It's not at all a bold projection to say that the St. Louis Cardinals will be in the thick of the playoff race in the National League this upcoming campaign. After all, they've won at least 86 games in every season but one dating back to 2008.
However, fans in St. Louis would be the first to admit that the Cards have a slew of issues that could potentially derail their quest to avenge their humiliating loss to the Washington Nationals in last year's NLCS. Let's highlight the biggest of the bunch, shall we?
3. Uncertainty Behind Jack Flaherty
Jack Flaherty announced himself as the Cardinals ace in 2020 after posting an 11-8 record with a 2.75 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 196.1 innings of work. As reliable as the 24-year-old stud figures to be for manager Mike Shildt, the same cannot be said for the rest of St. Louis rotation, however. Dakota Hudson will need to prove that his 16-7 showing last year wasn't an anomaly, roller coaster starter/'pen option Carlos Martinez is both inconsistent and injury prone, and Adam Wainwright is entering his age-38 season. Does the Cardinals staff have the potential to be elite? Absolutely, but we can't say with any conviction that will happen, and that's a cause for concern.
2. Jordan Hicks' Availability
Jordan Hicks was already expected to be limited in 2020 as he continues to recover from a torn UCL suffered last June. Now, the Cardinals might need to exercise more caution with the 23-year-old flamethrower, as his status as a Type 1 diabetic puts him at a greater risk than his teammates in choosing to play amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hicks was easily the team's best reliever last season as he recorded a 3.14 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 14 saves across 29 appearances before the injury. St. Louis' pedestrian bullpen might not be able to weather the storm if Hicks is limited as much as we think he will be.
1. Paul Goldschmidt's Elbow
The suspension of the 2020 season was incredibly timely for Paul Goldschmidt, who seemed to develop elbow soreness each time he took the field in Spring Training. The Cardinals will need the six-time All-Star to be at his very best following the departure of fellow slugger Marcell Ozuna if they have any hope of making noise in the playoffs, but the status of his elbow remains a serious question mark entering camp. A potential lengthy spell on the sidelines for Goldy would spell doom for St. Louis in the upcoming 60-game campaign.