St. Louis Cardinals: Punt on the season, but not on Harrison Bader

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 04: Harrison Bader #48 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after striking out to end the second inning in game two of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 04, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 04: Harrison Bader #48 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after striking out to end the second inning in game two of the National League Division Series at SunTrust Park on October 04, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals need to treat this season as a lost cause, but they shouldn’t be so quick with Harrison Bader.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the baseball world upside down, but the St. Louis Cardinals have been hit harder than most teams. With such an abbreviated season, the Cardinals should plan for next year. And that puts Harrison Bader in the crosshairs.

The roster has been decimated in the last few days, with pitchers, catchers, and infielders afflicted with the virus. The team is in shambles, and the rival Chicago Cubs are looking like the real deal. It’s a great time to let other players on the roster show what they can do, and nobody needs this miniature downswing more than Bader.

Many fans are clamoring for top prospect Dylan Carlson to supplant Bader in center field this season. I don’t think that’s a great idea. If the team had not been hit so hard by the virus and its key parts were available, I might be singing a different tune. But as it is, Bader should receive one more shot to prove himself.

Cardinals fans know how it is with Bader: He’s great in the outfield and fleet of foot, but his hitting ability is subpar at best. Deeper analytics show Bader has an especially difficult time hitting breaking balls, and opposing pitchers have figured this out.

Bader’s stats this year mostly reflected his stats from last year, although his strikeout totals increased drastically. Bader whiffed 15 times in 36 at-bats in spring training, and he followed that with 5 strikeouts in 11 at-bats in the regular season. This is not good, and time is not on his side. Bader needs to make adjustments, and he needs to make them now.

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When the Cardinals get back on the field, I want to see Bader in the lineup almost every day. The Cardinals shouldn’t worry about winning this season; they should worry about getting Bader enough at-bats and unlocking any hidden potential. If the coaches can figure out how to get Bader to hit the breaking ball, he could be a very dangerous player.

Carlson might be the future in the outfield, but he should wait one more season. Ideally, he would replace the aging Dexter Fowler instead of Bader. I’m also not keen on removing a player from the 40-man roster and sending him through waivers to make room for Carlson in what should be considered a lost season for the Cardinals.

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If Bader doesn’t show signs of progress at the plate this season, it might be for the best to move on. But promoting a top prospect this season should not be on the Cardinals’ agenda. There is nothing to lose here except baseball games, and with Cardinals in such a rut with COVID-19, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that they’d be doing a lot of that anyway.