Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hochman: Still So Many Question Marks for the Cardinals

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hochman: Still So Many Question Marks for the Cardinals

Article excerpt

JUPITER, Fla. * He might not even get to St. Louis this year, but he gets St. Louis.

And raised north of the border, Tyler O'Neill's perspective brought introspective.

"Coming to play baseball in St. Louis," the Cardinals minor leaguer said, "it's like playing hockey in Canada. This is live-or-die baseball over here."

Our city adores baseball the way a whole nation adores the sport that defines it.

And so, this season isn't just pivotal to those inside the Cards' complex it's pivotal to a whole community that is already frustrated, deflated and, if you step back and look at it, hasn't felt this way since the spring of 2009, when the Cards came to camp after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

It's not just unfamiliar territory it's uncomfortable territory. The Cards can't afford to become "regular." Actually, that's the problem they can afford it, because win 90 or lose 90, they'll still be a profitable institution. But this season is about restoration. Replenishing. This team must, once again, nourish St. Louis. It's about playing baseball that St. Louis Cardinals fans can hang their red hats on. The team has not lived up to its end of the bargain since 2015.

The full squad practiced Monday for the first time in 2018, and I think this improved club can flirt with 90 wins, a respectable total. But where does that get you in a division with the Cubs and Brewers? And here's the fear. Even with the improved record, the postseason berth could come down to just a couple games. And the 2018 Cards are relying on too many question marks. They have to be right about Miles Mikolas. They have to be right with at least two of these four fellows: Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty.

And the bullpen? Look, Brandon Morrow would've been so good, but he got to pick his team and he signed a two-year, $21 million deal with the Cubs. And on paper, Addison Reed looked ridiculously enticing, but there may have been workload fear on his arm. The Cards' bullpen, of all seasons, will need to be formidable and there aren't many sure things in that pen. That's not to say it won't be a great pen. It's just saying that Luke Gregerson had a bad ERA last year, as did Brett Cecil. And Jordan Hicks, whenever he arrives, has yet to pitch in Double-A as of now. And the bullpen, though it has some new faces, blew 41 leads last season.

"We have to play better. Pitch better. Hit better," Cecil said Monday. "If we want to make the playoffs, we've got to improve on some things."

This offseason, the Cards needed to identify the relief pitchers that would best bolster this bullpen. It's quite possible they believe they did. It's possible that by October, we'll be gushing about, say, Dominic Leone or Gregerson or Bud Norris (or prospects Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Ryan Helsley or others). …

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