2022 Season Review: St. Louis Cardinals

A Not-so Magical End to a Magical Season

Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the Cardinals here.

Image: AP Photo / Elise Amendola

2022 Record: 93-69 (.574 win%, 1st in the NL Central Division)

2022 Payroll: 140,673,541 (12th)

2022 Lineup:

1. UTIL Brendan Donovan, .281 AVG/.394 OBP/.379 SLG, 2.7 fWAR

2. RF Lars Nootbaar, .228 AVG/.340 OBP/.448 SLG, 2.7 fWAR

3. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, .317 AVG/.404 OBP/.578 SLG, 7.1 fWAR

4. 3B Nolan Arenado, .293 AVG/.358 OBP/.533 SLG, 7.3 fWAR

5. DH Albert Pujols, .270 AVG/.345 OBP/.550 SLG, 1.8 fWAR

6. LF Tyler O’Neill, .228 AVG/.308 OBP/.392 SLG, 1.3 fWAR

7. CF Dylan Carlson, .236 AVG/.316 OBP/.380 SLG, 2.4 fWAR

8. C Yadier Molina, .214 AVG/.233 OBP/.302 SLG, 0.1 fWAR

9. SS Tommy Edman, .265 AVG/.324 OBP/.400 SLG, 5.6 fWAR

10. 2B Nolan Gorman, .226 AVG/.300 OBP/.420 SLG, 0.5 fWAR

2022 Rotation:

1. Miles Mikolas, 202.1 IP/3.29 ERA, 2.8 fWAR

2. Adam Wainwright, 191.2 IP/3.71 ERA, 2.8 fWAR

3. Dakota Hudson, 139.2 IP/4.45 ERA 1.0 fWAR

4. José Quintana, 62.2 IP/2.01 ERA 1.8 fWAR

5. Jordan Montgomery, 63.2 IP/3.11 ERA, 1.4 fWAR

2022 Top 4 Relievers:

1. Ryan Helsley, 64.2 IP/1.25 ERA/0.74 WHIP, 2.0 fWAR

2. Giovanny Gallegos, 59.0 IP/3.05 ERA/1.02 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

3. Jake Woodford, 48.1 IP/2.23 ERA/1.12 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

4. Andre Pallante, 108.0 IP/3.17 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

Regular Season Recap:

The St. Louis Cardinals’ 2022 regular season was nothing short of pure magic. It began with a heartfelt tribute to Albert Pujols on Opening Day before a scoreless quality start from Adam Wainwright and his battery mate Yadier Molina. We would hear a lot about this trio over the course of the year, but could’ve never foreseen what the biggest name of the three would accomplish in his final season. 

During the month of April, the Cardinals went 12-9, setting them on pace for their exact final win total of 93 from the get-go. As Goldschmidt struggled to get going, Nolan Arenado carried the team, winning Player of the Month with an NL leading 215 wRC+ at the plate while also playing his usual great defense. Tommy Edman had a great month as well, finishing 6th in fWAR in April. 

The team knew early on that it would have to put up plenty of runs and might need rotation support with the news that Flaherty was out indefinitely with shoulder soreness, so in April and early May, the Cardinals called up a number of rookies. These included P Andre Pallante, OF Juan Yepez, UTIL Brendan Donovan, IF Nolan Gorman, and P Matthew Liberatore. Each of these players ended up becoming key pieces for the Cardinals over the course of the season. 

Once the sun came out in May, Paul Goldschmidt decided he would help the team do just that. Not wanting to be outdone by his corner infield partner, Goldy slashed .404/.471/.817 in May with a 255 wRC+ and won his first Player of the Month in 2022. Behind Goldschmidt were 5 other Cardinals who hit above league average wRC+ in May: Nolan Gorman (224), Brendan Donovan (159), Dylan Carlson (139), Juan Yepez (127), and Tommy Edman (101). Every one of these players is under the age of 28, most even younger. As veterans struggled, the youth provided a boost and kept the offense afloat. By the end of May, the Cardinals had improved to 29-21 and Goldschmidt had joined Arenado in the early NL MVP conversation.

