As we get deeper into spring training, it appears wishful thinking hasn’t done the St. Louis Cardinals very much good.
Dexter Fowler, who was handed the starting right field job for 2019 after batting .180 in an injury-marred 2018, is batting .136 with a little bit more than two weeks to go in Grapefruit League play. On Sunday, ill-fated lefty reliever Brett Cecil finally got into a game for the first time this spring after having to retool his mechanics. He made it through with one walk and no runs allowed in an inning of work. But he seemed to lack confidence and command, which isn’t promising from a guy who earns a paycheck to be dominant late in games.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Redbirds just aren’t hitting much at all with the exception of Paul Goldschmidt who is batting .350 early on. Paul DeJong is carrying a .182 batting average, Jose Martinez in hitting .174 and Harrison Bader is hitting .136.
I’m sure most of those guys will come around. But I just don’t see any reason to have faith in Fowler and Cecil. Especially the former. One-inning relief pitchers really only need to get their act together in short bursts. But Fowler has had problems holding himself together over the course of a long season even when he was younger. While it’s odd for guys to suddenly hit the wall as opposed to taking a long, slow ride downhill, I get the impression that his lousy year at the plate was no fluke. Fowler’s bat and his feet looked slow last year. He couldn’t react to changing speeds of pitches and, when he was able to make contact, the ball didn’t have a lot of charge in it.
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That’s the same sort of swings I am seeing so far this spring. If he was hitting line drives right at outfielders, that would be one thing. But it’s two or three hops to the shortstop or second baseman and lazy fly balls. I hope the Redbirds are hungry because if this doesn’t make a sudden and unexpected turn, they’re going to be eating an awful lot of dead money over the next couple of years.
It would have been a bit uncomfortable in 2019 to pay big money for free agent replacements to provide production where Fowler can’t. But next year it would have fit a lot better when Marcell Ozuna and Michael Wacha’s money comes off the books. And Paul Goldschmidt’s could disappear, too, unfortunately. There are going to be a lot less options via free agency in 2020 than there were last off-season. But, who am I kidding? The Cardinals aren’t going to sign anyone then just like they didn’t sign anyone last time.
Just like last year, I see a lot of promise in this team. Matt Carpenter, DeJong, Ozuna, Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill are all capable of hitting 25-30 home runs and the team has all sorts of depth when it comes to pitching. What it’s missing are veteran leaders and role players in key spots. While he had a nice year in 2018, one season of success in the big leagues doesn’t make Miles Mikolas an “ace.” Meanwhile, the closest guy St. Louis has to an ace, Carlos Martinez is reportedly on the shelf until June. Jordan Hicks throws hard. But he’s never been a closer in the big leagues for an extended time. And last year he didn’t miss a lot of bats for how hard he throws.
The Cardinals need everyone to produce up to expectations if they’re not going to have any setbacks this year. Besides Goldschmidt, they don’t have a lot of guys who are capable of putting the team on their back and carrying it for a couple of weeks when others aren’t able to do their share.