Greetings on this Snow Day.

Today I’m starting a series of columns that will review the primary areas of fan-concern anxiety or anger over the 2022 Cardinals.

Obviously, the Cardinals may add to their roster with signings and trades when and if the lockout ends. So the focus is on the players they have right now.

Are the fan complaints legitimate? Will their fears become reality? Will the criticism be justified? At the end of each piece, I’ll give a rating on the probability of the fans being right.

One more thing: If I disagree with the fans on something, it isn’t an attack. I get some things right, and get other things wrong. The same applies to the BFIB.

Today: The Offense

THE PREMISE:  The Cardinals haven’t upgraded the big-club roster. They haven’t added a hitter from the outside who can strengthen a 2021 offense that ranked 20th in the majors in runs per game, 15th in OPS and 14th in park-and-league adjusted runs created. So let’s get ready to watch more of the same in 2022: a below-average offense that could be a drag on the team.

LET’S REVIEW: I understand the concerns. But I’m going to go back to a previous spiel on this. The Cardinals didn’t have their lineup in place for the first three months (and 81 games) of the 2021 season. The plan was to have a starting outfield of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson, with each having an abundant number of at-bats.

O’Neill missed games early on with relatively minor injuries, plus an illness. Bader was out for six weeks or so with a broken rib. And the Cardinals had to turn to backups that weren’t capable of filling the void.

In the first 81 games O’Neill, Bader and Carlson had a combined 644 plate appearances. The Cardinals averaged 3.9 runs per game and ranked 27th in the majors with a .675 OPS.

Bader returned July 1, O’Neill maintained a more frequent presence in the lineup, and Carlson improved in the second half of his rookie season. And rookie outfielder Lars Nootbaar became part of the mix to bolster the depth.

In the final 81 regular-season games O’Neill, Bader and Carlson combined for 913 plate appearances – 269 more than they had over the first 81 games. Adding Nootbaar’s contributions later in the season, the Cardinals had 1,009 plate appearances from their four best outfielders over the final three months.

From July 1 through the end of the regular season, the St. Louis outfield ranked first in the majors in adjusted runs created, second in batting average, third in slugging, fourth in home runs, fifth in onbase percentage, fifth in OPS, and 10th in stolen bases.

In addition to providing exceptional defense – O’Neill and Bader won gold gloves – the outfield was a huge part of an offensive surge that really got going after the All-Star break.

Over the final three months the Cardinals averaged 4.9 runs per game and ranked fifth in the majors in batting average, sixth in slugging, sixth in OPS, seventh in adjusted runs created, seventh in steals, and 11th in homers. Their .773 OPS was second-best in the National League, and their slugging percentage ranked third.

The timely hitting improved over the final 81 games, with the Cards ranking No. 1 in MLB with a .289 average with runners in scoring position, and No. 3 in OPS with RISP.

The outfielders weren’t the only reason for the upturn. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt was sensational over the final 81 games, batting .334 with a 1.022 OPS, 22 doubles and 20 home runs. Infielder Edmundo Sosa was a pleasant surprise, posting a .283 average and .790 OPS after June.

Over the final three months – among hitters with at least 50 plate appearances – eight Cardinals turned in above-average performances offensively based on adjusted runs created: Goldschmidt, O’Neill, Bader, Carlson, Nolan Arenado, Sosa, Nootbar, and Jose Rondon. And two others – Tommy Edman and Paul DeJong – were just a tick below average over that time.

The St. Louis offense went off during the 17-game winning streak that began Sept. 11. But I feel compelled to mention this again: from Aug. 1 through Sept. 10, the Cardinals had the best offense in the NL based on adjusted runs created. The bats were heated in advance of the franchise-record 17-game win streak.

In my opinion, the fan anxiety over the STL offense is centered around the lineup’s mediocre performance during a large chunk of the season … the first three months. But with key parts missing, why would we expect the offense to thrive?

The front office failed to provide quality-backup support, and the offense didn’t have enough to cover for the O’Neill and Bader absences.

Once the Cardinals could put their planned outfield in place – and reinforce it by promoting Nootbaar – this offense evolved into one of the best in MLB from July 1 forward. This was a much truer representation of the team’s offensive talent.

THE OVERLOOKED FACTOR: This shouldn’t be ignored … and unfortunately, this factor doesn’t receive enough attention … it is downplayed. Which is ridiculous. But I’ll keep talking about it, because I don’t think the peoples really know how much of a difference the stadium makes in the production of the Cardinal offense. And this was profound in 2021.

When we evaluate any version of the STL offense it’s important to remember the that Busch Stadium is an extreme pitcher-friendly park. And while that’s awesome for St. Louis pitching, it chills the offense.

Last season the Cardinals ranked 26th in MLB for home OPS (.672), and were 27th in home slugging (.360.)

On the road, the Cardinals ranked 1st in the bigs in OPS (.851) and were tied for 1st in slugging (.504.)

That home-road split is glaring … and it backs up my general view of a St. Louis lineup that’s significantly more capable than perceived.

So all of that ripping on how bad the Cardinals wheezed on offense … yes, they did. At Busch Stadium. Which distorted the entire picture. That must be included in any attempt to measure the Cardinals offensively.

THE CONCLUSION: I’d be living in Candy Land to assume a few things about 2022: that Bader will continue to strike out at a much lower rate, and his improvement vs. right-handed pitching is sustainable. And while I’m confident that Goldschmidt will have a strong 2022, I’m less confident in the probability of Goldy repeating a 2021 season in which he performed 43 percent above league average offensively. I question if Sosa can be as potent on offense. There’s the ongoing DeJong saga, which I’ll soon get to in another column.

Then again, Arenado should be a better hitter at Busch this coming season, and it’s reasonable to expect an even better 2022 from O’Neill and Carlson. The Cardinals are likely to receive assistance from Nootbaar and a group of promising young hitters.

The Cardinals remain committed to DeJong – again, another column for another day – and there’s no indication of any desire by the team to pursue a full-time DH (Kyle Schwarber?) on the free–agent market. I’ll cover that in an upcoming piece. Perhaps the Cardinals will pursue some bench help, and I’ll address the upcoming DH column.

The Cardinals can try to improve, but they’re more likely to do it with a tweak or a fine-tune move. For now, the team will return the nine players that had the most plate appearances for them in 2021, and I view that as a positive. This offense is better than many assume. We saw just how good it can be over the final three months of the regular season, and it wasn’t a fluke. It was just a matter of the outfielders getting healthy, and staying healthy.

PROBABILITY: Will the BFIB’s alarm level over the offense be justified in 2022? My opinion: there’s about a 40% to 45% chance of that happening.

Thursday, I’ll take a look at the DH/bench situation for 2022.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.