On This Opening Day, Best Wishes To Mike Shildt And The 2019 Cardinals

Mike Shildt has his dream job, managing the Cardinals, this time for his first full season. And because the gig feels like something lasting and lengthy instead of a temporary assignment, this role of Shildt’s lifetime means more … and demands more.

The stakes are higher for Shildt now. We’re way past the point of blaming the previous manager for anything that goes wrong in 2019. The Cardinals are Shildty’s team now. He’ll be tied to the successes, the failures. The pleasant surprises and bitter disappointments. The hot streaks and the slumps and the fluctuations of Cardinals baseball through 162 games.

Shildt  more than paid his dues in the minor leagues — superbly serving the organization in a number of important rules — but he’s managed only 69 games in the majors. Some of us realized in advance that Shildt was good, and could be special. So I wasn’t surprised when he  made such a positive first impression, leading the Cardinals to a tie for the most wins in the National League after taking over on July 15.

Shildt did some fine work, especially the way he revived the morale by connecting with the players and giving them a voice in daily meetings, casual meetings, or whenever there was a chance to just talk about baseball. Shildt turned an unhappy team into a spirited outfit, and began the hard work of polishing the team’s muddy fundamentals.

Because of the initial turnaround, the expectations are higher for 2019. Shildt possesses many impressive qualities: intelligence, communication skills, ability to synch with the front office and the players, a respect for the old-school emphasis on baserunning and defense and an enlightened attitude about using advanced metrics for a tactical advantage.

No managing job is easy, but this one is more complex that it seems on the surface.

Shildt is in command of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015.

Three years away from the postseason.

A team that was shoved out of first place by the Cubs, and then dumped into third place by the Brewers. A team that can’t afford to miss the postseason again, and be a party to the longest postseason drought since St. Louis missed the MLB playoffs from 1988 through 1995.

We’re looking to Shildt lead the Cardinals back to October baseball….

And that’s pressure, man.

Especially after the front office brought in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and lefty relief ace Andrew Miller.

And Shildt has more than a few tricky situations to handle.

Situations that will require astute decision-making and, perhaps, bold action.

Bold action that could be quite uncomfortable.

Here’s a list of Shildt’s real — and potential — challenges this season:

  • Managing a seven-man bullpen that has only one lefty, Miller…

  • Managing a seven-man bullpen with a rotation that might be a little low in supplying innings…

  • Managing with only one lefty reliever in a division that’s packed with fantastic left-handed hitters…

  • Managing a bullpen that includes Alex Reyes, who may be limited to some extent after having two seasons wiped out by elbow and lat/shoulder surgeries. If Reyes can’t be used as frequently as other relievers, that will only create another tangle in Shildt’s bullpen patterns.

  • Having to monitor right fielder Dexter Fowler’s performance. If Fowler returns to his 2017 form offensively — we wish him well — then there’s no problem. But if Fowler’s bat remains dormant, Shildt will have to take timely action. He can’t wait too long and lose games to the detriment of the entire team.

  • Shildt has to finding ways to get enough at-bats for backup outfielders Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill.

  • Shildt faces a potentially sensitive situation with starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, a beloved Cardinals’ icon who must prove that he’s still viable and effective at age 37. If Waino is good, then everybody’s happy.  But we’re not sure what to expect. If there’s an unpleasant trend, Shildt has to make a move.

  • The manager will have only one left-handed bat on the bench, and that bat belongs to Drew Robinson, who strikes out close to 40 percent of the time.

  • Shildt has to convince any remaining skeptical players about the wisdom and benefit of implementing advanced metrics, and using defensive shifts.

  • At some point, Shildt will have a decision to make on Carlos Martinez: bullpen or rotation?

  • As a George Kissell disciple and favorite son, Shildt is all about clean baseball, sharp fundamental baseball. And because of that background he’ll be held to a higher standard … the Cardinals were sloppy and often stupid in recent seasons … but we’ll expect a Shildt-led team to be smarter and more focused…

This is definitely’s Shildt’s dream job, and I’m glad that he’s in the office that once belonged to his mentor, Tony La Russa. I believe Shildt is capable of being a positive leader of this team, the right man for these times … the right man to orchestrate a renaissance that merges the franchise’s glorious past with a promising future.

I’d be surprised if Shildt comes up short. And if I expect a lot more from Shildt than what we’ve seen in recent years, it’s only because I respect him much. I wish him the very best in 2019. I speak for Cardinals fans in saying: it’s time to reappear in October’s grand baseball theater.  Opening Day means hope.

Thanks for reading…