I didn’t think the St. Louis Cardinals looked particularly sharp in the 2019 season opener Thursday in Milwaukee.
Still, the team came within a foot of pulling the game out of the fire in the ninth inning when Jose Martinez was robbed of what looked like it was going to be a homer run to end the game. Hopefully, after a clunker that saw the Redbirds blow a three-run lead while collecting only five hits, they’ll be rid of the opening day butterflies and be ready to play on Friday.
The fan police were all over social media during spring training, fulfilling their duty to serve and protect the home team by reminding anyone who mentioned the St. Louis offense was the worst in baseball during the exhibition season that it was only the exhibition season. When will it be okay with them to fret now that the games have begun to count?
The Cardinals were absolutely hapless the first two innings of the game. In the first, Milwaukee struck out the side on their way to giving newly-minted Cardinals superstar Paul Goldschmidt a debut he would probably like to forget. In what has become my early season pet peeve, the Cardinals went out and got the middle of the order slugger they needed and promptly put him in the second spot in the batting order to serve as a table setter. That’s fine if they wanted to go out and get yet another slugger to drive Goldschmidt in once he got on base. But they didn’t, as I have discussed to death. Instead the team chose to put contact-challenged shortstop Paul DeJong in the third spot where he joined Goldschmidt in piling up three strikeouts in one game.
If this lineup persists, Goldschmidt is going to challenge Matt Carpenter for the MLB lead in solo home runs this season while DeJong is going to strike out 250 times. I know Goldy had a rough start. But can the trolls of Cardinals Nation please get over Luke Voit, who they pointed out hit a home run today for the New York Yankees? Do fans really wish the team had kept the young former St. Louis farmhand instead of acquiring one of the top 10 established sluggers in the game? It’s over. Let’s move on.
Fresh off his new contract signing, Miles Mikolas looked awful Thursday, repeatedly missing his spots by plenty, causing catcher Yadier Molina to have to lunge all over the place to catch balls on the wrong side of the plate or pitches that Yadi called for shoulder high that came in at the thighs. It’s one thing when Mikolas surrenders a long ball to National League MVP Christian Yelich, but it’s entirely unacceptable when he serves up a gopher ball to the opposing starting pitcher.
One bad start doesn’t concern me too much. What does concern me is that Mikolas seemed to struggle at the end of spring training to find a feel for his pitches. I’m not saying he was a bad signing. But I still think he’s not really a typical ace starting pitcher, something the Redbirds don’t really have on their roster right now, despite all their young pitching depth. Jack Flaherty or Alex Reyes might become top of the rotation starters at some point. But it’s unfair to count on them to carry that weight at this point of their respective careers.
But this post isn’t just to talk about the bad stuff that happened Thursday. There was some good stuff to be optimistic about, too.
As bad as the top of the batting order was, the bottom was that good. Kolten Wong hit two homers and Harrison Bader mashed another. St. Louis radio personality J.C. Corcoran put it best Tuesday when he observed that Bader plays the game with the boundless energy of a Labrador retriever puppy. A lot of folks have been dismissive of Bader’s offensive talents. But he’s a guy who has enormous potential to change games with his speed, power and defensive ability. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the players St. Louis fans love to dismiss ends up as a 20/20, or even a 25/25, man this year. While we’re looking for Goldschmidt and DeJong to be the stars of the team, don’t be surprised if Bader becomes the fan favorite of Redbirds fans.
Wong has been a terribly frustrating player to watch the past few years. He appears to have much more talent that he shows between the white lines. I’m not sure we can count on the second baseman to hit 30 home runs this year. But I sure hope being freed from his nemesis, former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, helps Wong realize his true potential. I’d gladly take a guy who hits around .300, draws his share of walks, steals 20 or 25 bases and plays excellent defense up the middle.
In a perfect world, it is Wong or Bader who ought to be batting second, getting on base to create RBI opportunities for Goldschmidt instead of counting on DeJong, a young player who has a season-and-a-half under his belt in the big leagues, to be the rock on which the offense is built. Well, that’s assuming that Carpenter isn’t hitting down in the order. But, as much sense as that makes, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that something like that is never going to happen.