St. Louis Cardinals

A Cardinals clincher in Arizona would bring Goldschmidt full circle. What does he care?

When Paul Goldschmidt makes his return to Phoenix to face the Arizona Diamondbacks as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, it will have been nine months and 16 days since the trade was completed which sent him away from the only organization he had ever known.

It’s been a complete turn of the seasons — traded in autumn of 2018, and a Cardinal all the way through a winter, a spring, and a summer. He’ll step on to the diamond at Chase Field on Monday on the first day of 2019’s fall.

Don’t expect him to be the one making a big deal about it.

“Basically no one cares except for the fans over there,” Goldschmidt joked in Chicago on Saturday. “Or…”

He flashed a large smile and gestured at the reporter posing queries in a sweltering Wrigley Field stairwell. Earlier this week, the permanently on-message first baseman wryly mused that it would be better to have his quotes written on his behalf and then given to him for his approval.

Air conditioning exhaust or no, Goldschmidt has never been one to let anyone see him sweat.

Despite having his worst season by OPS since his rookie year in 2011 — and his worst year by OPS+ (which measures a player against league average) ever — Goldschmidt has still exceeded 30 home runs and 90 RBI while proving an invaluable anchor for the Cardinals’ vastly improved infield defense.

His power stroke also has realized something of a second-half revival. Since the All-Star Break, Goldschmidt’s slugging percentage has been a more characteristic .523, thanks in part to 15 doubles and 15 home runs and his lone triple of the season. He’s also driven in 54 runs in his last 64 starts heading into Sunday’s game.

He’s a calming clubhouse presence who has offered keenly insightful suggestions to his coaches. He’s been precisely what the Cardinals have needed, even if it’s a slightly diminished version of himself.

“I’d like to play better,” Goldschmidt conceded. “I think I have in the past. I can’t fix what’s happened this year. Just try to learn from it and keep improving, and just try to play well today and then going forward. I think that’s where my focus is.”

The Diamondbacks drafted Goldschmidt from Texas State University in the eighth round of the 2009 amateur draft. By 2011 he made his Major League debut, and by 2012 he was a fixture in the middle of the Arizona lineup.

His third season marked his first selection to the All-Star team, his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and a runner-up finish for the National League Most Valuable Player.

He made himself a household name and made his own household in the desert.

“I loved every second of being with Arizona,” said Goldschmidt, before quickly pointing out that the same is true with St. Louis. “From the day I was drafted until the day I got traded, they couldn’t have treated me better.”

St. Louis Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt (46) scores during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton) Matt Marton AP

His eight years with the Diamondbacks yielded only two trips to the playoffs. In his rookie season, Arizona lost a five-game series to the Milwaukee Brewers, who would go on to be defeated by the Cardinals in the NLCS. In 2017, Arizona defeated the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card game before being swept by the Dodgers.

Despite the team’s limited success — just three postseason victories in eight seasons — Goldschmidt views those memories as his fondest of his time there.

“That’s what it’s about, is the team goals,” he explained. “I had good years individually or good games individually, but when it helps your team and it helps the fan base and the organization, that’s cool to be celebrating, whatever, the champagne or playing in those playoff games.”

The champagne poses an interesting wrinkle.

Despite their strong week, a surge by the Brewers means that the Cardinals won’t be able to clinch a Central Division championship until they arrive at Goldschmidt’s former home. Not surprisingly, he says he hasn’t much thought about the potential strangeness of that scene.

“I’m sure it would be to other people, but, you know, the guys on our team and the Cardinals organization, they don’t really care that I played for Arizona,” he said.

“I owe it to the Cardinals and my teammates to just keep making it about us. That’s just what my focus is. I think that makes it easier. I don’t try to think about too much other stuff, and hopefully we get that opportunity to get in a playoff spot. Wherever it happens, however it happens, we’ll take it.”