It would seem that the St. Louis Cardinals could've been in big trouble after being bitten hard by the injury bug with 10 players on the disabled list.
But adding some youth to the roster seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the hot and cold St. Louis nine. Suddenly, the Redbirds are playing with a hunger they hadn't shown during the 2018 season.
Tyler O'Neill surely can't keep up the torrid pace he's setting with three homers and a batting average threatening the .400 mark since being called back up to the big leagues. But I sure like what I'm seeing from him a lot better than what veteran outfielder Dexter Fowler has shown so far this season. Fowler was supposed to be an offensive spark plug when the Birds inked him a season and a quarter ago to a five-year contract. He's been anything but with a -1.1 win over replacement player mark, a .160 batting average and three stolen bases in five tries.
On the mound, esteemed veteran Adam Wainwright's third trip to the disabled list was a doozy. He'll spend at least 60 days on the shelf with a mystery ailment of his pitching elbow. I suspect he has a chronic case of getting old. In his place, the Cardinals have been forced to use Jack Flaherty who was absolutely spectacular in a 13-strikeout performance his last time out. As much as I and a lot of other St. Louis sports fans revere Wainwright, it's hard to deny that this team is better off with the kid on the mound than the star of the 2006 World Series — and it pains me to say that.
Why the improvement? Are the kids that much more talented than the guys they replace? What about the fact that Matt Carpenter has finally awoken from his six-week-long slumber to start smacking doubles around the ball yard like he used to?
I think the changing of the guard created a culture of competition in the St. Louis clubhouse. Playing time isn't a given when someone shows up to take your job. So, suddenly everyone perks up a little bit and plays that much harder. The only guys who haven't really responded to the challenge are Fowler and second baseman Kolten Wong, two guys who don't have to worry about earning their next contract because they're already locked into long term deals. Tommy Pham, mad as a wet hen that DeJong got the security of a multi-year pact while he has yet to acquire that sort of commitment, is playing his rear off. Why? At least in part because he still has something to prove.
Sooner or later, the Cardinals are going to get some of their injured players back. And they need them back. You don't subtract the talent of Yadier Molina and DeJong and not feel it. But they have to be careful about how they work some of those guys back into the mix. If Wainwright gets back on the field before the end of the season and Flaherty is 6-2 with a 2.25 ERA, can you pull the plug on the kid? If O'Neill hits .300 with power, how can you send him back to the minor leagues to create playing time for Fowler and his big (untradeable) contract?
The situation with the pitching staff is going to be interesting. Alex Reyes is throwing 100 MPH in the minor leagues and seems on the verge of completing his recovery from Tommy John Surgery last spring. According to the St. Louis front office, he's going to be inserted into the rotation. So who gets kicked out? Let the candidate fight it out, and let the angry guy who gets the short straw take out his frustrations on opposing hitters. That's the way baseball is supposed to work.