If the bottom of the third inning of opening night's 4-3 win over the Cubs was the blueprint for how the Cardinals' season will go offensively, John Mozeliak will be a happy man.
Over the winter, he brought in Dexter Fowler to revamp the look of the St. Louis lineup. Fowler’s on-base percentage last season with the Cubs was .393, sixth-best in the National League. With him installed as the leadoff hitter, Mike Matheny had the luxury of making the third slot in the lineup Matt Carpenter’s new home.
Though Carpenter’s talents are well suited to driving in runs, he’s no slouch at the craft of reaching base, either. His .380 OBP ranked 12th in the NL last season. In Fowler and Carpenter, the Cardinals have a pair of bona fide leadoff hitters. The duo forms the bread of an OBP sandwich that includes Aledmys Diaz nestled into the two-spot of the batting order.
Diaz enjoyed a robust OBP in his rookie season last year; his .369 mark was second among Cardinals regulars in 2016. With the new configuration of Fowler–Diaz–Carpenter, Mozeliak intended to construct a well-oiled machine.
Sunday, it got its first chance to churn.
To lead off the third, Fowler reached base on a slow bouncer that evaded Cubs starter Jon Lester as he ranged to his left. Then Aledmys Diaz singled sharply past second baseman Javier Baez–who got a bad initial read on the grounder–which allowed Fowler and Diaz to begin their display of another brand of baseball the Cardinals lacked a year ago: Speed.
Fowler raced from first to third on the Diaz single to set up Carpenter for a chance to drive him in. The newly minted first baseman christened the three-hole with an RBI sacrifice fly to right field to give the Cardinals the early lead.
Dexter Fowler: infield single, goes first to third, tags up and scores.— Tyler's Opinion (@Tyler_Opinion) April 3, 2017
“If you get an opportunity, make the most of it,” Matheny said of the aggressive and effective base running. “Then you need situational hitting to drive the run in but we saw a lot of good things today.”
Nothing fancy, but it was a basic illustration of what the Cardinals sought in adding Fowler to the mix–and the type of half-inning you didn’t see very frequently last season.