Cards' goal: Appreciate past, look to future

February 17th, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- As the Cardinals held their first full-squad workout Monday, officially bringing all their players together for a week of workouts before spring games start Saturday, the goal for 2020 was clear in the message manager Mike Shildt sent in the morning clubhouse meeting.

“Appreciate the past, grow from it and let’s do this together,” Shildt said. “Let’s do this the right way, on and off the field.”

The Cardinals are looking to defend their National League Central title and get further in the postseason than they did in 2020, when they were swept by the Nationals in the NLCS.

But for a club that wants to defend its division title and looks at itself as contenders, there are a lot of questions that it wants to answer in the next six weeks.

The biggest of them all: How will the offense improve? For as much success as the 2019 Cardinals had, their offensive production struggled throughout the season and was almost nonexistent in the NLCS. The Cardinals had a team OPS of .731, 21st in baseball and worst out of the teams that made the playoffs.

And by not adding an impact hitter this winter, the Cardinals have put the onus on the players to make the improvements necessary to turn a weakness into a strength.

The players say they’re ready for that challenge.

“I think it drives all of us in a different way, knowing that it’s on our shoulders,” center fielder Harrison Bader said. “We’re defending the NL Central, they have a lot of faith in us -- honestly, as well they should. We’ve got a lot of guys -- Shildt kind of elaborated on this this morning -- but a lot of guys who have played together, a lot of history, more confidence going into it overall.”

The Cardinals' front office wanted to give younger players an open path to playing time and an opportunity to seize a spot in the lineup. By showing up to camp with relatively the same roster and without cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna, who signed with the Braves, the Cardinals reaffirmed that approach.

“I think basically the message of that is, we like the guys we have in the room,” Shildt said. “We’re very sincere about that. Our front office is sincere, our staff’s sincere and most importantly, the players in that room are sincere. We have experience we can draw on from last year, build on, but not rely on. We’re comfortable with what we have in that room.”

The Cardinals will look for bounce-back years from Bader and Matt Carpenter, two players who Shildt has said “won” their offseason by reworking their swings. Paul Goldschmidt and Dexter Fowler will be expected to contribute more, while Kolten Wong and Paul DeJong will look to build off the season they had at the plate and in the field.

And that group of outfielders -- Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neill, Austin Dean, Justin Williams and Dylan Carlson -- will be expected to show their talent in the playing time they get this spring.

The Cardinals are using the spring to find the answers to all those questions surrounding the roster, including the outfield. The players who were defined by their 2019 numbers this offseason will be able to redefine themselves this spring, and it started Monday, with position players on the back fields for live batting practice, fielding work and more.

“You’re going to repeat the past if you don’t learn from the past,” Shildt said. “To take a blind eye to it wouldn’t be prudent. But we’ve looked at the past, we’ve figured it out, but we don’t want to dwell on it. It’s most important that we have a mindset that this is how we do, this is what we do and this is what we’re anchored to. That’s a little bit of the message [from the clubhouse meeting]. What are we anchored to? What do we do when we’re doing it well, and if things don’t go well, what do we anchor back to?”