Where the Cardinals stand nearly a month into the season

St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Alex Reyes, left, is congratulated by teammate Tyler O’Neill after beating the Philadelphia Phillies in a baseball game Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Joe Puetz)

ST. LOUIS– Just short of one month into the MLB season, the St. Louis Cardinals have already dodged a few hurdles and have stumbled on some others as the team sits at 12-11 entering play Wednesday on the cusp of May.

Arenado

St. Louis Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado hits a two-run home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday, April 8, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Cardinals have gotten exactly what they expected when they acquired/fleeced Nolan Arenado from Colorado. The big bat. The Gold Glove defense. The infectious hustle and work ethic.

Pitching

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright throws during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies Monday, April 26, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Joe Puetz)

The club is in the middle of a 17-consecutive game stretch which will feature Andrew Knizner behind the plate for most if not all of it as Yadier Molina recovers from a foot injury. Wednesday, weather permitting, he’ll catch Johan Oviedo as the team experiments with a six-man rotation. After a rough start to the season that saw the Cardinals’ relievers like Giovanny Gallegos and Tyler Webb among others taxed in ways that brought back memories of what happened to Seth Maness, Matt Bowman, and Kevin Siegrist in their overused days out of the St. Louis bullpen, the starting rotation has stiffened during this most recent turn. KK Kim has returned from the injured list, and Miles Mikolas continues to work his way back. Alex Reyes has seized the ninth inning opportunity as the Cardinals continue to ease Jordan Hicks back into a post-Tommy John workload.

Offense

Tyler O’Neill, the outfielder who has battled injury and consistent contact in prior years, had done the same in the early going in 2021. He said after his return from the injured list last week from a groin strain that he was hoping for a bit of a reset offensively, and while noting a small sample size, that appears to be the case. He went onto the injured list striking out in half of his 28 total at-bats. Upon his return, in 12 at-bats, he’s struck out three times. O’Neill’s growth in that area will be something to watch, especially with the age-defying Molina and his team-leading .323 average, 14 RBI and team-lead tying 5 home runs on the injured list. While Manager Mike Shildt spoke early in the year of the benefits of giving opponents “a punch in the mouth” in the first inning by having Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado hitting 2-3 in the order, Dylan Carlson has fit right into the 2-hole and makes much more sense there long-term.

If Molina can pick up where he left off offensively, he’s still the best option to protect Arenado in the fifth slot. Paul DeJong has hit for home run power, tying Molina with a team-high 5, but has otherwise struggled, striking out roughly one in every three at-bats.

Outfield

Shildt continues to play the matchup game when it comes to constructing the outfield picture on a daily basis, with Carlson as the everyday center fielder. With O’Neill’s return, the picture is crowded enough that Tommy Edman’s days in right field should be more limited as long as the group is producing. Harrison Bader’s return sometime over the next two months will add another piece to the puzzle to mix and match. The question to answer between now and the July 31 trade deadline will be if the sum of the parts is producing enough or if an outside solution will be needed.

Bench

Matt Carpenter’s struggles have been well-documented in recent years and over the past few weeks. John Mozeliak bluntly acknowledged that the team is running out of time in giving him opportunities to rediscover his old form. It’s hard enough for a struggling player getting regular at-bats to break out, but it’s even harder for someone coming off the bench. In most places, the travails of a left-handed bat off the bench wouldn’t merit so much attention, but after the time and money the Cardinals have invested in Carpenter for more than a decade, this will be another delicate situation to watch as the season moves forward.

The Division

Cincinnati Reds’ Nick Castellanos talks with St. Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina after benches clear during a baseball game in Cincinnati, Saturday, April 3, 2021. The Reds won 9-6. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

The Cardinals have rekindled the spicy rivalry with the Cincinnati Reds in the early going, with Nick Castellanos playing the role of Brandon Phillips. At present, the Cardinals are a game up on the Reds. The Pirates have over-performed early, and are tied with St. Louis, but the question will be if they can hang in for the long haul or are destined to return to Earth. The Brewers have impressed early with pitching and are off to a 14-9 start to lead the division. The Cubs are currently in the basement on the North side of Chicago.

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St. Louis Sports

FOX2 Sports is your home for the latest information about the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Blues, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri, and the University of Illinois.

Are the Cardinals making a big trade? Are the Blues ready for another Stanley Cup run? Is someone going to sign a major free-agent deal? Are the Tigers, Billikens and Illini bringing in the next big recruiting class? We cover all the big games that matter.

The MLS is coming to St. Louis in 2023 and we’ll be here for the start of STL SC too. The XFL thrived in its reboot season playing at the Dome at America’s Center, and if the BattleHawks return in 2022, we’ll be there to tackle it.

St. Louis is home to some of the best high school student-athletes who go on to succeed in the pros and beyond. Before Larry Hughes, Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum made a name for themselves as Division I NCAA basketball stars at SLU, Florida, and Duke, they played at CBC and Chaminade. Before Ezekiel Elliott, Sheldon Richardson and Jeremy Maclin became Ohio State Buckeyes and Missouri Tigers and NFL first-round draft picks, they went to John Burroughs, Gateway Tech and Kirkwood. All of them were featured in the FOX2 Prep Zone before they went off to the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and beyond.