In June, the Cardinals began to struggle due to a tough month from the starting pitching staff, DH spot, and Nolan Arenado. Yadier Molina suffered a knee injury on June 15 that would keep him out for a couple of months in his final season. On June 27, key players SP Jack Flaherty and CF Harrison Bader, who were trying to play through nagging injuries, were finally placed on the injured list after more serious injuries developed. These injuries and a 17th ranked pitching staff held back what was a top 5 offense despite Arenado’s struggles, and the Cardinals fell to 43-36 by the conclusion of the month.

To begin July, the Cardinals knew some changes needed to be made to the roster to get the pitching in order, so they began trade talks around the league. At the same time, excitement for the All-Star Break began to heat up. Both corner infielders, closer Ryan Helsley, and legend Albert Pujols all got to participate in the All-Star festivities. During the weekend, Goldschmidt homered in the ASG, Helsley threw a scoreless inning, and Pujols upset previous champ Kyle Schwarber in the first round of the HR Derby. 

This contributed to an exciting weekend for all baseball fans, but also may have contributed to Pujols reconnecting with his HR swing (More on that later). In the second half of July, the Cardinals held steady, finishing the month 54-48, still only 3 games back of the Brewers. There was serious excitement around the trade deadline. The target that drew the most headlines was Juan Soto, and the Cardinals were seriously in the mix, but ended up deciding that he was not worth the prospect package the Nationals were asking for. Instead the Cardinals ended up trading fan favorite injured CF Harrison Bader and young SP Johan Oviedo for veteran left-handed starters José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery.

Quintana and Montgomery had an immediate impact, posting 3.38 and 1.76 ERAs respectively in their first month with the team in August. During this month, the Cardinals went on a run to chase down the collapsing Hader-less Brewers at lightning speed, turning a 4 game deficit into a 2 game division lead in just a week and a half, including a sweep of the Cubs and an impressive sweep of the Yankees in which Jordan Montgomery shut down his former team. 

The offense, led by a blazing hot Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, had its best month in August and led the MLB in every major offensive category. This helped Arenado win his second Player of the Month award, finishing 2nd behind Pujols in NL wRC+ and ahead of 3rd place Goldschmidt. Yes, you read that right, the top 3 were all Cardinals. Stats like these further contributed to the ongoing narrative that the NL MVP would likely come out of the Cardinals’ corner infield, and a new narrative around Albert Pujols reaching 700 HRs developed. By the end of the month, the division lead was a commanding 6.5 games that the Cardinals showed no signs of relinquishing.

The team was not so consistent in September, but they didn’t have to be. The Brewers spiraled downward, and the division crown became a formality for St. Louis. That didn’t stop the Cardinals from celebrating it in front of Brewers fans at American Family Field, however. The team clinched the division with a 6-2 win on September 27, and provided the Brewers with some payback after they had celebrated a division championship at Busch just 4 seasons ago in 2018.

A few days earlier, on Friday, September 23, Albert Pujols stepped up to the plate for his first game back in Los Angeles since his postseason run with the Dodgers in 2021 came to an end. Last season, the Dodgers franchise had saved the end of Pujols’ career by giving him a shot to platoon in their lineup after the Angels decided to release him, and helped provide Pujols the chance to achieve goals like 700 home runs. 

He had 698 career homers under his belt to start the game, but that number wouldn’t last long. In his second at-bat, he took an Andrew Heaney fastball 434 feet to left field and set the table for history. In his very next at-bat, he joined the exclusive 700 club, turning a Phil Bickford slider into a multi-million dollar souvenir. In a night planned by the fates, the team that gave Pujols an opportunity one season ago got to be the team that witnessed his most important milestone in his first game back in the city.

