Putting the Last Pieces in Place

As of this morning, most of the Cardinals have abandoned Jupiter and have winged their way to the land of the Delta blues, though not in the middle of a pouring rain.  (Which, given the history of these Cardinals/minors exhibitions, is kind of a surprising thing.)  While some went with the team to play in this game, some of them won’t be continuing on to Milwaukee but instead will head out to their minor league destinations.  After this weekend, we know which is which.  Sorta.

The pitching side is completely set.  John Brebbia got the last spot over Tyler Webb, meaning that after a camp where, at times, it looked like the Cardinals could have three or more portsiders in the bullpen, Andrew Miller will be the only one that pitches from the left side on Opening Day.  Mike Shildt has espoused a philosophy of “give me the best arms and I’ll figure it out” and, indeed, even if many of these arms aren’t necessarily better against lefties, they are still going to be tough on them.  For instance, Mike Mayers was better against lefties than righties, with a .723 OPS against the sinister side.  It also feels a bit like Shildt is preparing for the three batter minimum in 2020 instead of looking for a couple of LOOGYs.

It’s also a bullpen that has some options for going long.  John Gant, Alex Reyes, even probably Mayers still could go two-three innings.  There will be no need to reserve a guy in case Adam Wainwright can’t go deep, for instance.  They are likely to always have someone that can cover the load.  It allows Shildt to be very flexible with how he uses folks.  Maybe Reyes gets only one inning here but is available for three later on.  I think the bullpen management could be pretty interesting this year.  At the least, right now there’s nobody out there that you cringe when they come in (even if I’m not necessarily as much of a Mayers fan as some).  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Offensively, there’s still a question mark.  Jedd Gyorko did not appear in any games, which was by design so he could have a disabled list stint back-dated.  Gyorko is staying in Florida to try to get work in and maybe be ready for Milwaukee, but the date that he was supposed to start playing continues to shift.  First it was the weekend, then it was Sunday.  I don’t see any indication he got into any minor league games yesterday and if that is the case I’m not sure I’m excited about three days (Monday-Wednesday) of work getting him on the roster.  The Cardinals probably aren’t either, which is why I expect Gyorko to start on the disabled list, even if he comes off of it for the home opener.

That lets both Drew Robinson and Yairo Munoz make the team.  Both had good springs, though Robinson’s offense seemed to be concentrated at the bookends.  Still, those two give them some flexibility with positions and Robinson gives them a left-handed bat.  In his career, Robinson has actually been worse against righties and I don’t know that his handedness will wind up saving him when Gyorko returns.  There might be a week to help make the case that his spring wasn’t a mirage but I still have trouble seeing them demoting Munoz for Gyorko.  Now, at some point this season they may need to go to 13 pitchers.  At that time, both of them could find themselves at Memphis, depending on how their seasons are going.

After a lot of stagnant offense, the bats started to work over the last few days, which gives some hope and excitement for the beginning of the season.  When you put all the parts of this team together, it looks like a successful squad.  There’s hitting, pitching, and defense.  Whether all the parts will click at the same time for enough of the season still remains to be seen, but that’s baseball.  The club has done what they can do to get ready.  Now they just have to play the games.

When they play the games, it seems like new acquisition Paul Goldschmidt will be doing so in the second spot.  The lineup used yesterday is going to be the one Shildt starts the season with and looks something like this:

Matt Carpenter 5
Goldschmidt 3
Paul DeJong 6
Marcell Ozuna 7
Yadier Molina 2
Dexter Fowler 9
Kolten Wong 4
Harrison Bader 8

Hopefully that will work fine.  If DeJong continues to develop like expected, it may but I’d still rather Goldschmidt third.  I know all the logical reasons for putting him second and I also agree, barring a comeback by Fowler, there’s not an ideal 2 hitter (though a confident Wong might be able to make an argument after a month or two).  It just feels to me that Goldschmidt works better third, but Shildt knows a lot more than me.  If he’s going to be Goldschmidt there, though, I really wish he’d consider batting the pitcher eighth.

Cardinals play in Memphis tonight as Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha duel in what could well be the last Cardinal exhibition for both of them, for different reasons.  Then two agonizing off days before Thursday afternoon has Dan McLaughlin saying, “It’s time for Cardinal baseball” for the first time that counts in 2019.  Can’t wait!

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