ST. LOUIS — The dog days of summer could hardly have been more prominent at Busch Stadium over the weekend, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees and the St. Louis Cardinals riding a four-game losing streak, securing another losing homestand.
After being throttled by the New York Mets for three straight games, it was clear the Cardinals were in dire need of a win on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to Paul Goldschmidt’s 20th home run of the season, a solid start from Dakota Hudson and a standout game from Ronnie Palacios, they were able to secure a 7-3 victory over New York to close out the series.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) August 20, 2023
The win ensured the club would not fall a season-worst 17 games under .500, but most Cardinals fans checked out from the National League Central standings weeks ago. There have not been many bright spots for this team since the trade deadline, when they all but mathematically confirmed they would not be competing for the postseason this year. But as the organization shifts toward 2024, there are plenty of players currently rostered that could factor into those plans.
Let’s take a look at three players the Cardinals will be evaluating as they begin to piece together their 2024 blueprint.
RHP Dakota Hudson
Marmol often uses the term “repeatability” when evaluating pitchers vying for rotation consideration next year. Dakota Hudson hasn’t been the same since undergoing Tommy John surgery after his breakout season in 2019, but he’s been the Cardinals’ most consistent starter as of late. His outing Sunday, when he allowed two earned runs and tied a season-high with seven strikeouts, marked his fourth consecutive start in which he recorded at least five innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer.
Throughout his career, Hudson has predominantly been a groundball, pitch-to-contact arm thanks to his sinker. He has never generated a ton of whiffs or strikeouts. But he’s struck out seven in two of his past four starts, and his slider location is the primary reason.
“I think it’s more about location, and not so much about being nasty,” Hudson said. “It’s more a mentality of getting it to the right place and hopefully the right things are happening it, but it’s been all about location.”
Hudson as he improves to 5-0 this season: “Records are great, but it’s really a tip of a cap to how well the team has been playing behind me … It’s fun to play baseball with guys that are getting after it.” #STLCards pic.twitter.com/DptHbRAYwo
— Bally Sports Midwest (@BallySportsMW) August 20, 2023
As a sinkerball pitcher, Hudson is most effective when he’s locating down in the zone. However, he still has to access the top of the zone and change speed and location in order to keep big-league hitters guessing. Since the start of August, Hudson has been able to consistently fill the zone and command the baseball, limiting hitters to seven free passes over 24 innings.
“That slider out of my hand feels like the one I was throwing in 2019,” Hudson said. “I think it’s in the right spot, a little bit more power to go with it. It’s been a tough road to get it mechanically right, but I feel like I’m right there.”
With just two starting pitchers under contract for 2024 (Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz) the Cardinals will explore all internal options to shore up next year. However, no matter how Hudson (or other budding arms like Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson) fare to close out the year, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak will still enter the offseason looking to add three starting pitchers from outside the organization. Still, Hudson’s progression is encouraging, especially as the organization pivots toward roster construction for next season.
SS Masyn Winn
Top prospect Masyn Winn’s promotion to the major leagues late Thursday night sparked the most excitement in St. Louis since the trade deadline. With infielders Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman sidelined, and Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar ‘s injuries causing Tommy Edman to move to center field more often than not, Winn has taken over as the Cardinals’ everyday shortstop. However, even if some of these key players return (Gorman and Nootbaar could rejoin the team during the second half of the upcoming road trip), Winn will still be the starting shortstop.
“We were hoping to get him to the big leagues at some point this season,” Mozeliak said. “We were thinking more like when we expanded the rosters (in September) but due to the injuries, we had no choice but to begin that now.”
“We definitely feel he’s earned it,” Mozeliak added. “It’s an exciting time for him and obviously he’ll be able to get some major-league experience under his belt before the 2024 season.”
A moment he’ll never forget.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) August 19, 2023
There are a couple of caveats regarding Winn’s playing time. In order to keep Winn’s rookie status intact for 2024, Winn cannot take more than 130 at-bats for the big-league club this year. He also may not exceed 45 days on the active roster, but since he was activated with exactly 45 days remaining in the regular season, that is a non-concern for the club.
“What was really driving the timing of this was just trying to strike that right balance between the guys we currently have on our major-league club and finding that right fit,” Mozeliak explained. “In other words, had Donovan not gotten hurt, had Gorman not gotten hurt, that’s when things would’ve gotten a little bit trickier to find playing time. But now with these injuries, there’s no reason why he won’t have an opportunity to get some at-bats.
“Certainly we didn’t bring (Winn) up just to sit him on the bench. … (We’re) wanting to see his approach and you’re hoping he has some level of comfort but also understands the urgency of what it’s like to play in this league.”
So far, so good in that regard for Winn. After notching his first hit in his major-league debut Friday night (an infield single on a ball that Pete Alonso absent-mindedly threw into the crowd), Winn followed up with a two-hit day on Sunday. He’s also thoroughly impressed his manager, who’s excited to see what Winn can do in the six-week trial period remaining in the year.
“I think it’s really important for someone like Masyn to get a taste of this before the year is over,” Marmol said. “Because you go into the offseason prepping for the upcoming year not wondering what it’s going to be like, but now you have an expectation of what’s it like, and you’re preparing to go and dominate it. There’s a difference in how you approach your offseason once you’ve tasted it. You know what it’s like, there’s no unknown of what it’s going to be like up here. So this is good to get him up here now.
“He’s confident in what he’s able to do, and he backs it up. I respect that.”
After being in the Cardinals’ organization for less than three weeks, pitching prospect Drew Rom will make his major-league debut Monday at PNC Park. Rom was tabbed with the spot start after Liberatore, Monday’s original scheduled starter, experienced back tightness while lifting weights after his previous start and was not able to throw his usual bullpen session. The tightness was not considered serious, but the Cardinals preferred to push Liberatore back a couple of days rather than rush him through another turn in the rotation. He’ll now start Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rom, the headlining prospect the Cardinals acquired from Baltimore in their trade of Jack Flaherty at the deadline, was promptly added to the club’s 40-man roster before making two starts for Triple-A Memphis. He impressed in both of them. Since joining the organization, Rom has allowed just two hits and one earned run over 11 innings. He’s recorded just four walks compared to 18 strikeouts, displaying the alluring swing-and-miss trait the Cardinals have been coveting in their rotation. Rom won’t light up the radar gun — his fastball usually sits low 90s — but he can effectively mix speeds between his three-pitch arsenal to miss bats.
The Cardinals will restructure their rotation following Liberatore’s start, but Zack Thompson — who was added to the rotation when Steven Matz landed on the injured list with a lat strain — will continue to start. Adam Wainwright will also make his next start after notching a quality start against the Mets on Thursday.
(Photo of Masyn Winn: Joe Puetz / USA Today)