(KMOV.com) — After qualifying for the postseason with a record of 30-28, St. Louis wrapped up its campaign with a tough Wild Card Series loss to San Diego. 2020 brought more than its fair share of challenges for the Cardinals organization, but with an understanding that nothing about this MLB season was normal, we’re still going to tackle these report cards as accurately as we can.
Alex Reyes: A
The road back to the big leagues for the former top prospect in all of baseball was long and arduous, but Alex Reyes proved that amid all the turmoil of this crazy year, 2020 had room for a story of redemption.
Reyes’ season, as has been true for so many of his professional campaigns, didn’t get off to the start he wanted. He contracted COVID-19 before Summer Camp, delaying his readiness for an already-shortened season. By the end of the summer, however, Reyes had established himself as an important leverage reliever for the Cardinals. He pitched to a 3.20 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 19.2 innings, earning his lone save in the final game of the regular season to clinch a postseason berth for the team.
Our expectations for Reyes had shifted over the years, from sky-high in 2016 to simply hoping he could stay healthy enough to participate entering 2020. He did that and more on his way to a sterling grade for the season.
Austin Gomber: A
I decided to list Gomber with the relievers because that’s where he made the majority of his appearances for the Cardinals this season, but really, the lefty shined in any role this year. Gomber compiled a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings. The only knock on his performance was the 15 walks he permitted, but finally healthy coming into this campaign, Gomber made his presence known even with his opportunity being limited by the nature of 2020.
The Cardinals have a lot of decisions to make this off-season, and the starting rotation is an area with several question marks going into 2021. Given what he flashed in a small sample in 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals show a willingness to pencil in Gomber for a spot in the starting rotation moving forward, assuming he gives them no reason for doubt next spring.
Genesis Cabrera: A
This was the year that someone finally made the Tommy Pham trade a little less frustrating. Genesis Cabrera, who was acquired by St. Louis from Tampa Bay in that deadline deal in 2018, was sensational for the Cardinals this year. He showcased an electric arsenal that included a triple-digits fastball and made him one of the go-to lefty relievers out of Mike Shildt’s bullpen.
Cabrera’s ERA for the season was 2.42, but he was even better following a rough start to his year. He didn’t debut until August 15 due to a stint on the COVID-IL. Once Cabrera did join the roster, he coughed up three runs in his first two appearances. After that, though, he hit his stride and posted a 1.35 ERA the rest of the way.
He could stand to hone in his command a little better—16 walks in 22.1 innings is a concerning trend—but his 32 strikeouts in that span were outrageous, in a good way. Cabrera’s upside is tremendous. He showed only a glimpse of it in 2020.
Tyler Webb: A-
Andrew Miller has the name recognition and postseason resume. Genesis Cabrera has the hype train as a flamethrowing former prospect. Tyler Webb often gets lost in the shuffle among the left-handed Cardinals relief corps, but his performance in 2020 is deserving of praise.
Webb logged a 2.08 ERA in 21.2 innings pitched for the Cardinals this season. It probably went unnoticed by some fans who remember only the negative moments as they pertain to relief pitchers. Leading the St. Louis pitching staff in appearances with 21, Webb produced enough of an effective sample to ensure that his season would not be defined by the mammoth home run Matt Davidson hit off him earlier in the summer.
Mike Shildt’s trust in Webb was firmly established in 2019, when he called upon the 6-5 lefty to make a whopping 65 appearances that season. Webb isn’t necessarily the go-to name for high-leverage scenarios, but he rewarded Shildt’s trust this season with his sturdy contributions.
John Gant: B+
The only trouble with John Gant’s 2020 season had nothing to do with his performance on the mound, but rather his availability to take it. Gant missed time throughout the season due to groin discomfort, but the public didn’t always know it was happening. While Gant eventually landed on the injured list due to the issue late in the year, the Cardinals held off on that transaction on multiple occasions, hoping rest would alleviate the problem. This led to several circumstances where the public questioned Shildt’s bullpen decisions, because nobody knew Gant was unavailable for that night's game.
When he did pitch, Gant was stellar, harnessing the energy he had early in 2019 when he performed as one of the best relievers in baseball. This year, Gant compiled a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings. His numbers would have been even better if he hadn’t tried to pitch through the groin issue that left him clearly compromised on September 13.
