A promising offensive prospect cratering back to Earth has become the St. Louis Cardinals’ version of Anchorman’s pancake breakfast: They do it annually. Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson both showed signs of potentially being long-term solutions to two-thirds of the Red Birds’ outfield a season ago, and so far this year neither seems to know that the lockout is over.
O’Neill crushed the ball last year, slugging .560 — good for ninth in all of baseball — and finishing with 34 homers and 80 RBIs in 141 games. When you put together that kind of season, and meld it with his thirst-inducing biceps, it gets fans extremely hot and extremely bothered. And I’m not talking about St. Louis-sweat-when-you-step-outside-in-the-summer hot, I’m talking shifting-in-your-seat-trying-to-think-about-anything-else hot.
Those dreams are considerably less erotic now given O’Neill’s slow start. He’s seeing less fastballs this year, and in turn struggling to replicate his power numbers. His .333 slugging percentage isn’t in the top 10 or even the top 100 for that matter.
I wouldn’t quite describe Carlson’s 2021 season as lust-worthy. Hitting .266, with 18 homers and 65 RBIs isn’t setting anyone’s loins ablaze, but he wasn’t “As many doubles as RBIs (4) in 23 games” bad. If not for Nolan Arenado’s Player of the Month performance in April, St. Louis’ offensive malaise would be a larger topic of conversation outside of Missouri.
When you add up the drop-offs in batting averages from this year to last year between O’Neill (down .84), Carlson (down .80), and Paul DeJong (down .70), you get a total decrease of .234. That cumulative decrease in averages is higher than what any of those three players are currently hitting (.202, .186, and .127 respectively). My confusing brand of analytics aside, there’s no current iteration of this team that’s able to overcome the hitting woes that have plagued their postseasons for years now.
DeJong is the poster boy for regression, as his batting average has dropped each of his six seasons since entering the league save for the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
It’s early, and St. Louis is lucky to be 14-10 and tied for fifth in run differential despite having the 17th best offense in the MLB. If you’re a Cardinals fan like myself, you know all too well the feeling of hopelessness that immediately sets in when it’s apparent an opposing pitcher is dealing.
All hope of scoring falls to Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, who are both fantastic, but like any great hitter, they need support in the lineup. It could be karma catching up to the Cardinals for all those years of Red Devil Magic, or it could be an issue with development, one that I’ve screamed about before on this website.
Perhaps, O’Neill and Carlson are mired in increasingly less minor slumps. Or they’re part of a trend of good-yet-stagnating talent that’s become the norm for St. Louis’ farm system. I mentioned O’Neill, Carlson, and DeJong, but Kolten Wong never hit the peak GM John Mozeliak promised. Randal Grichuk’s two most productive seasons came after he was traded away. I’ll give St. Louis a pass on Aledmys Diaz because he wasn’t a staple in Houston’s lineup the past few years. Having said that, Diaz had as many RBIs (45) last year as the guy who replaced him at shortstop, and he played in 29 fewer games and had 83 fewer plate appearances than DeJong, as well.
I like Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader, too, but any offensive production from them is a bonus. Cards’ fans have been restlessly checking their watches for years, waiting for the next Albert Pujols who was promised to emerge. And re-signing the past-his-prime free agent slugger isn’t what anyone had in mind, nor is it going to fill the need. If anything, the addition of the DH to the NL has only shown a brighter spotlight on the team’s deficiencies.
I’ll skip the pitching portion of this ‘What the fuck is happening to the Cardinal’s prospects?” piece because their downfalls have largely been due to injury, and pitching hasn’t been the reason for the team’s postseason failures. If you’re looking for a solution, it’s likely not coming from manager Olivier Marmol. It’s not his fault the team keeps hiring from within and ignoring whatever the hell is going on with its homegrown hitters nosediving after being scouted for a year or two.
Is hitting coach Jeff Albert, who was retained from fired-manager Mike Shildt’s staff, just pressing play/pause on the game tape and telling his guys to keep their eye on the ball? It would explain a lot.
Mozeliak’s acquisitions of Goldschmidt and Arenado were great, and he should be applauded for fleecing those franchises. St. Louis can’t expect to win a title by taking advantage of dysfunctional organizations, though, and they can’t win by throwing buckets of money at free agents, either.
I know it’s early, and there’s still plenty of time for O’Neill and Carlson to bust out of their slumps. If they do, it’ll break with recent tradition, but I don’t think Cardinal fans would take issue with that as much as Champ Kind took issue with Ron Burgundy skipping out on a few flapjacks.