Until Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals offense was largely missing in action, residing at the bottom of nearly every statistical category past the halfway mark in Grapefruit League play.
But that changed in a big way as the Redbirds beat up on their spring training roommates, the Miami Marlins. And that's a good thing because, with a youth movement underway in the starting rotation, St. Louis is going to have to put up runs in bunches to keep the pressure off young hurlers Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty.
It's a lot easier to pitch when you know your offense is going to put up six or seven runs a game than it is when you feel like you have to be perfect because your club is only going to put up one or two tallies a contest.
Four St. Louis hitters, including newly acquired slugger Marcell Ozuna and veterans Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez and Yadier Molina cracked two hits apiece to pace the offense, finally starting to shake off the winter rust. Despite the outburst, Ozuna is still hitting only .188 while Fowler is batting .200 and Molina .250.
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One welcome addition to the Cardinals lineup Tuesday was infielder Matt Carpenter, who has been sidelined this spring — again — with a bad back. Carpenter didn't really show much about the readiness of his swing, taking a pair of walks in his only two plate appearances of the game. He swung the bat twice to foul off balls but never had the opportunity to put a charge into a ball that he could stroke fair.
Carpenter said, mercifully, that he wants to get back to being the sort of hitter he used to be as opposed to the one over the past few seasons who sacrificed average for power. The Cardinals handcuffed their best hitter when they asked him to try to hit home runs. The veteran hitter became one-dimensional because of it: Carpenter looked only for balls he could hit over the fence and when he got them, he tried to pull every pitch. If the ball wasn't in a place where he could pull it, Carp looked for a walk.
In his younger days, Carpenter could spray line drives all over the field and topped 20 home runs a season. Because he became pull-happy, opponents used extreme shifts against the left-handed batter and Carpenter just hit the ball right into the defense when he couldn't get a good enough piece of the ball to hit it over the defenders. While Carp managed to keep his on-base percentage high, he lost a lot of average and RBI opportunities by passing on balls he used to blast into the gaps. With Ozuna on board to provide the power, Carpenter can concentrate on being the guy he was always meant to be, and the offense ought to be better for it.
In the meantime, the other St. Louis hitters need to take the same hit-the-ball-where-it's-pitched approach. The Birds won't have four guys who hit 40 home runs. But they ought to have eight guys in the batting order who can hurt opposing pitchers, be it with a timely hit or by pushing runners up on the basepaths so the next guy can drive them in.
While most of the hitters have shown signs of life, still struggling are Tommy Pham and Carson Kelly. But for wildly different reasons.
Pham is playing angry. He's been a sourpuss in the clubhouse after having his contract renewed by the club while second-year shortstop Paul DeJong secured a long-term contract. Pham appears to be pressing and went 0-for-3 Tuesday to see his batting average fall to .200. Kelly, who seems to be guaranteed a spot on the major league roster as a backup receiver, ought to be playing free and easy. But he's compiled a .125 batting mark so far this spring and can't seem to catch a break.
There is still a lot of tune up time left. But I would like to see the St. Louis hitters start to percolate as we start to near the point when the final score counts in the standings. It seems like in recent years the Birds stumble out of the gate and find themselves playing catch-up in the opening weeks of the regular season.