Things have been remarkably ordinary as the St. Louis Cardinals conduct spring training 2.0.
At least, as ordinary as they can be during such extraordinary times.
Their core players have continued to test negative for COVID-19 ahead of next week’s opener of the abbreviated season. They haven’t had any injuries pop up that could dramatically alter their plans for the starting rotation or lineup. And the few questions they did have during the spring, such as how they would cast their deep platoon of outfielders and how they would stack their bullpen, have been largely answered.
“We feel like we’re in a place where the work’s been very solid and very efficient,” manager Mike Shildt said. “The credit goes to the players. They came in spot-on — their focus, their attention to detail, their ability to execute. Everything we have done to this point, camp’s been really, really clean.”
The Cardinals believe they had a roster capable of winning the NL Central when spring training was halted because of the pandemic. That optimism didn’t wane while players were doing at-home workouts in the hopes of some kind of season.
The biggest reason for that? Their starting rotation is among the best in the majors. Right-handers Jake Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas have shown the ability to dominate for long stretches, and ageless wonder Adam Wainwright provides a veteran presence in the clubhouse for an otherwise young group.
“As these games get even closer and these intrasquad games get stretched out even longer you’re going to see a little more edge. Guys are going to get a little more gritty,” Mikolas said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”
The biggest question in the offseason was how the Cardinals would replace slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna, and that question only became compounded with news that National League teams also would use a designated hitter for every game this season. But there are options, including a glut of talented young outfielders who need at-bats for their development.
The other newcomer to watch is left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim. The veteran left-hander was dominant in the Korean League last season and his versatility as a starter or out of the bullpen will be helpful during this unique season.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
The Cardinals are paying Dexter Fowler handsomely to play right field, and Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Tommy Edman and Lane Thomas give them five players capable of manning the three spots. That means Dylan Carlson, their clear-cut No. 1 prospect, faces an uphill climb to see playing time this season.
Carlson was on his way when spring training was halted, though. The switch-hitter was hitting .313 in 39 plate appearances, and he was among 10 minor leaguers with 20 homers and 20-plus steals last season.
The Cardinals hoped to have Jordan Hicks back from Tommy John surgery midway through the season, but he chose to opt out last week and continue to rehab. Still, the club returns a stacked cast of relievers headlined by Carlos Martinez, Andrew Miller, Giovanny Gallegos and John Gant, who somehow managed to go 11-1 out of the bullpen a year ago.
St. Louis opens its 60-game season against the Pirates on July 24 at Busch Stadium. Its second homestand brings a three-game set against the rival Cubs, after which the Cardinals head to a cornfield in Iowa to face the White Sox at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. The season concludes with a series against the cross-state rival Royals and four games against the Brewers that could decide the division.
“I’m really comfortable and confident that this team is going to compete regardless of circumstance and regardless of the opponent,” Shildt said. “They’re all such alphas.”