Adam Wainwright made his final start with his battery mate Yadier Molina in St. Louis on October 2, and Pujols played his final regular season game in front of his home crowd as well. The pair had set MLB records for most starts and wins as a battery, but this would be the last of the duo. Pujols delivered one last homer at Busch and a 2 RBI double, tying Babe Ruth at 2nd all time on the RBI leaderboard. 

After a rough start for Wainwright, the entire trio was pulled from the game, and they walked off the field together to a massive ovation. After 12 seasons, numerous records, and 2 World Series championships as a trio, their time was finally up. The next day, Pujols hit his final career HR and took sole possession of the 2nd all-time RBI spot, and after an uneventful final two games, the magical regular season was over. It was time for the postseason.

Postseason Recap:

The Cardinals met the Phillies in the Wild Card round of the postseason in what was an awful matchup. Two elite right-handed starting pitchers in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, who each have great history against St. Louis, lived up to every bit of their reputations in 2 high quality starts to shut down the Cardinals offense with a combined 13 innings pitched allowing 0 runs. The Cardinals all-stars of yesterday (Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols), support pieces, and current starters did everything they could to set the table and pass the baton to the all-stars of today (Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Ryan Helsley), but today’s all-stars had a meltdown. 

The team passed a 2 run lead, courtesy of a Juan Yepez HR, to all-star closer Ryan Helsley after a great start from José Quintana. Helsley gave up 4 ER en route to blowing his most important save opportunity of the season. Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Giovanny Gallegos, and Jordan Hicks held the Phillies to just 2 runs in game 2, and Lars Nootbaar and Albert Pujols were able to set the table for MVP candidates Goldschmidt and Arenado multiple times. But, in the 2 game series, Goldschmidt and Arenado stranded a combined 12 baserunners when the team needed them the most, and let numerous crucial opportunities to extend their season slip away. 

However, both Pujols and Molina were able to deliver clutch singles and get proper sendoffs to end their magical careers with one final big moment each in what was eventually a 2 game sweep for the Phillies. Wainwright did not appear in this series.

M-SABR Predicted Record (92-70) vs. Actual (93-69):

The landscape of the division played out exactly as both expected and desired for the Cardinals, and as a result, my record prediction was very accurate. Playing teams like the Cubs, Reds, and Pirates for a substantial portion of the season provided a number of wins that the Cardinals could take simply by playing their brand of baseball. The Brewers and other strong NL competition offered challenges, but just as the Brewers began to collapse towards the end of the season, the Cardinals began to heat up. 

Any underperformance by guys like Jack Flaherty, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill was made up for by the efforts of surprises like Brendan Donovan, Andre Pallante, Lars Nootbaar, and Albert Pujols. During that big first week and a half of August, the Cardinals turned a 4 game deficit in the Central to a two game division lead, and rode that for more than 90 wins and a division championship, as predicted.

Surprise of the Season:

Speaking of surprises, what Albert Pujols did in the second half of 2022 was not expected by anyone, including himself. My hope that Pujols would surpass A-Rod as 4th all time in career home runs had just about evaporated by the end of June, when he only had 4 HRs and a .198 batting average on the year in three months. Pujols mentioned in an interview later in the season that he quietly pondered retiring in the middle of the season during this dark stretch early in the year. After some inspiration from his longtime teammates Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, Pujols decided to stay, and every true baseball fan is glad he did. 

In the three months after July 9, Pujols would go on to hit 20 HRs and put up a 1.086 OPS, which was second only to the all time AL single season home run king Aaron Judge during that stretch. Among his 20 HRs were plenty of crucial go-ahead HRs, including a monster game-winner in St. Louis against Milwaukee to cement the division lead. This allowed Pujols to not only surpass A-Rod for 4th all time, but also move into 2nd all time in RBI, 2nd all time in total bases, 2nd all time in doubles, 1st all time in pitchers homered off of, 1st all time in go-ahead HRs, and he hit the landmark 700 HR total. 

