With only 60 games in the regular season for 2020, the St. Louis Cardinals can’t afford a slow start.
One of the strengths of a good major league manager is patience. Especially when it comes to allowing veterans to play out of any type of early struggles on the field. Whether it’s a batter struggling at the plate or a pitcher struggling to find the strike zone, a good manager will often allow his veterans time to work out these early struggles before benching them.
Mike Shildt has shown this strength. He has allowed veteran players such as Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and Paul DeJong opportunities to work through early struggles at the plate. The same can be said for veteran pitchers such as Andrew Miller and Michael Wacha.
However, in a COVID-19 shortened 60-game season for 2020, this strength or virtue could be costly and possibly place the St. Louis Cardinals in an early hole in which they couldn’t climb out from.
In fact, a recent piece by Andrew Simon at MLB.com shows how the postseason picture could have been much different in recent seasons with only a 60-game regular season schedule. For example, in 2019, the Cardinals and the Nationals both fall short of the postseason after only 60 games. Meanwhile, the Cubs and Phillies both land postseason births.
The playoff picture would have also looked different for the Cardinals in 2012 and 2014 by being left out of the postseason. However, in 2016, they would have been in with an eventual 78-83 Pittsburgh Pirates
So getting a fast start out of the gate will be more important in 2020 than in any previous season. Mike Shildt will not have the luxury of being patient with a slow start by a veteran player.
Shildt’s potential Matt Carpenter Conundrum
By most accounts, Matt Carpenter will be the DH going into the season. It makes sense because it would allow Tommy Edman to move to third base. This would help solidify the defense since Edman’s is the better defensive third baseman.
However, Mike Shildt can’t afford to be patient with Carpenter if he gets off to a start as he did in 2018 and 2019. Carpenter hit a slash line of .155/.305/.274 in 25 games during April of 2018. He did pick it up after April, but with a 60 game season, can Shildt afford to wait for Carpenter to find his way out of an early slump?
In 2019, Carpenter never really got on track until September, when he hit a slash line of .267/.366/.500 in 24 games. But during the first 60 games of the season, his slash line was only .221/.331/.392.
Shildt showed incredible patience with Carpenter in 2019, giving him every opportunity to try to play out of his early-season struggles. It wasn’t until Carpenter went won the DL in early July, that he was finally removed from the everyday lineup.
This is a luxury he won’t be able to afford in 2020.
The Dexter Fowler type potential Conundrum
Another type of potential situation facing Mike Shildt will be if a veteran player gets off to a very good start but then cools off in the middle of this 60 game season. Looking at Dexter Fowler’s 2019 gives us an example of the potential conundrum this could create.
Fowler started 2019 hitting a slash line of .313/.415/.425 in the first 26 games of the season. Shildt’s confidence and patience with Fowler seemed to be paying off. However, during the next 23 games, the switch hitter only managed a slash line .171/.341/,329. Would Shildt be able to afford Fowler the patience to work out of a one month slump in 2020?
Fowler still played 150 games in 2019, and his offense was up and down all season long. He recovered in July and August, with OPS’s respectfully of .806 and .849. Nevertheless, he finished the year hitting a slash line of .183/.325/.312 during the last 26 games.
The Paul DeJong type potential Conundrum
There will probably be certain players who Mike Shildt would be forced to allow to play out of an early slump, primarily since there is really no one on the roster to take their place. These would include Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, and Kolten Wong.
But what about Paul DeJong?
Paul DeJong offers skills that would be hard to replace. He offers power at the plate and has shown he can play Gold-Glove-caliber defense. But in 2019, after a hot start where he hit a slash line of .342/.403/.607 with five homers and 13 RBI in 29 games, his slash line dropped off dramatically the rest of the season.
In fact, he never hit above .233 any month the rest of the season and only had a .175 BA during the stretch run in September. Still yet, DeJong managed to hit 30 homers, second only to Paul Goldschmidt’s 34.
What would MIke Shildt do in 2020 if Paul DeJong slumped after the first 30 games? Would he allow DeJong’s right-handed bat time to find his stroke? If he didn’t who would Shildt turn to replace the 26-year old Illinois State alum? Brad Miller? Miller has some power potential, but certainly not DeJong’s glove and isn’t really a shortstop.
I don’t mean to throw darts at any one or two players, especially Matt Carpenter or even Dexter Fowler. They are just potential situations that could arise during the 2020 COVID-19 shorten season which would challenge Mike Shildt’s patience and force him or the front office to make an early lineup or roster change.
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There are other players the Cardinals may be forced to take a hard look at early in the season. Certainly, Harrison Bader is the most defensively talented outfielder on the Cardinals roster. But if he struggles at the plate coming out of the gate in 2020, then Shildt would be forced to turn to one of his other young outfielders.
What if Andrew Miller and Adam Wainwright struggle in three or four straight outings? Could Mike Shildt afford to keep giving them the ball?
Sooner or later in 2020, Mike Shildt’s patience will be tested, and he will have to pull the plug on a player he would normally give a longer leash. Mike Shildt will need to be a different manager in 2020.