Members of our team, including Sports Director Martin Kilcoyne, Charlie Marlow, and Rich Gould have covered every significant moment in St. Louis sports since 1987, from the football Cardinals’ departure for Arizona to the arrival of the St. Louis Rams; from the Mark McGwire home run chase to the Cardinals’ World Series titles, to the St. Louis Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf era’s Super Bowl crown; from Brett Hull to Vladimir Tarasenko, we’ve covered the Blues all the way to the team’s first Stanley Cup.

Think of all the great characters in St. Louis area sports history. Jack Buck, Mike Shannon, Charlie Spoonhour, Norm Stewart, Whitey Herzog, Tony LaRussa, Stan Musial, Dick Vermiel, Lou Brock, Albert Pujols, Kurt Warner, Ozzie Smith, Hull, Pat Maroon, Keith Tkachuk, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, David Freese. All of them talk to us.

About the St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals are one of Major League Baseball’s iconic franchises. The team with the “Birds on the Bat” have won more World Series titles than any other National League club, and are second only to the New York Yankees overall.

St. Louis has been home to a National League franchise since 1892, but the franchise wasn’t known as the Cardinals until 1900.

Behind future Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, the Cardinals won their first World Series in 1926 over the Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig Yankees. The ‘Gashouse Gang’ era Cardinals dominated the 1930s thanks to Dizzy Dean, Johnny Mize and Joe Medwick and won the 1934 World Series.

Did you know that Branch Rickey, who would later rise to fame for bringing Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues and breaking baseball’s color barrier, invented the minor league farm system we know today with the St. Louis Cardinals? It was Rickey who built a system of affiliate teams to grow talent that would later shine in St. Louis. In the 1930s and 1940s, that system produced the likes of future Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter, all of whom won World Series championships for the Cardinals.

The Musial-era Cardinals would later give way to a new generation, and it was Bob Gibson and Lou Brock who helped bring the World Series back to St. Louis in the 1960s. Gibson had one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history in 1968. He was so good baseball lowered the mound the following year.

The 1970s saw the end of the Gibson and Brock years, the trade of Steve Carlton to Philadelphia and the arrival of Keith Hernandez. Hernandez would share the 1979 NL MVP award with Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell.

For the Cardinals, the 1980s could be summed up in a single word: Whiteyball. Behind Manager Whitey Herzog, baseball in St. Louis became synonymous with speed, stolen bases and defense. Shortstop Ozzie Smith was acquired from San Diego, and with Hernandez, second baseman Tommy Herr, a rookie outfielder named Willie McGee and closer Bruce Sutter, the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series over the Milwaukee Brewers. After Hernandez would dealt to the New York Mets, that core of players, along with slugger Jack Clark, would get the Cardinals to two more World Series trips that decade.

The 1980s saw the end of the Gussie Busch ownership era for the Cardinals. When he died in 1989, the Anheuser-Busch brewery took over after nearly 40 years under his watch.

In 1996 the brewery sold the club to the ownership group still led today by Bill DeWitt, Jr. The DeWitt family brought in former Oakland A’s manager Tony LaRussa, who would go on to be the winningest manager in team history. With another former Oakland hand running the front office in Walt Jocketty, the team acquired Mark McGwire from the A’s in 1997. The slugging first baseman would break Roger Maris’ single-season record for Home Runs in 1998 in a chase with Sammy Sosa that captivated the nation, only later to be tainted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs that McGwire admitted to years later.

In 2001, a young rookie named Albert Pujols burst on the St. Louis scene. Playing all over the field, he was the runaway winner of the National League MVP, setting the stage for the most dominant decade of offensive performance ever seen in a player’s first ten years in Major League Baseball. Catcher Yadier Molina came on board in 2004 as the Cardinals made their first World Series appearance since 1987. Two years later, a rookie pitcher named Adam Wainwright would fill in as the closer on a club that won its first World Series since 1982.

The Cardinals’ third World Series appearance in eight seasons may have been the most improbable when it came in 2011. A team that was left for dead at the start of September managed to roar into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season behind the pitching heroics of Chris Carpenter down the stretch. Once in the playoffs, the legend of David Freese was born. Freese, a St. Louis County native, won the National League Championship Series MVP by slugging three home runs against Milwaukee. Then in the World Series against Texas, down to the team’s last strike in what would have been a Rangers clincher, a Freese triple tied the game. A Freese home run in extra innings forced a Game 7, which the Cardinals won, bringing an 11th World Series crown home.

Albert Pujols left via free agency in the offseason and LaRussa retired, but the Cardinals kept moving forward, reaching the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox with former catcher Mike Matheny now managing the club. In some respects, the Cardinals are still recovering from what happened October 26, 2014, when outfielder Oscar Taveras, considered a potentially generational talent who could have become the face of the franchise, died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

The Matheny era would last 6.5 seasons, until he was replaced by current manager Mike Shildt in 2018.

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