I’m a sunshine and lollipops guy…the glass if half full…when life hands me lemons, I like to make lemonade…I see the world through rose colored glasses (except when I looked at the Blues in December). Anyway, as spring training opens for the 2019 Cardinals, I’m an optimist! Here’s a six-pack of things that make me believe this year is going to be special…
1) Paul Goldschmidt is here! : With all due respect to Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, the six-time All-Star is the best player the Cardinals have had since Albert Pujols. Since 2013, Goldschmidt ranks second in the National League in home runs, RBI, hits, runs, walks and extra base hits. He’s fifth in OPS among active players, behind Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera and Pujols; ahead of Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper. He’s a four-time Silver Slugger and a three-time Gold Glove winner. If ever a team acquired a true difference maker, the Cardinals did when they traded three prospects for Goldschmidt. Among current MLB players with less than ten years of experience, only Mike Trout has a higher career WAR than Goldschmidt’s 40.1. Goldy is nineteenth among all active players in WAR. He’s a player that’s worth the price of admission, a true superstar.
2) Pitching wins the World Series, and the Cardinals have lots of it: Last year the Red Sox relied on bullpen pieces like Matt Barnes, Ryan Brazier and Nathan Eovaldi in the World Series, building a bridge to Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel. The Sox also used Chris Sale and David Price out of the bullpen in the post-season, after using eleven starting pitchers during the regular season. Heading into 2019, the Cardinals obviously have Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright, but can back them up with Austin Gomber, John Gant, Dakota Hudson, Daniel Ponce de Leon and even perhaps Alex Reyes. The bullpen has depth with at least thirteen viable pitchers for bullpen duty at some point during the season. The Redbirds have an interesting 40-man roster in that there isn’t a pitcher on it that won’t be able to pitch in the majors in 2019.
3) The infield defense is as good as anyone’s: With the Redbirds, it starts behind the plate where Molina won his ninth Gold Glove. He sets the standard defensively for the club. Goldschmidt was fourth among National League first basemen with six defensive runs saved last year. He’s one of the best in the business. Kolten Wong, despite not winning the Gold Glove at second base, was dominant defensively with nineteen DRS in 896.2 innings, first in the NL and sixth among all MLB players. Paul DeJong was second in DRS among regular N.L. shortstops, behind only Nick Ahmed of Arizona. And Matt Carpenter was actually more than representative at third base. His six DRS were his highest at any position in any year he’s ever played. Take the statistic with a grain of salt if you like, but only Travis Shaw of Milwaukee, Johan Carmargo of the Braves and Evan Longoria of the Giants had more DRS at 3B than Carpenter last year. By the way, I know Nolan Arenado plays in the league, that’s why I say take the stats with a grain of salt. My point is that this Cardinal infield should be able to buckle down and play great defense.
4) Mike Shildt is a new-school manager with old school baseball values: Shildt understands that he’s in the communication business with his players. Last year one of the things he had to accomplish when he took over was to lift a seeming sluggishness from around the entire ballpark, and he did. The mood and feel around the team freshened up, and a happier group was a more productive group. Shildt will use the tools presented to him by analytics, but won’t be owned by the numbers. He gets that players are still human beings, and that’s important. Players picked up on that last year. As a disciple of George Kissell, Shildt will spend the early part of spring training implanting strict fundamentals. So, the Cardinal slogan of “tradition meets today” will apply in the dugout, too.
5) Marcell Ozuna HAS to be better, right? : As it turns out, Ozuna arrived with a shoulder that was worse than what the Cardinals thought it was when they acquired him. After surgery, he should have more freedom of movement and hopefully fewer limitations in his swing. Even with the problems he played with, Ozuna slashed .299/.351/.506 after the All Star break last year and wound up leading the Cardinals in RBI. If he’s healthy, The Big Bear could be a monster…and could really allow Goldschmidt to see some good pitches.
6) The Redbirds appear to have their edge back: Friend and colleague Bernie Miklasz has noted how and when the Cubs took a mental edge over the Cardinals in the division, when Joe Maddon’s club took on the bully role. But this off-season, when the Cubs Kris Bryant called St. Louis a boring place to play, he was summarily brushed off by a Molina Instagram post. Word is that Yadi was even more forceful about the incident in comments to his teammates. The point is, they aren’t going to take any crap from Maddon and the Cubs in 2019. That little set-to will make the Cards-Cubs rivalry even more enjoyable.
Spring has sprung. Hope springs eternal. Everyone has a chance at this time of year. It’s just that the Cardinals’ chances are better.