Arenado: 'Our offense can hang with anybody'

Cardinals slugger paces 15-hit attack, but St. Louis swallows tough Opening Day loss

March 31st, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- Even after the Cardinals suffered an absolute gut-punch of an Opening Day loss, superstar third baseman was able to set aside his usually white-hot intensity and find a silver lining among the darkness in a dour clubhouse.

Arenado, who had two hits and three RBIs, was able to stomach the 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon in front of 47,649 fans at Busch Stadium because of the strong performance by a Cardinals lineup that seemingly has the potential to be as deep and dangerous as any in baseball this season.

Not only did all nine starters produce hits against Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah and seven relievers, five Cards had multiple hits.

Arenado’s two-run double in the bottom of the eighth -- when the Blue Jays inexplicably pitched to him even with first base open and reserve catcher in the on-deck circle -- gave St. Louis a 9-8 lead. That lead would evaporate in the top of the ninth when the Jays got to All-Star closer , but Arenado refused to let that overshadow the Cardinals’ 15-hit afternoon.

“It was a great first day for our offense against a great pitcher and a team with great arms, but we still had good at-bats and we expect to be competitive like that every night,” Arenado said. “We scored nine runs and had a bunch of hits -- I don’t know about that happening every night. But our offense can hang with anybody and we really believe that.”

After adding free-agent catcher Willson Contreras (two hits) -- who exited in the eighth with a right knee contusion -- and top prospect Jordan Walker (first MLB hit and RBI) to a lineup that already includes 2022 National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt (two hits, one RBI) and Arenado, the Cardinals came into this season feeling like they had a lineup that would feature great length in terms of hitters who can do significant damage.

That proved to be the case in the opener as the offense helped St. Louis claw back from 3-0, 4-1 and 5-3 deficits early in the game.

“Anytime you put together a roster in the offseason, one of the main goals is to, 'A', have an impactful one and, 'B', give yourself protection,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, the architect of a Cardinals offense that had four extra-base hits and three two-out RBIs. “When you look at how this lineup could potentially play out, it’s certainly exciting. You see all the guys in [the lineup], it shows you the breadth of it. It’s very exciting.”

No Cardinal had a bigger day at the plate than second-year second baseman Brendan Donovan, who continued his torrid play from Spring Training with three hits, including a two-run home run and three runs scored. Donovan, MLB’s leader in on-base percentage among all rookies last season, worked in the offseason to get stronger and to get more bat speed in the zone.

Using a heavier, more counter-balanced bat, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Donovan hit four home runs in Spring Training.

Donovan, an NL Rookie of the Year finalist in 2022, hit a Statcast-projected 388-foot home run in the fourth inning to knot the game at 5. He had hits in three of his first four at-bats and the out came after he laced a 109.1 mph shot into right field where Toronto’s George Springer made a diving grab.

“It’s the quality of the contact that matters the most,” said Donovan, who now has a nine-game hitting streak dating to last season. “If you’re just smashing balls into the ground or hitting sky-high popups, [exit velocity] doesn’t really matter. But if I can hit the ball hard on a line somewhere, I feel like then I have a chance to be successful.”

Tyler O’Neill, a player the Cardinals are hoping has a big bounce-back season, tied some AL/NL history by homering in a fourth straight Opening Day game. His 403-foot smash in the third inning left the bat at 105.2 mph and it got the Cards back into the game. O’Neill tied Yogi Berra, Gary Carter and Todd Hundley as the only players to homer in four straight Opening Day games.

Lars Nootbaar, who had a single and two walks, feels the Cardinals have hitters throughout their lineup who can do damage and pester pitchers. Thursday’s opener was proof of that -- even in a disappointing loss.

“We have two MVP candidates [in Goldschmidt and Arenado], and Willson [Contreras] might be one, too, so we’ve got a chance to be one of the best lineups in baseball,” Nootbaar said. “We know what [Goldschmidt] and [Arenado] are going to do, so if the rest of us just fill our roles, we can be a really good offense.”