Paul Goldschmidt and the Cardinals Just Might Be the Most Exciting Team in MLB

Zachary D. RymerJune 7, 2022

St. Louis Cardinals' Paul Goldschmidt (46) celebrates with teammates after hitting a three-run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

Before we get to how they're flipping the script in 2022, is it fair to first establish that the St. Louis Cardinals have a reputation for being boring?

Why, yes. It is. Google knows. Run a search for "Cardinals boring," and the results range from Reddit threads to blog posts to even acceptance from within the organization.

"We are boring," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told Bob Nightengale of USA Today back in March 2015, also adding: "Vanilla are our colored sprinkles."

That the Redbirds went on to win 100 games that year is perhaps the ultimate proof that being entertaining and being good are not mutually inclusive. From a broader perspective, there's also the fact that the Cardinals won the most games of any National League team between 2000 and 2021 despite their bland rap. Say what you will about the oft-mocked and vaguely defined "Cardinal Way," but there was something to it.

Yet in spite of all the familiar faces that are still in the Cardinals dugout on any given day, there's just something different about this year's team. Heck, something special.

At 32-23 for the season, the Cardinals quite good once again in 2022. They're also getting better, as their 12-5 run in their last 17 games has put them within a half-game of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. What's more, Milwaukee's plus-26 run differential isn't even half of St. Louis' plus-54 mark.

While this is pretty much business as usual for the Cardinals, what's not is that they're also just unusually fun to watch. In specific and very much quantifiable ways to some extents, yet also in ways that are very much not to other extents.

Gotta Love That Corner Infield Duo

St. Louis Cardinals' Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado celebrate scoring on a double by Brendan Donovan against the Chicago Cubs in the 10th inning of the second game of a baseball doubleheader, Saturday, June 4, 2022, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (AP Photo/Mark Black)
AP Photo/Mark Black

Back in April, the Cardinals hitter who was making it impossible to look away was Nolan Arenado. The veteran third baseman had one of the best months of his career, hitting .375 with five home runs to earn NL Player of the Month honors.

More recently, Paul Goldschmidt has stolen the spotlight from Arenado and, well, basically every other hitter in Major League Baseball.

The 34-year-old followed up Arenado's triumphant April with his own Player of the Month-winning effort in May, hitting .404 with 10 home runs and 33 runs driven in. He's the first player to hit all three of those marks in any month since Cody Bellinger in April of 2019, and only the ninth all-time to do it in May.

Is he still hot in June? Yeah, you bet he's still hot in June:

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

GOLDY GONE! <a href="https://t.co/VV1CsGcfKq">pic.twitter.com/VV1CsGcfKq</a>

Goldschmidt is working on a season unlike even any of the ones he had in his days as an annual All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks between 2013 and 2018. His .343 average, .423 on-base percentage and 1.031 OPS are each tops among National League hitters, and he's on pace for over 200 hits and 30 home runs.

Though Arenado, who was a five-time All-Star for the Colorado Rockies before coming to St. Louis last year, cooled off around the time that Goldschmidt caught fire, he's started warming up again with a .357 average over his last seven games.

If this keeps up, the Goldschmidt-Arenado duo will be the two-headed monster that the Cardinals have been dreaming of since they paired the two last year.

Gotta Love That Emerging Slugger

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 03:  Nolan Gorman #16 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a three-run home run in the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 03, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Nolan Gorman still leads the Triple-A International League in OPS at 1.044, and he likewise maintains a share of the lead in home runs with 15.

Not bad, considering he hasn't suited up for the Memphis Redbirds since May 18.

Those numbers basically made Gorman, 22, preordained to be a handful for major league pitchers, and that's proved to be the case as he's posted a .950 OPS and three home runs over his first 14 games.

Of all the words one could use to describe those home runs, "cheap" is not one of them:

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

FIRST MLB HOME RUN FOR <a href="https://twitter.com/NolanGorman?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NolanGorman</a>‼️ <a href="https://t.co/r0mlSdP5rw">pic.twitter.com/r0mlSdP5rw</a>

That was Gorman going 449 feet for his first career homer on May 28. His other two homers also crossed the 400-foot threshold, and the average distance on all his batted balls comes out to 243 feet. That's presently the best such mark in baseball.

That's a lot of oomph for a guy who, at 6'1", 210 pounds, isn't exactly Judge-ian or Stanton-ian in stature. But it's always been there, with Keith Law of The Athletic noting that Gorman had 80-grade power potential even as a draft prospect in 2018.

Gotta Love That One Electrifying Arm

St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley (56) delivers during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)
AP Photo/Jim Rassol

Elsewhere on the topic of power, a Cardinals pitching staff that's primarily centered on veteran finesse types like Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson nonetheless also features perhaps baseball's best pure power pitcher: Ryan Helsley.

Even as he's shared the bullpen with excellent closer Giovanny Gallegos, Helsley has had little trouble separating himself from the pack in allowing just one earned run on six hits and five walks through 21.1 innings.

