St. Louis Cardinals have pop with Arenado, Goldschmidt
It’s hard to win a baseball game when your team can’t score.
The 2020 St. Louis Cardinals learned this lesson almost as well as any other Cardinals team recently. That they managed to win 30 out of 58 games while only three players were on the plate with more than the league average is evidence of a strong pitching team and the weirdness of a small sample.
And yet, when first baseman Paul Goldschmidt beat second and third baseman Nolan Arenado to third behind leadoff man Tommy Edman, there was a six-run breakout in the first half of the season in St. Louis, followed by one triple home run was interrupted by midfielder Dylan Carlson and hit seventh place.
It was a realignment to deliver a wallop.
“You’re guaranteed to fight both of them from the first inning,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt of his offensive cornerstones. “And there’s just a little slap in the face that says, ‘Here it is,’ and we turn it over (and) there they are again.”
On this replay, Goldschmidt scored three runs in the first four innings of the season, driven by three different players – a Paul DeJong single in the first inning, an Arenado single in the second, and a split laser-beam home run by Tyler O ‘. Neill in the fourth.
“I think that’s what we need to be successful as a team,” said Goldschmidt. “I think that’s one of our strengths. We have a lot of great players, we have a deep bank, and it will take full team effort. “
In order for Goldschmidt and Arenado to have upward mobility, the players behind them must fill the line-up with length.
After a scorching spring, the early results of O’Neill’s new approach are promising. Carlson, the team’s postseason clean-up artist, continues to look more like the top prospect who came for his second trip to the majors last summer than the over-fulfilled insurance policy that came on his first.
“We’re very confident out there defensively and now, you know, we’re doing the same thing offensively,” said Carlson. “Just keep putting together good bats. Just trust the process and find out. “
The defensive outfield unit is in the works as it tackles the loss of Harrison Bader, who is out for at least a month with a flexion load in his right forearm. Carlson’s shift to the center has opened right-wing field for right-handed Austin Dean and left-handed Justin Williams, and the latter of the two characters sees the majority of record appearances against right-handed pitching.
Although Bader is primarily known for his defense magic, he was also one of the three above-average offensive Cardinals in 2020. Goldschmidt and Brad Miller (now back with the Phillies) were the others.
Adding Arenado in the off-season was, of course, the most important step the Cardinals took to address their clearest area of weakness. His presence was meant to provide the kind of line-up that has not been seen in St. Louis since the last Cardinals pennant winning team in 2013, when Carlos Beltrán and Matt Holliday topped the rankings.
This model was not successful because players hitting behind the two were individually unstoppable forces, but because many were reliable – Matt Carpenter, especially the leadoff hitter, and Allen Craig, Matt Adams and Yadier Molina, the ones behind the duo hit, all had an on-basis plus slugging percentage of 0.830 or better.
In 2020 only Goldschmidt climbed this statistical hill.
“I’ve been asked a lot about the line-up and I think the biggest difference between second and maybe third or fourth place is that you get on the base and can drive a little more,” said Goldschmidt.
“I guess just like the line-up, the more you get to the top of the leaderboard, Tommy and I, probably in second place, you have the opportunity to get a little more runs and maybe run in a few less just because of its establishment. “
Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty, whose uneven performance on opening day led the club to need every ounce of running support available, saw in action on Thursday the challenge the line-up can put on paper for a pitcher brought to life.
“I think you want Goldy and Arenado right there, back to back, and then you have Paul (DeJong) right behind you who isn’t a sucker,” Flaherty said. “Then O’Neill returned home today. So it just adds the entire lineup. I mean the depth of it. (Carlson) hit homer in the seven hole today so it was good. “
“We have high expectations in every area of our game,” said Shildt after the opening win, “but we definitely have them with our offensive.”
“This is how good crime works. We have done damage and expect to get more than four points. “
Jeff Jones is a freelance sports writer and a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He is a regular contributor to the Belleville News-Democrat, mlb.com, and other sports websites.