St. Louis Cardinals: Can Dexter Fowler ignite the Cards’ offense?

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 13: Dexter Fowler
ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 13: Dexter Fowler /

Dexter Fowler starts his second season with the St. Louis Cardinals restored to the leadoff spot.  The Cardinals expect him to help ignite the new and improved 2018  offensive lineup.

Outfielder Dexter Fowler returns in 2018 to a familiar role: hitting lead off for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Manager Mike Matheny recently announced that Fowler would be returning to the leadoff spot this year, after losing the role in 2017.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed Fowler in December, 2016, they were wanting a player with speed who could get on base at the top of the lineup.  This would allow the Cardinals to shift Matt Carpenter to a more RBI-producing role in the middle of lineup that they believed he was better suited for.

However, a slow start by Fowler, Carpenter, and Aledmys Diaz forced the Redbirds to jumble their order, moving Fowler to the middle of the lineup.   With that, the Cardinals plan for an offense focused on speed and high on-base percentage was thrown out the door.

In fact, Dexter Fowler had his career-best home runs and RBIs in 2017.  His final offensive numbers were .264 BA with 18 HR and 64 RBIs.  Fowler also had a slash line of .363/.488/.851/.122.

But hitting in the middle of the order was not why the St. Louis Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract.  They signed the former Cub to hit leadoff and ignite the top of the lineup.

Consequently, the Cardinals have reinstalled Fowler at lead-off.  As Derrick Goold said in a recent article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “the Cardinals have outfitted the lineup with a variety of hitters that they believe will bring a better blend to the offense.”

Or as Dexter Fowler says,” we can beat you in a lot of different ways.”

The St. Louis Cardinals enter the 2018 season believing they have offensive depth they didn’t have last year.  As Goold states in his article, “with the addition of Marcell Ozuma, and the return of Paul DeJong , Tommy Pham , and  Kolten Wong will present fail-safes if some featured players struggle.”

In 2017, the offense got off track when Fowler, Diaz, and Carpenter had low .200 averages five weeks into the season.  Now the Cardinals believe they are protected against such a stretch by key players.

This was evident during the March 11th, Spring Training game against Washington; the Cardinals won 4-3.  Ozuma struck out three times and Fowler did not reach base once.  However, Jose Martinez homered, Paul DeJong homered and doubled, and Yadier Molina singled home a run.

Although, Dexter Fowler has gotten off to a slow start this spring with a batting average hovering around .200, Matheny is not worried.  As Goold reports, Matheny  plans to play his regulars more often together for the rest of spring training.

The Cardinals are counting on Fowler to return to his lead-off ways that he showed with the Cubs during his two seasons in Chicago, that included a World Series Championship.  As Matheny says, “When he was leading off,(in Chicago), it had a different look to the lineup. I could see why that’s something he would take ownership to.  When he’s doing his thing at the top of the lineup, good things happen.”

In 2016, he had a career-best OPS of .393 and WAR of 4.2, during the Cubs World Championship run.

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A debate has brewed this offseason among Cardinal fans, bloggers, and media whether Dexter Fowler or Matt Carpenter should lead off.  Even among the Redbird Rants contributors, we have been divided.  Some addressing Carpenter’s high on-base percentage vs Fowler’s on-base percentage.  But others pointing out Fowler’s speed and switch-hitting abilities vs Carpenter’s speed and only batting from one side of the plate (left).

As Goold points out in his article, Fowler had more at-bats in 2017 elsewhere in the lineup than at leadoff (53vs51).  In those 51 games, Fowler managed a batting average of .205 with a .308 OBP, while Carpenter hit .268 with a .418 OBP,

However, for the Cardinals, there is no debate.  Dexter Fowler will be in the leadoff spot for 2018.

Goold best describes the Cardinals attitude when he wrote: “A pivotal part of the lineup working as the Cardinals imagine is having Carpenter (or Martinez) in the middle, freeing Fowler to do what he was signed to do. Get them going.”

The Cardinals have expressed the desire to increase speed and be more aggressive on the base paths. They feel like they can do this better with the switch-hitting speedster Dexter Fowler leading off as opposed to Matt Carpenter.

Therefore, the decision is made.  Whether you like or not, Dexter Fowler will be in the lead off spot on opening day.  Let’s hope he can do what he signed to do: ignite the offense.

Next: 6-man rotation?

What are your thoughts?  Thanks for reading.