Cheap Seats

Harrison Bader is the spark the St. Louis Cardinals offense needs in 2019

I hear a lot of complaints and questions about St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader’s offense.

Can he hit well enough to justify a job in the major leagues? Is he more than a seventh or eighth-place hitter?

It was just one game. But Bader was one of the few Redbirds who actually contributed at the plate Thursday. He had a pair of hits and stole three bases in a game against the New York Mets that ended tied at one. He hustled and put pressure on both the pitcher and the defense. It was an energy level that his teammates couldn’t match.

My question Thursday was why couldn’t the other St. Louis hitters play more like Bader?

I can’t predict what Bader’s batting average or on-base percentage are going to be in August. But I like the guy’s approach. Not only does he not get cheated, he comes to the plate with a plan, unlike so many other major leaguers who just seem to swing from the heels every at-bat, regardless of the game situation.

Bader seems to have a quick enough bat to keep up with major league pitchers. And he’s certainly got the speed to turn squibs into singles, then steal second base to magically turn a weak grounder into the equivalent of a double. He battled in his first plate appearance Thursday, nearly reaching on a ball that barely rolled foul before keeping a dribbler fair. As the fielder rushed headlong for the dying ball, I chuckled “no chance” to no one in particular.

Speed kills. When he’s on base, the pitcher is distracted and that’s always a benefit for the next batter. That’s why I hope the Cardinals will at least give serious consideration to the thought of Bader batting second. I give up, as much sense as it would make for Matt Carpenter to bat third, fourth or fifth, something between his ears compels the team to let a plodding runner with home run power to lead the league in solo home runs. But Bader could be more of a traditional lead-off guy from the second slot in the order. If he’s on base, it will force the pitcher to work quickly and throw Paul Goldschmidt more fastballs to give his catcher a chance to stop Bader from trying to steal second. That leads to mistakes, and Goldie will punish mistakes time and time again.

The Cardinals offense has a lot of pop. Carpenter, Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, Tyler O’Neill and Marcell Ozuna are all a threat to hit 25 or 30 homers. But they’re a vanilla offense made up of one guy after another who is trying to hit the ball over the fence. It would be nice if Bader and second baseman Kolten Wong could break that up by getting on base and making the defense move. That’s when rallies start and runs come in bunches.

Carlos Martinez goes to injured list

On the other side of the ball, the Birds announced this week that Carlos Martinez will, in fact, start the season on the injured list. When he comes back, and no one is saying with much conviction when that might be, the Cardinals expect the colorful pitcher will work out of the bullpen. That’s something Martinez has resisted in the past. But this time he was all to eager to accept the change of roles. It all makes me wonder if Martinez’s shoulder is hanging on by a thread. Two years ago, he faded badly at the end of the season. Last year, Martinez couldn’t stay healthy and this year, he’s already running up the white flag on plans to return as St. Louis’ ace. After admitting last year that he didn’t trust his shoulder enough to unleash full-force pitches, I wonder if we’ve begun a losing battle to try to keep the hurler off the operating table for as long as possible.

This speculation isn’t based on anything concrete. It just seems like Martinez’s shoulder has become increasingly unreliable and the move to the pen for a team that has a lot of question marks surrounding the rotation already seems like a move designed to limit the innings of a guy who might otherwise be counted on to be a major factor.