Gant is scheduled to enter his second year of arbitration eligibility this winter. In a normal year, his performance should make it a no-brainer for the team to bring Gant back for 2021, even after he receives an inevitable raise from his $1 million salary last season. After the Cardinals set Kolten Wong loose to save on payroll, though, Gant’s status should not be assumed.
Andrew Miller: B+
2020 was a strange year for Andrew Miller. He dealt with an unknown situation during spring training that left him without a ‘feel’ for the baseball when pitching. The COVID-19 shutdown across MLB probably served as a blessing for Miller’s ability to participate fully in the season.
When it was all said and done, his 2.77 ERA—1.23 in nine September appearances—had Miller looking like his vintage self. His contributions down the stretch for the Cardinals were critical toward the team’s postseason berth, but it’s worth noting that because Miller had such a strong final month, his frequent use triggered a $12 million vesting option for 2021. In a vacuum, that’s not such a bad thing, as Miller performed as a player the Cardinals should be thrilled to retain for next season. Considering the Cardinals just let their starting second baseman walk over $11.5 million, though, it’s easy to imagine that the inclusion of Miller’s salary on the books for 2021 will limit what the Cardinals ownership is willing to spend in other areas of the roster this winter.
Brad Hand of the Cleveland Indians is one of the best relievers in baseball, and his $10 million option was declined by his team last week, a sign that relievers across the game will likely see the short end of the stick in the free-agent market. Miller, though, will be locked in at $12 million for St. Louis next season.
Giovanny Gallegos: B
Giovanny Gallegos was one of the best relievers in all of baseball for the Cardinals in 2019, but his follow-up act in 2020 was a bit rocky. There were, of course, a lot of reasons for that. Gallegos battled COVID-19 before ever getting his season off the ground, and then he dealt with injuries during the campaign that limited his ability to contribute.
His numbers were fine, but his 3.60 ERA would have been far more impressive if not for a three-run appearance from which Gallegos left with a groin injury that landed him on the IL. Hopefully next season gets Gio back to being Gio, because when he’s on, he’s next to impossible to hit.
Ryan Helsley: C+
Another pitcher who had to deal with a bout of COVID-19, Helsley didn’t find much of a rhythm until the last couple weeks of the season. He did set the opposition down over his final five appearances, striking out six batters in 4.2 innings, but his ERA for the season concluded at 5.25. Helsley had an almost unbelievable stretch of troublesome outings when he came off the COVID-IL, allowing at least one earned run in his first five appearances.
Though he settled in eventually, it’s hard to ignore that rough stretch entirely with this grading. Still, it’s hard for outsiders to imagine how difficult performing athletic feats at a high level might be while recovering from a respiratory disease. Helsley gets a passing grade for 2020, and should still be a significant contributor to the future of the Cardinals.
Jake Woodford: C
Woodford threw 21 innings for the Cardinals this season, mostly as a reliever with one start mixed in. He was the definition of a ‘long-man,’ filling the mop of role for the Cardinals in several instances. His 5.57 ERA wasn’t anything special, but the Cardinals needed innings desperately in 2020, and Woodford provided enough of them to merit his own bullet point in this segment of the team report cards.
Seth Elledge, Nabil Crismatt, Rob Kaminsky, Kodi Whitley, Ricardo Sanchez, Junior Fernandez, Ryan Meisinger, Jesus Cruz and yes, even Roel Ramirez (Heck, Max Schrock, too): A+
The Cardinals used a total of 26 pitchers in 2020, including infielder Max Schrock (who was claimed on waivers by the Cubs this week, coincidentally). The scheduling complications surrounding the Cardinals’ COVID-19 outbreak had the potential to completely wreck the team’s competitive chances this season. To varying degrees, this group of pitchers helped to ensure that didn’t happen.
Some of these names were players destined for a greater role whose COVID diagnosis left them without much of a body of work in 2020. Others weren’t expected to contribute at all, but ended up filling vital innings for a pitching staff stretched to the end of its rope by constant doubleheaders and other injuries. Some performed better than others—not going to harp too much on Roel Ramirez tying the wrong kind of MLB record—but all were part of keeping the Cardinals afloat in an unforgettable summer of St. Louis baseball.
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