I was lucky enough to watch Albert hit his 703rd and final career HR in person in Pittsburgh on October 3rd, and I will never forget that moment or his teammates’ reactions. I am truly amazed by what Albert Pujols did with the opportunity to play his final season in St. Louis, and will be forever grateful that the DH appeared in the NL just in time for him to do so.

Players We Watched:

Player to Watch #1: 3B Nolan Arenado

Nolan Arenado turned out to be an excellent player to watch in 2022. In the season that I claimed should set the standard for what Arenado will be going forward in St. Louis, he exceeded all expectations. He put up a team and NL position player high 7.9 bWAR and a career high 154 OPS+. 

His unbelievable defense helped contribute to his WAR totals, as it always does, as he finished in the league’s top 6 for Outs Above Average and delivered the highlight reel I asked for to begin the season. Along with Goldschmidt, Arenado helped to carry the Cardinals offense to a top 3 finish in rating and a top 5 finish in runs scored. Player of the Month in both April and August, Arenado held steady through a long season and put up a quality argument to be the NL MVP.

Player to Watch #2: LF Tyler O’Neill

After a phenomenal 2021, the expectations were very high for Tyler O’Neill coming into 2022, and he fell far short of those expectations in a few different ways. On the field, his OPS was hardly above league average with a .700 OPS (101 OPS+). More importantly, nagging injuries kept O’Neill off the field for a substantial portion of the season and prevented him from finding his rhythm. He only logged 96 games played and produced at much lower rates than last season. A strained hamstring kept him off the field for the postseason as well, which was a massive blow to the Cardinals’ chances of making a run. One bright spot from this season is that O’Neill was able to pick up 14 SB in his 96 games, which is the highest rate of stolen bases per game of his career, which might play well under the new pickoff and base rules in 2023.

Player to Watch #3: SP Jack Flaherty

2022 was more of the same as 2020 and 2021 from Jack Flaherty. He continued to miss significant time due to injury and provide inconsistent starts this season. The promise shown in 2019 and early 2021 has all but disappeared from the stat sheet, but his talent still shined through in flashes during the very limited, ugly playing time he had this season. Flaherty finished with a 2-1 record in 8 starts and 9 outings, putting up 33 strikeouts with a 4.25 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and -0.1 bWAR. He did not provide the step forward necessary to make the Cardinals rotation elite, instead remaining unimportant to the team’s success, and it showed.

Offseason Outlook:

The most important positions to fill going forward in St. Louis will most likely be filling the shoes of legends: Pitcher, catcher, and DH. Willson Contreras will hit the market and could be a key target to acquire positive WAR from the catcher position. Both the rotation and the bullpen were shaky down the stretch in 2022, so any quality pitchers the Cardinals can sign would be a huge boost to the team. 

Adding one more bat to fill the DH role, especially one who can fill into an outfield spot, would be a key final move this offseason, as Dickerson is likely leaving and Pujols is retiring. The middle infield will most likely be shored up by cementing Edman at SS and bringing in Donovan and Gorman to fill in full-time at 2B if Paul DeJong does not return. Arenado has shown every indication that he intends to pick up his option and stay with the team for 2023, so the Cardinals almost certainly don’t have to look elsewhere for a third baseman.

Something to Watch:

The most important question facing the Cardinals to begin the offseason is whether SP Adam Wainwright will decide to remain with the team or hang it up after a remarkable career. The potential returns of Wainwright and a full season from Jack Flaherty could set the Cardinals rotation up to be stronger next season.

Categories: 2022 Season Review, Articles, Post-COVID

Tags: ,

3 replies

  1. Awesome write up, good work

  2. Great read! Very well done.

  3. Very well researched, Great perspective. Interesting, and engaging. It felt very much like the articles I would read in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, or The Atlantic. Very well done👏👏👏

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