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Know your enemy: St. Louis Cardinals

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The Cubs’ biggest rival has gotten better. Or have they?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

KEY ADDITIONS: Nolan Arenado

KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Kolten Wong, Dexter Fowler, Brad Miller, Matt Wieters, John Brebbia, Rangel Ravelo, Austin Gomber

A lot of people have assumed that the big trade that brought Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals in exchange for four minor leaguers and Austin Gomber would immediately rocket St. Louis to being the division favorite.

But that’s not where Fangraphs has them — in fact, the Fangraphs projection has no NL Central team with a winning record. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA method has the Cardinals third behind the Brewers and Cubs.

Of course, those are projections, not predictions, and always subject to change.

Why is this?

Arenado is a great player, no question. There IS some question about the “Coors Effect” regarding his performance now that Busch Stadium will be his home park. I wrote up something about that here right after the trade was made. A comparison of sorts can be made with Arenado’s new teammate Paul Goldschmidt. Granted, Chase Field in Phoenix isn’t the launching pad that Coors Field is, but Goldschmidt hit .297/.398/.532 in eight years with the Diamondbacks. That’s slipped a bit to .270/.364/.473 in Goldy’s two years in St. Louis.

Nevertheless, Arenado will make the Cardinals offense better. But questions remain about their starting rotation, which for the 100th 14th season will feature Adam Wainwright, who re-signed again with the Cards after testing free agency. Wainwright had a good year in the shortened 60-game season, but he is now 39 and that can’t last forever. Can it?

Yadier Molina, the guy Cubs fans love to hate, also returns to the Cardinals for his 18th big-league season. His 2020 season was just “meh” and he is not far behind Wainwright in age. He’ll turn 39 in July.

The Cardinals have Jack Flaherty leading their rotation but a lot of the other starting pitchers are question marks. That, and a bullpen still missing Jordan Hicks, are the biggest things St. Louis will have to worry about in 2021.

Will they be a good team? Most probably. Are they going to roar through this division and win 100 games just because Nolan Arenado is now on the team? Most probably not.

Former Cub Matt Szczur is in Cardinals camp on a NRI. That’d be interesting, if he makes the team.

Otherwise this team is pretty much the same one that gave the Cubs a run for it in the NL Central in 2020 despite multiple COVID-19 postponements that forced them to play 11 doubleheaders, including three against the Cubs. Our old pal Dexter Fowler was swapped to the Angels, so we won’t see him face the Cubs this year.

The Cubs are scheduled to play the Cardinals 19 times in 2020, but won’t meet until the 44th scheduled game of the season:

June 11-12-13, July 9-10-11 and September 24-25-26 (the last three home games of 2021) at Wrigley Field

May 21-22-23, July 19-20-21-22 and October 1-2-3 (the last three games of the regular season) at Busch Stadium