The St. Louis Cardinals will begin their next series on Tuesday with lots of unanswered questions.
After a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals hope to regroup and figure out what went right and wrong during the weekend series. The club finished with a 2-1 opening record, good enough for a first place tie atop the NL Central. Sophomore starter Dakota Hudson lasted only 4 1/3 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits. Luckily, that proved to be the worst stat line among St. Louis’ starters this weekend. Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty worked a combined 13 innings while allowing just three earned runs in the club’s first two games this season. That leads to the first of the Cardinals opening series takeaways…
The Pitching is Legitimately Good
Even looking past their three starters this weekend, there was still a lot that went well for St. Louis pitching. Six different pitchers hurled at least one inning without allowing a run. Sunday’s contest saw just one run off Cardinal relievers after the fifth inning, despite Hudson’s early exit. But it was Flaherty’s spectacular performance on Friday that stood out. He navigated seven innings and allowed just two runs. The right-hander was visibly upset after yielding those runs in the top of the seventh, but managed to avoid hard contact. He ultimately earned the win in a 5-4 win.
It's a shame that these were the at-bats that put a damper on Flaherty's tremendous outing in the seventh inning. Not a single hard-hit ball in the bunch. No ball in play even touched 90 mph exit velo in that inning. #STLCards pic.twitter.com/xMKrM1k6sc
— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) July 25, 2020
The Cards will hope to continue their starters’ success in their next matchup against the Minnesota Twins. Carlos Martínez is primed to make his first starting appearance since 2018 on Tuesday. He’ll be followed by Miles Mikolas, who hopes to return to his 2018 form. It’s early in the season. Still, what fans have seen thus far is reason for confidence in the pitching staff.
The Bottom of the Lineup Seems Lackluster
With the new rules in place for the season, Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader round out the Cardinal batting order. Yes, the advantage of placing Bader and Wong’s speed in the lineup back-to-back is unquestionable. But the reason for concern lies in the trio’s final series line of .154/.231/.647. Translation: that isn’t too good. Both O’Neill and Fowler hit home runs on Friday night but were collectively held to just two hits in the final two games. Bader managed a stolen base, a hit-by-pitch and scored two runs on Saturday, but was out of the lineup for Sunday’s finale. Truthfully, the opening series from these Cardinals could have been a lot more impressive. As the bottom of the lineup goes, so will St. Louis. If the club has any chance to compete for a division crown, this third of the lineup will need to improve.
Will the Offense be Sustainable?
The top of the lineup performed well compared to the bottom three men in the team’s first two games. Both Pauls, Goldschmidt and DeJong, homered in Saturday’s game (St. Louis would go to win 9-1) and DeJong finished the series four-of-nine with four RBIs. The Cards combined for 15 total runs in the series. Quick math would put their scoring average at five runs per game… But it should be noted that the Pirates did not come into this season with high expectations or recent success. In fact, they ended last season with the fifth-highest team ERA and allowed the eighth-most home runs in all of baseball. Runs could be difficult to come by against more accomplished teams this season. An offensive average of just five runs against a subpar team leaves the Cardinals’ opening series win with questions still to answer.
This all comes back to the story of the Cardinals’ offseason. St. Louis allowed Marcell Ozuna to walk as a free agent after rejecting their qualifying offer yet made no major offensive countermoves. They expect a platoon of Bader, O’Neill, Lane Thomas and prospect Dylan Carlson will eventually be enough to replace Ozuna, but how long will the club wait for the right combination? The cliché has been used plenty, but perhaps the takeaway should be how much of a 60-game sprint this season truly is. It will be up to the likes of Kolten Wong, Goldschmidt and DeJong to carry the club, at least until the bottom third of the lineup can break through.
Featured Image Courtesy of Scott Kane & Getty Images
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