only can the trio dazzle at the dish; Ozuna, Pham, and Fowler will be a solid defensive line. Ozuna was a Gold Glove winner last year, and the Cardinals will keep him in his native left field. Pham maintained a .996 fielding percentage with eight assists over 1,026.2 innings logged at all three spots; he’ll cover center daily this year. Advanced fielding metrics historically haven’t favored him, but Fowler will (in theory) flip that narrative as he transitions to right field.
The daily infield will feature Kolten Wong at second base and Paul DeJong at shortstop. Various arm injuries limited Wong to 108 games last year, during which he batted .285 with 42 runs batted in. DeJong debuted in late May and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting with his 25 homers and .857 OPS.
The corner positions are a bit of a guessing game.
After a spring where he just kept hitting, Jose Martinez is worthy of starting spot - and he would get that at first base, considering how secure the outfield is. Not to put too much stock in spring statistics, but Martinez batted a solid .275 with three home runs, six walks, and just three strikeouts over 19 games in Florida. And if Martinez is at first, Matt Carpenter would start at third base, leaving Jedd Gyorko, who has hit 50 home runs over the past two seasons, without a starting spot. It’s ultimately up to manager Mike Matheny’s discretion on who starts at the corners each day, but (at least at this point) it would make sense to go with the hot hand and start Martinez. Gyorko can play any of the four infield spots and still presents a power threat, so a scenario where he does not start would still present him with some playing time.
The starting catcher will be Yadier Molina, and Jon Morosi of MLB Network shared some interesting, yet not surprising, information regarding the team’s daily backstop:
Yadier Molina (@Yadimolina04) is poised to start on #OpeningDay as @Cardinals catcher for the 14th straight year. That’s the longest active streak at one position for a single team in @MLB, according to STATS LLC. @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) March 23, 2018
The bench is unique. It will contain Gyorko or Martinez - whomever does not start. Greg Garcia made the team for his ability to plug in around the infield as needed, his ability to get on base, and the fact that he is left-handed; he figures to be the only left-handed hitter off the regular bench. The Cardinals opted for catching prospect Carson Kelly to start the season in the Minors, and this will ensure he receives adequate playing time. So, Francisco Pena will serve as Molina’s understudy. The final bench spot went to Yairo Munoz, one of the team’s acquisitions in the trade with the Athletics involving Stephen Piscotty. Munoz batted .333 with three homers in 57 spring at-bats and was a force the Cardinals felt necessary to use in the Majors as the season opens.
The pitching side of the spectrum is a little clearer, although it, too, has a few unforeseen points. The rotation features Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Miles Mikolas, and Jack Flaherty. Adam Wainwright was in line to start the year in the rotation before he strained his hamstring, so Flaherty will get a shot in the big leagues until he returns. Flaherty had already been optioned to Triple-A.
Martinez will start on Opening Day, and Wacha will start the home opener a week later, on April 5, against the Diamondbacks.
St. Louis signed Luke Gregerson over the winter and and appointed him the closer’s role before spring camp. Nonetheless, Gregerson (like Wainwright) will begin the year on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Dominic Leone, Tyler Lyons, Bud Norris, and Sam Tuivailala are viable options to handle the ninth inning.
Beyond Leone, Lyons, Norris, and Tuivailala, the Cardinals’ bullpen is home to Brett Cecil, Matt Bowman, John Brebbia, and Mike Mayers. Cecil and Bowman made the Opening Day roster last season, while Brebbia emerged from Triple-A later in the season to claim a role. Mayers joins the big-league bunch after logging 12 scoreless innings this spring with 12 strikeouts and zero walks.