The 27-year-old has also struck out 30 batters, including 15 on a fastball that he's run as high as 103 mph:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Ryan Helsley. 103mph πŸ”₯ <a href="https://t.co/22Eatp0NzC">pic.twitter.com/22Eatp0NzC</a>

In addition to all that velocity, Helsley's heater is also in the 99th percentile for spin rate. Opposing hitters have yet to discover the solution for it, as they're just 2-for-37 against it.

Granted, Helsley doesn't have Josh Hader's 18 saves or 0.00 ERA. Yet he does boast an expected batting average of .087, the best of all qualified hurlers in the National League.

Gotta Love That Defense and Baserunning

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 12: St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman (19) gets ready to throw to first base for an out during a Major League Baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals on April 12, 2022, at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO.  (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),
Icon Sportswire

Statistically speaking, there's a case to be made that the Cardinals defense has actually regressed from 2021. It's gone from ranking second in efficiency and defensive runs saved last year to ranking joint-11th and joint-14th respectively in both departments thus far in 2022.

The eye test, though, is far kinder to this Cardinals defense.

In Arenado, Goldschmidt and Tommy Edman, the Redbirds have Gold Glovers in three of the four spots on their infield, which has allowed just a .213 average on ground balls.

Arenado has kept highlight reel editors busy:

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

Give Nolan Arenado the Gold Glove right now! <a href="https://t.co/vPJUtndy29">pic.twitter.com/vPJUtndy29</a>

And yet perhaps not as busy as Edman has kept them:

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

It doesn't matter where you put <a href="https://twitter.com/TommyEdman11?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TommyEdman11</a>. He's going to play elite defense!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/STLCards?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#STLCards</a> x <a href="https://twitter.com/ShaneCompany?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ShaneCompany</a> <a href="https://t.co/qFtvT98vwn">pic.twitter.com/qFtvT98vwn</a>

The Cardinals also have one of baseball's rangiest center fielders in Harrison Bader, and he's not alone in also excelling at punishing overly ambitious runners with his arm. The entire Cardinals outfield is tied for second with 12 assists, with Brendan Donovan accounting for three of those in just 87 innings in the field.

Yet the team's best arm is still stationed behind the plate, where Yadier Molina continues to make ridiculous throws even as his 40th birthday looms on July 13:

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

Play isn't as easy as it appears!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/STLCards?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#STLCards</a> x <a href="https://twitter.com/CapitalOne?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CapitalOne</a> <a href="https://t.co/9f02Nz8Kt9">pic.twitter.com/9f02Nz8Kt9</a>

Meanwhile, other teams can only wish that they had their very own Molina behind the plate when they play the Cardinals.

That would make it easier to shut down a running game that's so far produced an MLB-best 44 stolen bases against only eight failed attempts. St. Louis baserunners also take an extra base on hits more than half the time they get the chance, and 34 percent of the runners the team puts on ultimately come home to score.

Gotta Love That Vibe

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 18:  Albert Pujols #5 and Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals have a laugh after the second inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 18, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

To be sure, "fun" isn't always a manifestation of the abilities of individual players or of a team as a whole. It's also a vibe, and one that the Cardinals didn't emanate prior to 2022. Something resembling mechanical precision was what crafted their boring reputation.

"Those guys are like robots," former catcher Miguel Montero said of the Cardinals back in 2018. "They all play a certain way, and you never know who they are. But they are all good."

To this end, really the best illustration of how much the Cardinals have changed in 2022 has nothing to do with Goldschmidt's or Arenado's hitting, Gorman's slugging, Helsley's fireballing or any of their many talented defenders' defending.

Rather, it's Albert Pujols pitching on May 15:

Or, if you prefer, Molina taking the mound for a pitching appearance of his own just a week later on May 22:

Letting position players pitch was simply not part of the "Cardinal Way" before this year. Even as pitching appearances by hitters proliferated in 2019 and especially in 2021, then-manager Mike Shildt let just one position player take the mound both years.

New manager Oliver Marmol has not only gone to that well twice already, but with two of the most celebrated players in the history of the franchise and the sport at large to boot. That surely speaks to how much more casually the 35-year-old skipper is operating, and yet he's doing so while also commanding respect even from the club's trifecta of foremost veterans.

"I think he was being groomed to be the manager," Wainwright, 40, told Hannah Keyser of Yahoo.

"He's young, but this is a guy that has a lot of wisdom," added Pujols. "Knows the game more than what you think."

It would also be a monumental oversight to ignore what Pujols himself has meant to these Cardinals. Throughout his first 21 seasons in the majors, he was the ultimate professional as he put together a resume worthy of the inner circle of the Hall of Fame. But now, in his return to St. Louis after a decade away, the 42-year-old's lighter side is really coming through.

"You have to have fun," Pujols told ESPN's Jesse Rogers. "I'm blessed to be back here where it all started."

It's oh so tempting to consider all this and conclude that the "Cardinal Way" must finally be dead. But maybe that's taking it too far. Instead, perhaps it's simply evolved.

Whatever this new form is, one thing it's certainly not is boring.