Louis Meyer, Sports Editor
As the St. Louis Cardinals dive into Spring Training 2019, there seems to be more questions than answers. After missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons, firing manager Mike Matheny midseason, and adding two big names to the roster, it is easy to see why there is a lot of questions. Even though manager Mike Shildt took a Cardinals team that was playing .500 baseball and almost guided the team into the playoffs, going 41-28 in his time as manager, many still question what he’s capable of. This season will be the first full season in which Shildt will be running the team, and thus will provide a test to see if he’s as good as he was in the second half of the 2018 season.
Another big question many have is how will players who struggled in 2018, whether it was because of injury or just overall struggles, perform in 2019? Despite battling a nagging shoulder injury last year, star left fielder Marcel Ozuna was still able to hit .280 with 23 homeruns and 88 RBI’s. After offseason surgery, many wonder if Ozuna will return to his 2017 self, where he hit .312 with 34 homeruns and 124 RBI’s. Will he be worse than last year? How will defense be?
Another struggling player with questions floating around them is right fielder Dexter Fowler. After a strong 2017 campaign, Fowler struggled in 2018. He hit a dismal .180, to go along with eight homeruns and 31 RBI’s. Fowler only played 90 games in 2018 due to a foot injury. Fowler has also come out and said he suffered through a bout of depression last year. As a result, there are lots of questions about Fowler. At age 33, can we expect a comeback season? Will he perform like his 2017 self, 2018 self or somewhere in between? With guys like Tyler O’Neill and Jose Martinez around, how long of a leash does Fowler have in 2019?
Another big question is will players that performed at high levels last year continue to do so? From late-May to the end of the 2018 season, the MLB watched in awe as Matt Carpenter put up monster numbers. Carpenter hit a career-high 36 homeruns in 2018, to go along with 42 doubles and 102 walks. Carpenter did all this from the leadoff spot in the lineup. Many wonder if Carpenter will be able to continue to hit at that high of a level. Carpenter is entering his age 33 season, which often means a decline in production. Despite walking over 100 times in each of the last two seasons, Carpenter’s strikeout rate has skyrocketed. However, with the addition of Paul Goldschmidt and a healthy Marcel Ozuna, many are optimistic that Carpenter will not only maintain this production but may even improve in some areas. The thought being with much scarier hitters batting behind him, teams will not be able to focus in on Carpenter as much because they have to worry about Goldschmidt and Ozuna.
Another player who performed at a high-level last year was ageless backstop, Yadier Molina. No one, including cardinals’ fans know how “Yadi” continues to do it year after year. Last season, at age 36, Yadi hit 20 homeruns along with 74 RBI’s. Yadi also only struck out 66 times, one of the lowest rates in the MLB. The big question is, can Yadi still produce at this level at age 37? Cardinals fans don’t want to imagine life after Yadi, unfortunately, the end is near. On the positive side, every year Yadi continues to define the odds and produce. In fact, as he has aged, it seems his offensive production has only increased. Aging like fine wine as some would say.
We also cannot forget about the newly acquired Cardinals, Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller. Goldschmidt was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he spent all eight years of his career playing first base. Not only is Goldschmidt widely considered the best first basemen in the National League, many consider him to be the best in all of baseball. He has finished in the top three for National League M.V.P three times and is a career .297 hitter, who averages over 30 homeruns and 100 RBI’s a season. There is no question that with his bat in the lineup, the Cardinals are instantly a much scarier team. Will he stay/will the Cardinals resign or extend him is the real question. The Cardinals traded for Goldschmidt fully aware that he is a free agent at the end of the 2019 season. Will Goldschmidt just be a rental, or will the team sign him?
Andrew Miller is the other newly acquired, big-name player for the Cardinals. The team signed Miller as a free agent to a two-year contract worth $25 million. Miller is a left-handed relief pitcher, one of the best in the MLB in fact. This is great for the Cardinals because left-handed pitching, both starting and relief, have been hard to come by in recent years. Especially left-handed pitching as good as Andrew Miller. The big question surrounding Andrew Miller is his health and how it as affecting his performance. Last season, Miller battled through knee and hamstring injuries. As a result, he posted a 4.24 earned run average (ERA), his worst since 2011. Now healthy, the question is can Andrew Miller return to his dominant form? From 2014-2017, Miller posted an ERA 2.00 points lower every year except 2015. From 2016-2017, Miller struck out 218 batters in 137 innings, which equates to 14.3 batters struck out per nine innings. He also only walked 30 batters and posted a 1.45 ERA in that same span, both tops in the MLB. If Miller can come even close to this level of production, the Cardinals bullpen would be one of, if not the scariest bullpens in all of baseball.
The Cardinals also traded for Texas Rangers utility player Drew Robinson. Robinson can play second and third base, as well as anywhere in the outfield. Whether Robinson makes the Opening Day roster or not is unknown. If he does, he would provide a left-handed bat off the bench, as well as being able to play his multitude of positions.
Of course, with all these questions, there are almost no answers. Like everyone else with questions about their teams, we will have to wait until the regular season begins. However, make no mistake. If even just a few of the many questions facing the Cardinals turn out to have positive answers, we are looking at a Cardinals team that has a very good chance at making the playoffs. Not only making the playoffs but making a deep run. Who knows, maybe in seven months we will be celebrating the teams 12th World Series championship.