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DeJong’s opposite-field blast highlights another strong day from Cardinals bats

Contributions from various parts of the lineup over the first two games of the season have made the Cardinals’ batting order a dangerous proposition for an opposing pitcher. The Cardinals beat the Pirates 6-2 on Saturday.
St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong is congratulated by teammates after hitting a two-run home run...
St. Louis Cardinals' Paul DeJong is congratulated by teammates after hitting a two-run home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Saturday, April 9, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Apr. 9, 2022 at 6:02 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Though Cardinals’ manager Oli Marmol wasn’t in the dugout for Game 2 of the season on Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium—he missed the game after being diagnosed with the flu—his words from earlier in the week continued to reverberate.

“We talk about a lot of different areas of our game here in this organization—I don’t think the offense is at the forefront of people’s thoughts as far as what they’re capable of doing,” Marmol said in his office to a group of reporters before Thursday’s Opening Day game. He then shared his belief that a course correction would be coming for that narrative in 2022.

“I think we’re going to have a very powerful offense.”

It was a simple statement—and the type you expect to hear from a manager a few hours before his team’s first game of a new season. But there was something about Marmol’s matter-of-fact tone and his conviction in uttering it that allowed the notion to linger in that moment.

Marmol didn’t sound like he was trying to convince anyone of anything; the man sounded confident that the merit of his words would soon be obvious to everyone watching.

Though an ‘it’s-the-Pirates’ caveat is appropriate when taking stock of St. Louis’ early success with the bats this season, Marmol’s premonition about the Cardinals’ offense looks pretty promising through two games. After taking the opener 9-0, St. Louis defeated Pittsburgh 6-2 on Saturday.

Miles Mikolas traversed just 3.2 innings for the Cardinals after a 41-pitch first inning set him back from a longevity standpoint, but the bullpen was there to back him up with 5.1 scoreless innings as Kodi Whitley earned his first-career MLB win. For a second straight game, though, it was the offense that stood out most.

Three home runs on Opening Day surged the Redbirds into a comfortable win. Paul DeJong was the lone Redbird to go deep Saturday, while Corey Dickerson registered his first hit and RBI as a Cardinal. Contributions from various parts of the lineup over the first two games of the season have made the Cardinals’ batting order a dangerous proposition for an opposing pitcher.

Of course, most days, Nolan Arenado is likely to have something to do with it, too.

The Cardinals’ third baseman is off to a quick start to 2022 that suggests a return to the perennial MVP-candidate status he enjoyed for many years in Colorado. Arenado simply couldn’t stop hitting doubles on Saturday, finishing the day with four hits, three two-baggers and three RBIs. That makes four extra-base hits and five RBIs on the young season for the third baseman.

Though more has probably been made of Arenado’s off-season swing adjustments than is proportional, a player with his pedigree only has it because the chase for improvement is a constant in his life.

“I think about hitting all the time—I probably need to stop doing that,” he joked at his locker after Saturday’s game.

But one aspect showed up Saturday that could be traced back to the work he did over the off-season to improve getting his hands more quickly to the ball. Arenado shared that he wasn’t satisfied with his performance against elite-tier fastball velocity last season, so barreling up a 98-mph Roansy Contreras offering for his second double of the day in the fifth inning was a positive sign.

“I feel like last year I was having trouble with fastballs,” Arenado said. “So that was great to see that adjustment happen in the first couple of games against a guy that has a really good arm.”

Elsewhere in the lineup, DeJong’s first noteworthy swing of the regular season put the Cardinals ahead for good when he unloaded on a pitch for an opposite-field home run into the home bullpen. The Cardinals made a bet on DeJong this off-season, wagering that he would return to form as the above-average offensive player he performed as when he entered the league. But as the calendar continues to drift further away from the 121 OPS+ he posted as a rookie in 2017, it has become critical for the team to see the results after the incumbent shortstop ran unopposed into this new season—despite protestations from some corners of the fan base.

After an uneventful 0-fer on Thursday, DeJong put a jolt into a ball in the third inning of Saturday’s game that gives credence to the notion of his new approach. Long balls to right field have been rare occurrences for DeJong throughout his career; the Cardinals are hoping Saturday’s was a sign of the adjustments he’s made to become a more well-rounded threat at the plate.

“Seeing him in spring training, we knew he made a big adjustment,” Cardinals bench coach and Saturday’s fill-in manager Skip Schumaker said of DeJong. “It’s one thing hitting it the other way here, but hitting it out of here in 40-degree weather the other way is significant. Seeing him do that today was big for him, big for us. It obviously makes the lineup so much deeper when he’s going off like that.”

Signs of a deep lineup are plentiful for the Cardinals through the first couple of games. The staying power for this group to be able to do it consistently—without disappearing for days on end, giving way to those nasty prolonged, team-wide slumps—is going to be the key. But for now, the offense that Marmol, Schumaker and the rest of the Cardinals have envisioned is the one we’re seeing play out between the white lines.

“When Pauly’s hitting opposite-field home runs, it’s really—there are no gaps,” Schumaker said of the Cardinals batting order, one through nine. “It’s tough to match up with this lineup right now. It’s two games, right? So we’ve got a long way to go. But it’s fun so far.”