ATLANTA — In order for a baseball team to ascend in October, they need their best talent to thrive. It's as common as Ted Drewes long lines and four-way stop issues at Jameson and Fyler.
Against all odds, this 2019 St. Louis Cardinals team has fought their way into the postseason. Without consistent hitting, they found a spot. October is a whole new world of trouble, and since the Cardinals don't have elite pitching, they'll need some elite hitting.
For the Cardinals to overcome the odds and take down the Atlanta Braves, a few things need to happen, but two particular players are pretty prominent in my eyes.
The pitching side must keep things tight. Miles Mikolas needs to continue his string of second-half success on the road. Dakota Hudson can't put so many guys on base. Adam Wainwright needs to rebound from late September rough patch. Andrew Miller has to find a new wave of success and not cripple close games. Carlos Martinez can't afford to blow a single save.
All of that plays here, but there are two important guys that need to step up for St. Louis to soldier on.
Those two are Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna.
Both were brought here as saviors in some way. Goldschmidt is the long term device that's meant to sustain success while Ozuna was the band-aid applied to the loss of Giancarlo Stanton. Both have performed well since their time began in St. Louis, but at the same time, doing so without going above and beyond like they were expected to.
For example, statistically speaking, Goldschmidt had his most disappointing year at the plate. The 2.9 WAR via Fangraphs was the lowest since his rookie season back in 2012 while the .821 OPS was the lowest of his career.
Goldschmidt's batting average and slugging percentage were the lowest of his career, and the 166 strikeouts and ill-timed double-play grounders hurt. The glovework at first was Gold Glove-caliber, but the offense subscription that the Cardinals just inked for five years to wasn't there, home runs aside. The 25 doubles were depressing.
Ozuna was better in his second full season and looked to be heading to a nice contract at the end of the season ... until his terrible September. While the BABIP dealt him no favors, the month was one of his worst in some time. Ozuna's .160 batting average and .682 OPS stunk, but the eight extra-base hits left the biggest stain. The cumulative work was solid, if not great as expected. Putting together 29 home runs, a .804 OPS, and 64 walks were quite nice. But the career-low batting average, streaky hitting, and finish left a bad taste in the mouth.
I campaigned for the Cardinals to keep him around, and then the fireworks stopped. Ozuna needs to do more cleaning up this month. The 2.6 WAR is nice and all, but far from what he was doing in 2014 and 2017, which is the guy the Cardinals thought they traded for.
Indeed, Goldschmidt and Ozuna carry the largest brooms in this lineup at the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the order. If the Cardinals are going to do damage in this series, they must hit and in order for runs to get on the board, they need the big bats to do damage.
While Paul DeJong had 30 home runs and Kolten Wong is a versatile offensive threat, Goldschmidt and Ozuna have to clear the table once it is set. Goldschmidt's .252 batting average with runners in scoring position isn't as bad as Ozuna's pitiful .231 average, but each need to be more proficient during those moments.
Here's the thing. The Braves have destructive bats in Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson and Ronald Acuña Jr., so the Cardinals need someone to match them. I don't think DeJong, Wong, Dexter Fowler, Yadier Molina or Harrison Bader can hold a candle to those guys. At their best, Goldschmidt and Ozuna can get close. They need to be the offensive leaders during this series, and honestly, overall this postseason.
October isn't common ground for either player. Ozuna has never gotten into a playoff game, and Goldschmidt only holds 32 career at-bats. The former Diamondback does have four career home runs and an overall .313 average, but he hasn't been successful in October since his debut season in 2011. It's been a while for Goldschmidt and forever for Ozuna.
2019 would be an ideal time to turn over the narrative. While I won't complain for too long about .800 OPS seasons, I will ask for more from pure hitters. If these two guys push around Atlanta pitching, the pressure will fall off the pitching, defense and fellow lineup-mates. The lineup will appear deeper, confidence will be gained and a whole new look will emerge.
If not, you can count the Cardinals down for the count. As good as Jack Flaherty is — the young gun could pitch twice during this series — how many times have the Cardinals let him down by not scoring enough runs? Too many.
Don't make that mistake now. The big stage is back for the St. Louis Cardinals, but in order to stay on it, they will need Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna to be at their best.