5 things to know as the Cardinals kick off their home schedule

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Following a weather-related postponement, tomorrow will be a holiday in St. Louis: home opening day for the Cardinals. Now, we know that Cardinals baseball fans aren't looking to the Southeast Missourian editorial page for their baseball news. But for those of you out there who just aren't into baseball, but want to understand a little bit about the team so you can network or have a conversation, here are five things sure to be brought up around the water cooler.

CARDS STRIKE GOLD: The Cardinals traded for and recently signed first basemen Paul Goldschmidt, formerly of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Goldschmidt has already hit four home runs in the Cardinals' away games thus far, and off to a hot start. The all-star is one of the best players in the game over a five-year stretch and is typically in the MVP conversation. He hits and plays defense well, and he's got good speed for a first baseman.

NEW SKIPPER: Mike Shildt replaced Mike Matheny as the team's manger last year, and the team responded after his hiring, going on a hot streak, nearly making the playoffs after a sluggish first half. Shildt leans more on his assistant coaches, is said to have better communication with his players than his predecessor. But ultimately what Cards fans hope is that he employs the analytics to put the best players on the field and in the best position to succeed. Fans hope that performance, not loyalty or contract status, will guide playing time. Cards want to see how Shildt's style plays out over an entire season.

FLAHERTY BREAKOUT?: Speaking of analytics, statistics show newcomer starting pitcher Jack Flaherty has one of the best sliders in baseball. As a rookie last year, Flaherty posted an impressive strikeout rate. Some national prognosticators believe Flaherty could be in line to compete for a Cy Young Award this year, given to the league's top pitcher. Flaherty has a lot of talent and great makeup, and Cards fans are excited to see what he can do. His first start was a bit rocky.

OUTFIELD DRAMA: Starting right fielder Dexter Fowler was one of the worst players in baseball last year, but the Cardinals have been putting out vibes that he's in a better place physically and mentally this year. Fowler is a step slower than he once was, and many fans believe he is no longer starter quality. The Cards signed Fowler to a big contract a couple of years ago, so he's being given every opportunity. Marcel Ozuna, the starting left fielder, is coming off a shoulder injury that limited his performance last year. Apparently Ozuna didn't work with team doctors/trainers and arrived to camp out of shape, and not ready. So far, he has batted fourth in the lineup with pretty terrible results. The outfield is the source of much concern for Cardinals fans early this season.

PITCHING PIECES: Like Ozuna, pitcher Carlos Martinez did not show up to camp prepared this year. He did not follow the strength and conditioning program to get his shoulder ready for the workload of a starting pitcher, and he's spending the first few weeks of the season doing that. Martinez is an enigma; the team would prefer to see his talent on the mound as a starting pitcher, but he may be placed in the bullpen due to his recurring shoulder issues, and his personality. Alex Reyes, meanwhile, is coming off two years of injuries. He came into camp in great shape, but still needs some time to build up to starting status. The top prospect in the Cardinals' system, and one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, is finding his way in the bullpen, but will probably become a force as a starter later this year.

The Cardinals are expected to compete for a playoff spot. Many expect the team to win the Central Division this year, but the Brewers and Cubs look to have talented squads as well. St. Louis is believed to have an advantage in pitching, but the Brewers and Cubs have better offensive clubs, on paper. It should be fun to see how the season plays out.

So there you go. That should get you started, or at least a baseline to know what's going on in Cardinal Nation.

Go Cardinals!

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