Five early items to keep an eye on with the Cardinals

Alright, let’s overreact to the first weekend of the MLB season, a weekend in which the Cardinals lost 3-of-4 to the Brewers.  The Cards lost the opener when Lorenzo Cain took a game-tying home run away from Jose Martinez, won the second game when Paul Goldschmidt hit three homers, lost 4-2 on Saturday when they couldn’t score after the fourth inning, and then fell on a walkoff hit by Christian (Babe Ruth) Yelich, who homered in each of the four games.  The Cards were in all four games but lost the three close ones.

I want to start by going backward.  Yes, Yelich won the MVP last season and single-handedly beat the Cardinals up over the weekend, and Marcell Ozuna is off to a slow start.  But to say in March of 2019 that “the Cardinals traded for the wrong Marlins outfielder” is somewhat disingenuous, if not ignorant of the situation in December 2017.  Let’s review the bidding.  The Cardinals and Giants both worked out deals with the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton, and he rejected both with his no trade clause.  So, both teams moved on to Ozuna.  Both were told that Yelich wasn’t available…and according to reports Yelich was told that, too.  He was/is signed to a team friendly contract that runs through 2022.  The Cardinals outbid the Giants for Ozuna, who had slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBI that year.  He had won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.

The Giants, as bridesmaids in the Ozuna sweepstakes, and with the belief that Yelich was staying in Miami, traded for Andrew McCutchen from Pittsburgh.  Then on January 25, 43 days after the Cardinals-Marlins trade and ten days after the Giants-Pirates deal, Miami dealt Yelich to Milwaukee for the Brewers top prospect Lewis Brinson (ranked #13 by MLB pipeline), their #6 prospect Isan Diaz (MLB pipeline #86), and minor leaguers Monte Harrison and Jordan Yamamoto.  If the Cardinals had decided to wait out Miami for Yelich, there’s an excellent chance that the Giants would have traded for Ozuna, and the Brewers…with the top system in baseball…still would have been able to outbid the Cardinals.  So I don’t want to hear this retroactive “the Cardinals should have traded for Yelich instead” because it wasn’t going to happen.  And there was no guarantee in December of 2017 that the Marlins WERE going to move Yelich.

Now that I have that off my chest, let’s look at the weekend, shall we?

1) Even though the Cardinal bullpen let Sunday’s game get away and the starters didn’t give them innings in the first three games, it’s too early to panic about the pitching.  That’s a great Brewers lineup at a ballpark that they hit really well in.  Last year Milwaukee was third in the N.L. in home runs at home, fourth in slugging and fifth in OPS.  And many pitchers aren’t dialed in this early.  I’m willing to wait until six trips through the rotation…thirty games…to make a judgement on the starters.

2) Paul Goldschmidt is going to be a major force in the central division.  He hit as many home runs as Yelich did in the series, and he’s hitting .375 with an OPS of 1.569.  He should be everything the Cardinals expected and then some.  Everything we talked about regarding him being a five-tool player was shown this weekend…he can hit, hit for power, run the bases, field and throw.  The Cardinals will have many more good offensive games in 2019 than 2018 simply because of him.

3) If the Cardinals insist on playing Dexter Fowler, would it make sense to hit him second in the order?  You want a guy to get on in front of Goldy.  The one thing Fowler has done well during the spring and in the opening series is walk.  He leads the team with four and is third among position players on the team with a .357 on-base percentage.  His batting average is .100, on the heels of a .180 season last year and a spring that saw him hit .200.  I fall into the group that believes Jose Martinez provides a higher offensive ceiling than Fowler, but I’m not going to begrudge the Cardinals for trying to get something out of their investment.  If you buy a $100,000 car that’s broken down a lot, you aren’t going to donate it to Goodwill right away.  You’re going to try to get it fixed.  So that’s what they’re doing.  I would prefer to see Martinez in right, but if Fowler must play, he best serves them at the moment taking walks in the two hole.

4) Ozuna’s lack of rehabilitation during the off-season has caused him to not be able to throw at all.  His poor defense was painfully obvious in the 9th inning on Sunday.  There are left fielders in baseball that would have gotten to Ben Gamel’s double to lead off the 9th, and since he can’t throw, Cain was able to score the winning run from first base on Yelich’s double.  If WE know Ozuna’s limitations in the outfield, should he be out there with a one run lead in the ninth inning?  Tyler O’Neill, an excellent defensive outfielder, was still on the bench.  With a one run lead in the ninth, doesn’t it make sense to have your best defensive team on the field?  At least until Ozuna is back to the “normal” that allowed him to win a Gold Glove?

5) One team concern…and this has been since last year…is the frequency of their strikeouts.  They lead the league with 47 and three teams are tied for second with 36.   And I know it’s a small sample size, but the Cardinals so far are 4-30 with runners in scoring position, and that .133 average with RISP is the second lowest in the N.L.  Their fifteen strikeouts with runners in scoring position is abominable.  The only other team with double digit strikeouts in that situation is the Cubs with ten, and they have 47 plate appearances to the Cardinals 35.  The Cards have the fourth most at bats (30), but the third fewest runs (5) with RISP in the N.L.  Harrison Bader and Ozuna are both 0-4; Bader with three strikeouts and Ozuna with four.  Fowler is 0-3 with a strikeout.  Martinez is 0-2 with two strikeouts, and Yadier Molina is 0-2.  Matt Carpenter is 1-4 with two K’s.  No Cardinal had multiple hits with runners in scoring position in Milwaukee.

It’s early and there’s nothing to worry about right now.  But there sure are lots of things…despite being in every game…that the Cardinals can to better as the 2019 season unfolds.