St. Louis Cardinals: This Offense Can’t be Trusted

Aug 27, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta reacts against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 27, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta reacts against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Monday, Steven McNeil talked about trusting the St. Louis Cardinals offense. Time to play the devil’s advocate and go the other way.

Can the St. Louis Cardinals be trusted to score enough runs to support the pitching and make a true run at the National League Central title? It’s an honest question as April 3rd edges closer. The offense is merely here to support the pitching staff. It’s like the stay at home parent making a living as a writer and taking care of the kid while the wife heavy lifts most of the finances. Is that enough in 2016? The stakes are higher, the opponents have improved and nothing will come easy.

The Cards averaged 3.99 runs per game in 2015, and that was good enough only because the pitching staff was otherworldly phenomenal. The arms only allowed 525 runs in 162 games (3.24 runs per game for the people not named John Nash and lacking a calculator). That won’t happen again so what are the Cards going to do about it? SCORE MORE!

Can a team that operates on singles and doubles leading to timely hitting generate more offense? This is nothing new folks.  The 2014 Cardinals were led by Jhonny Peralta‘s 21 home runs and Matt Holliday‘s 90 runs driven in. Jon Jay earned a doctorate in patching singles together, Matt Carpenter was almost a machine and power was nowhere to be found. 2015 wasn’t an outlier. It was the reveal of a trend. In 2013, Carlos Beltran was around while Allen Craig and Matt Adams turned first base into a temporary safe haven. They are all gone (2013 Adams included).

2013 also featured a ridiculous average with runners in scoring position. Now that is a true blue outlier. You won’t see a team hit .330 with RISP anytime soon. Seeing it twice will happen right after you win the lottery, perfectly fold a mattress bed sheet and pull triple 7’s four time at the casino. Forget. About. It. After that sweet 4.8 runs per game in 2013 was bolstered by the RISP one shot, guess what the RISP was in 2014. It was a realistic .252. In 2014, it was .242. Nearly a 90 percent drop from 2013 and the wonders of doing so well with Pete Kozma at short for 140 games.

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How will 2016 be different, at least when it comes to projections? A whole season of Randal Grichuk doesn’t turn into Mike Trout unless Sega Genesis is involved. Stephen Piscotty may give you what Jason Heyward did in 2015, but how does that help the cause? Matt Holliday can revert back to 2014 form, but will that help? Jhonny Peralta’s 16-21 home runs and 70 RBI with a .765 OPS is going to be missing for at least half the season. In its place is Ruben Tejada and Aledmys Diaz if the team lets him have a couple cups of coffee and an overnight stay.

Matt Carpenter may not revert back to 11 home runs but he isn’t hitting 28 home runs again (unless you like those 150 strikeouts in the leadoff role). Tommy Pham once again is half blind at the plate, switching between hybrid lenses and regular contacts. I hear he has a pre-order set up with Cyclops, but rumors have it that Wolverine is holding up the exchange. Where is the power coming from or the extra bang?

If you say Matt Adams, prepare to be strangled. That man left his power boom swing in 2013 and it isn’t coming back. It was shipped to Bermuda with Michael Wacha‘s dazzling October display. One way ticket. Brandon Moss is going to have to show me something or get the playing time to show 2015 was a fluke. How many strikeouts will that cost? Can he play enough with Holliday squeezing in at first and Mike Matheny wanting to see if Adams can prove himself worthy? First base is crowded and not in the too many skittles in my Halloween bucket way.

Kolten Wong? Maybe. Depends if he is busy trying out for leadoff hitter wannabe class or finally settling into the “I am lefthanded and have lightning quick hands so let them go” mode. Wong can hit them far, but there are times where I think he is playing advanced calculus in his head and overdoing it. Can he get better with two strikes? Is the slugging going to be hampered because the OBP wants too much attention? I don’t know what to think with Wong. He improved in 2015 overall but that happened with more playing time. I mean, a lot of playing time. He crashed and burned. Part of me thinks he can break out in 2016 and the other part thinks he is what he is.

Hey, Jedd Gyorko is around, but he is a backup. Will he get enough playing time to really improve this offense? He showed some pop in San Diego, but that was as a starter. How will he adjust to not being the guy? He isn’t a shortstop by trade, or at least that is what the front office thought when they went out and got the right handed Tejada, who is about as exciting as dental floss.

I’m sorry if I sound mean or restless. That is not the intention. Just stepping back and staring at the board as the season sits five days away. Recently, I have been called out for moving the goal posts “Trump” like to the weary side of this offense. As if, once upon a time I said this lineup was AWESOME and the team was fine. That never happened.

The truth is I was never sold on this crew of hitters. There’s a lot of “If’s” in this lineup and roster. A lot of hypotheticals. A lot of bets present. The Cards will be fine on offense….IF a lot of stuff goes right. No, every team doesn’t have that problem. Most teams hinge their bets or 1-2 things going well. The Cards need a lot and they also need certain people (named Carp) to not run himself into the ground.

When in doubt, it’s safer to be cynical about something that looks shaky close up. The 2016 Cardinals will be built on pitching. It will go as far as the arms take them. While Wacha may not be a stud, he can still be a decent #4 or #5 if he learns to tell his fastball the heart of the plate isn’t a fun place to cruise six times in a row(sorry Game 3 at Wrigley still stings). The rotation is solid and the bullpen’s motto may be “Always Be Closing”. The offense may be scrapping 3-4 runs per game again. There will be several 3-2 and 2-1 games, at least early on.

Spring training stats can be taken seriously or not, but this lineup has done nothing this March to persuade me from my mindset this winter. General Manager John Mozeliak is taking a risky bet in trusting his internal core. Instead of bringing in Yoenis Cespedes or trading for Carlos Gonzales, he is trusting Grichuk and Piscotty. I feel for the Mo a bit. At one time, he thought February would roll in with David Price and Jason Heyward both wearing the birds on the bat. Life has a funny way of pushing you back on your heels.

Next: The Bats Are Alright

2016 will be defined by one thing. Was the internal option route right? Did Mo make a mistake in not finding this lineup a calming presence. A knockout artist when needed isn’t here. He is a smart man. In the past, it would be unwise to assume he was wrong. 2016 will be a test. Unlike any other.

That is the reason the 162 games are played and trophies aren’t distributed based on offseason spending and expectations alone. That is the only way answers truly form. Play the game.

In the mean time, let’s avoid dropping weights on our foot. This offense doesn’t need to take any more hits before opening day.