As bad as this year has been for the St. Louis Cardinals so far, there is still a chance for this team to make some noise with the accumulation of talent that is on the roster. If they do want to make a run, it starts with the best hitters in the lineup.
Yes, there have been some injuries to the best hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals this year in Marcell Ozuna, but there is still quite a bit of offensive talent on this team. Let’s not forget how exciting it was to receive Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason, and the expectations that came with it.
This was supposed to be it. The team that had the talent to break the St. Louis Cardinals long postseason drought. The group that was supposed to bring excitement back to Cardinals baseball. Obviously, things haven’t gone according to plan.
But that’s just it. Fans are dismissing this team as just not having enough talent, but that just seems wrong. Injuries to guys like Jordan Hicks, Ozuna, and Yadier Molina have certainly made this difficult, but this team is definitely still one with the talent to compete.
Right now, it’s about people playing at a level reflective of that talent, which you could make the argument that no one on the offensive end besides Ozuna and Dexter Fowler (and Tyler O’Neill, though he still doesn’t have enough PA’s to make a judgment) are playing at the level they should be.
While the struggles of these hitters has made things incredibly difficult, there are two in particular that are far more pronounced because of their position as the two expected leaders in the hitting department.
The first is the aforementioned Paul Goldschmidt, who is beginning to make slow starts a new career trend. He was brought in to be the anchor of the lineup, but an anchor with a sub .800 OPS is not an effective one. Having 17 homers is an encouraging sign, but the St. Louis Cardinals need him to get back closer to his career OPS of .917 for the team to start making any progress.
The other is Matt Carpenter, the man who almost put on a Golden Sombrero in 6 innings against a 4+ ERA starter and Goldy’s former squad. It’s hard to sugarcoat his performance this year, and having that level of production from your leadoff hitter is not something that spells sustainable success.
It hasn’t looked very good either. Swings where Marp is outright missing the ball by a full bat-length have become more and more prevalent, and it almost seems like he is only able to see whether or not the ball is coming into the strike zone or not, as opposed to where the ball actually is.
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These two guys are the ones the St. Louis Cardinals were expecting to bear the brunt of leading the charge in one of the most important St. Louis Cardinals seasons in recent memory. Sure, winning a World Series is great, but this season was pivotal because it was supposed to be an transition into Mike Shildt’s tenure and a new era for the team.
Instead, the ride has been tenuous, Shildt hasnt quite found the right combination, and St. Louis Cardinals fans are far from the expectations and aspirations that made fans so excited for the 2019 season.
You could argue that some of that is on Shildt and some of the oddball lineups and move missteps that he has made, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cardinals need to simply start hitting the ball, and it starts with these two. If and when Carp and Goldy get going, the rest of the offense might not follow as immediately or drastically, but the difference in each hitter and the situations they are in will be tangible.
As they are now, the St. Louis Cardinals don’t have any real “star power” in the lineup. Someone to be afraid of, the one they plan for as soon as that lineup card turns, the guy they would pitch around even when it seems ludicrous simply because it’s better than giving up a long bomb. That type of presence creates tension and pressure for a pitcher, which in turn makes it easier for the rest of the lineup to work them.
Right now, pitchers are able to settle in against a team who only has more total bases in the NL than the Miami Marlins, who should more appropriately be called the Miami Flounders with how terrible they have been in recent years. Even when you get guys on base and in scoring position, if a pitcher doesn’t really have to worry about any of the hitters in a lineup, it can still be hard to score runs.
If Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt can rebound from the tough starts that they have had this season, the St. Louis Cardinals are talented enough to rebound in turn. But if they don’t, even when the team is healthy, it is hard to see this under performing iteration of the team going anywhere in October.