As the World Series winds to a close, it’s time to start thinking about ways the St. Louis Cardinals can try to improve from a National League Championship Series appearance in 2019 to a twelfth championship in 2020.
Obviously, the biggest need for the Cardinals is finding a way to improve a hit-and-miss offense to something that is more consistently productive. While the issue of whether Marcell Ozuna or someone else will man left field in 2020 is a major consideration, the main thing St. Louis needs to do to improve its offense it to wring more production from the bats of the players who are already on the roster.
These are the places the Cardinals offense can be better in 2020.
First and foremost, high-priced slugger Paul Goldschmidt has to rebound from being pretty good to being an elite hitter. Hitting .260 with 34 homers and 97 runs batted in certainly isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. But that doesn’t mean Goldschmidt can’t be better next season. His average was his worst in a full season by 26 points while his on-base percentage in 2019 was 45 points beneath his career number. Meanwhile, Goldy has had his two worst seasons in terms of strikeouts in 2018 and 2019.
Sure, he’s getting older. But at 32, Goldschmidt is still in his physical prime and his nine seasons of experience ought to help him compensate if his bat speed has slowed a hair. I believe it’s more likely the first baseman suffered statically in his first season in St. Louis is because of pressure he put on himself to perform in front of new fans and teammates. For the second year in a row, Goldschmidt got off to a terribly slow start and came on strong later. His average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all considerably higher during the second half of the season. Instead of being a singles hitter who occasionally hit a home run, in the second half Goldschmidt hit twice as many doubles as he did before the All-Star Game and drove in nearly twice as many runs.
Look for Goldschmidt to be more comfortable in 2020 as he’s established a St. Louis routine and became familiar with his surroundings. That being said, who the Cardinals find to hit behind their star slugger could be a key in his performance next year. If no one particularly threatening is batting in the cleanup spot, why would opposing pitchers ever give Goldschmidt anything to hit?
Matt Carpenter is at a career crossroads.
Not too long ago he was the most productive St. Louis hitter. But he’s been victimized by defensive shifts as teams exploited his all-or-nothing mentality at the plate. While manager Mike Shildt said he gave Carpenter playing time over others in 2019 because of the things he’d done for his team in the past, it became obvious when the season was on the line late in the year that loyalty only goes so far. Simply put, Carpenter is playing for his baseball life now. Sure, he got the big — and lamentable — contract extension. But if we wants to be on the field as opposed to on the bench, he needs to adapt to resurrect his career.
The bright side is that Carpenter’s pitch recognition has always been his strong suit. That eye is why he’s worked so many walks over the past few years. Now he needs to learn to use it to help him drive the ball where it’s pitched. If hurlers are going to throw him outside offerings with the third baseman playing well off the foul line, he’s going to have to learn to deal with it. Only then will the other team be forced to stop taking advantage of him and maybe some hitting lanes on the right side of the field will open up a little bit.
Every weekend I hear coaches at the little league field tell fourth graders that “a walk is as good as a hit.” Somebody needs to tell mister on-base percentage that a hit is also as good as a walk. Even if it’s a bunt or a blooper into short left field.
If Carpenter could be a little bit more diverse in his approach, I don’t see why he couldn’t be a .285 hitter with power. And that would be a huge difference maker for the St. Louis offense. I think he is completely capable of doing it. He just needs to abandon that uppercut swing he adopted when former manager Mike Matheny announced early in the infielder’s career that he could hit 30 home runs if he tried. I’d rather have the guy back who tied Hall of Famer Stan Musial’s team record for doubles.
Finally, the other guy who needs to find some consistency is Paul DeJong.
I have seen stretches during which he appears to be the best hitter on his team. And I have seen stretches where I worry if DeJong will ultimately be able to hit consistently enough to remain a major league starter. It’s awesome that the young shortstop hit 30 homers last year. How many people who play his position are capable of doing that? But DeJong is also a guy who hit .233, struck out 149 times and struggles to keep his on-base percentage over .300.
In the first half of the season, DeJong hit a perfectly acceptable .258 with a pretty good .343 OBP. But he totally disappeared in the second half, batting only .202 while reaching base at an anemic .285 clip. Which player is the real Paul DeJong? I’m not sure if he physically wore out or if pitchers discovered a weakness that DeJong was unable to mend. Either way, something has to be done to get a whole productive season out of key young player.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
What is this blog?
Scott Wuerz is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. The Cheap Seats blog is written from his perspective as a fan and is designed to spark discussion among fans of the Cardinals and other MLB teams. Sources supporting his views and opinions are linked. If you’re looking for Cardinals news and features, check out the BND’s Cardinals section.