Two weeks from today, it’ll be Opening Day Eve. The roster will be set and real baseball will be just over the horizon. Which means, even though it’s spring training, it’s starting to get a little late. When I was growing up, the local Hastings played “Happy Trails” when there was like five minutes until closing. The music hasn’t started yet, but the employees are looking for the button. So what do we know so far, with all the general caveats of “it’s spring”, etc. in place?
- The rotation has a chance to be a problem. Miles Mikolas will definitely not start the season with the club and, as we talked about on the last Musial, the logistics of everything could mean June is the earliest we’ll see him. Kwang Hyun Kim‘s back issue appears to be easing up, so he might miss one start at worst instead of at best. Most of the starters struggled early on, but there have been signs of late that they are starting to get their feet under them. However, it would still be nice to see a string of solid starts strung together.
- Jack Flaherty is probably going to be fine. After a tough first outing, his second outing (two runs in four innings against the Mets) was much more in line with what we expect from the young ace. He’s thrown a couple of good outings on the back fields and in sim games, though of course those are a bit different in nature than real games. Still, for any that thought the sky was falling after that first appearance in the spring, it seems to still be firmly attached.
- John Gant may get his wish. Right now, it would seem that the rotation is Flaherty, Kim (health permitting), Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, and probably Gant. If so, it’s a remarkable testament to Gant. I know the Cardinals have turned many a starting pitcher into a reliever. They rarely revert, especially after enough time has passed. Trevor Rosenthal always wanted to get back to starting. Never happened. Jordan Hicks was a starter coming up. Ever think he’ll be anything but the closer? You could even add Genesis Cabrera into that mix and the jury is still out on Alex Reyes. Gant, though, has been able to mesh desire with opportunity and taken advantage. He threw almost five innings in his last start and held the Nationals to two runs. I am still not fully on the Gant train (and the fact that they aren’t using Alex Reyes as a pseudo-opener to get his 100 innings is a crime) but he’s looking good now even though he’s unlikely to be in the rotation the entire year.
- Matt Carpenter needs to hit. Heck, until Sunday he needed A hit. Currently, the man that was last really productive in August of 2018 sits at one for 20 on the spring. You can’t fault the Cardinals for continuing to give him opportunities in games that don’t matter to see if they can get him on track, especially with his history with the club and the contract that they are paying him. He’s also walked five times, which is somewhat encouraging since that’s one of his big traits. He’s hit a few balls hard that have been caught as well, but nothing that we’ve seen so far makes you think that he’s going to revert to even half of his former glory. A strong last couple of weeks would help him and even without that I expect he’ll get more AB than some would like in the early going of the season to see if that works. However, Tommy Edman has been pretty much Tommy Edman so it’s going to make it tough to have Carp at second very much, especially if the offense sputters.
- Paul DeJong could use some success as well. He’s done better than Carpenter but just barely. Two for 23 isn’t what you want to see out of a guy that is probably going to play every day. Mike Shildt says that DeJong’s going to be fine, he’s got some good swings, etc. and that’s probably true. However, that’s also what a manager would say to the public about anyone on his club. He’s not going to come out and say, “Boy, we don’t know what’s up with Paul. His swing seems messed up and I’m worried about him.” It seems like there’s always someone that has a terrible spring and then comes out of the gates strong (and vice versa) so hopefully that’s the case with DeJong.
- Jose Rondon has made a name for himself. (EDIT: Though apparently not enough for me, since I spelled it wrong.) Honestly, when I hear “Rondon” I think Angel Rendon, the starting pitcher in the organization. I don’t remember hearing much about him, probably because the Cardinals just acquired him over the winter. (That rings a faint bell.) Rendon’s got some major league experience and, for the most part, has held his own in limited time. This spring, he has more hits than Harrison Bader (and just one less than Paul Goldschmidt) and more home runs than Nolan Arenado. He’s third on the team in RBI and is hitting .286. With Edmundo Sosa out of options but also just one for 11, there could be some tough decisions for Shildt and company.
- Tyler O’Neill is the spring MVP. It’s very good to see at least one of the outfielders competing for a job come out like a house afire. (In fairness, Lane Thomas has had a pretty good spring as well.) O’Neill is tied with Dylan Carlson for most at bats on the team and has done a lot with his playing time, currently hitting .500 with a team-leading three doubles and a team-leading two homers. He’s struck out six times and walked just once, but that’s part of his game. The strikeouts are probably going to be there but if he can be consistent with his approach, he could be a huge asset. Ideally, you’d like to see him fifth if they bat Goldschmidt and Arenado 3-4. It would really lengthen the lineup. Of course, as noted above, some strong springs evaporate with the cold reality of the season. Let’s hope that’s not the case here.
- Nolan Arenado is awesome. I don’t think we need to go much deeper here. Just can’t wait until the regular season to get to see him, well, regularly.
- Yadier Molina is still Yadier Molina. Catching complete games in spring. Throwing out baserunners. Hitting game winning home runs. Yadi’s going to be Yadi. I still hope they’ll rest him more this year, allow Andrew Knizner to get his feet under him, but there’s still something about seeing the legend at work.
Cardinals at Astros tonight at 5 with Adam Wainwright on the hill. Doesn’t look like there’s TV of this one–another reason to get to the regular season, to stop having these days without televised games. I know, I know, it wasn’t that long ago that you were lucky to get a third of the games in spring televised. However, the inventory has increased and now it’s frustrating when a game isn’t on FSMW or some other station. It would be nice to see Waino, who is also having an excellent spring, work his magic. Alas, not to be. Real games are coming, though!