Early Takeaways From 2018 Cardinals

Although a dropped series to the New York Mets isn’t the ideal way to start off their 2018 campaign, the Cardinals will take some positives away from it. The offense has come alive the past two games, scoring five and eight runs, respectively.

The three-game stand at Citi Field and Monday’s 8-4 victory in Milwaukee gave Cardinals fans a good look at what to expect this year. Here’s what to take away from the first four games of the season:

Yadier Molina still has plenty of gas in the tank.

An opening day home run was nice to see, but Molina’s solo shot Sunday against Steven Matz was enough to solidify that he’ll still be a productive hitter, despite being 35-years-old. Through the first three games of 2018, Molina is 4-for-12 with two home runs and three RBI.

If he can stay healthy for the rest of the year, expect for him to be yet again one of the most consistent hitters in the middle of the Cardinals lineup.

And of course, Molina’s control of the pitching staff and defensive alignment is what makes him so special as a catcher. He’s worked well with the new-look bullpen and will continue to be able to slow the game down for his teammates.

Make no mistake about it, the 35-year-old backstop still has a lot left in him.

Luke Weaver will be a formidable strength in the middle of the rotation.

In Sunday’s win against the Mets, Weaver commanded his fastball and off-speed extremely well. The 24-year-old struck out three over five innings pitched. He consistently worked out of jams and went right after the New York hitters.

Weaver mixed in his off-speed pitches in the right situations and kept the Mets hitters on their toes throughout his start. If it weren’t for the first inning in which he threw over 20 pitches, Weaver would have gone at least six, if not seven innings.

Since 2017, Weaver is 8-2 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts. After his 2016 stint (1-4, 5.70 ERA), these past two seasons in the big leagues, have been a real positive sign for Cardinals fans. He should improve even more with the addition of pitching coach Mike Maddux.

The new pitching coach says he loves Weaver’s confidence and the way he never backs down from anyone.

Weaver will be the X-factor for this Cardinals pitching staff in 2018, and so far it’s looking like he’ll make a positive impact.

Marcell Ozuna is the real deal.

The first two games for Ozuna were tough, as he went out without getting a hit. On Sunday, he showed Cardinals fans why they were so excited about trading for him in the offseason. Ozuna went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI. He added another hit and scored a run in Monday’s win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Look for a solid stretch of games coming up for Ozuna. He sat in the shadows of Giancarlo Stanton in his time in Miami, now he’s looking to make a name for himself in St. Louis. If he can do more of what he did Sunday, that could easily happen.

Moving Matt Carpenter to second for Jose Martinez will work out just fine.

Carpenter made the move from second to first base a few years ago and it worked out quite well. He sacrificed having a high batting average to hit more for power, molding into what a first baseman typically plays like.

Mike Matheny decided to slide Carpenter back over to second base to make room at first for 29-year-old Jose Martinez.

So far, so good.

Through four games, Martinez is 5-for-14 (.357) with a home run. Needless to say he’s started off the season red hot. Martinez provides some pop to the middle of a Cardinals lineup that lacks a true power hitter.

Paul DeJong is pretty good, if you didn’t know.

The seventh hitter in the Cardinals’ lineup has looked more like the cleanup hitter as of late. He’s had three home runs in the last two games (two Sunday, one Monday) and has been hitting the ball with conviction from line to line.

Not only has DeJong been hitting the ball over the fence, he’s been hitting them where they ain’t as well. Through the first four games, DeJong is hitting .467 with five RBI to add to his three home runs.

Cardinals fans should expect to see DeJong possibly move a couple spots up in the batting order within the coming weeks.

Consistency within the starting pitching will determine how far this team goes.

Although the Cardinals have the third youngest pitching staff in the MLB, the talent is definitely there. The question with such a young group of pitchers, though, is consistency. Winning ball clubs don’t always have the best talent, but their pitchers are consistent and their teams know what they’re getting from them everytime they take the mound.

Carlos Martinez has showed flashes of brilliance over the past couple years, but has always had trouble with consistency. While that’s expected of a 26-year-old, Martinez has to find consistency as the Cardinals’ ace. It’s not the end of the world as long as he can pitch some gems like he’s capable of.

What’s most important as far as consistency goes is for the 3-4-5 combination of Weaver, Mike Mikolas and Jack Flaherty to find a groove to where Matheny and co. know what it takes to win a game when they’re on the bump.

The young, inexperienced bullpen will have to find consistency as well. It looks like the Cardinals’ hitting looks will put the team ahead quite a bit late in ball games, and there’s nothing worse than a bullpen blowing leads the way the Cardinals’ bullpen did last season. The presence of recently signed veteran closer Greg Holland and new pitching coach Mike Maddux should help this group mature and and find the consistency to preserve victories in 2018.

Jack Parodi covers the St. Louis Cardinals and you can find him on Twitter @jack_parodi