Did the Cardinals build a weak offense around Nolan Arenado-or is it still buffering?

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When the St. Louis Cardinals officially acquired Nolan Arenado at the onset of February, there was renewed hope that Cardinal Nation wouldn’t be watching a pitifully boring offense again. Would the boys of summer finally get out the boomsticks instead of squeak by with a few runs? The answer isn’t exactly pleasing 47 games into the 2021 season.

Coming into tonight’s game with Tony La Russa’s Chicago White Sox, a day after being shut down by former Cardinal pitcher Lance Lynn, here is where the Cardinals rank offensively in the Major Leagues.

Batting Average: 20th. 

On-base percentage: 21st.

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Slugging percentage: 16th.

Doubles: 21st.

Home Runs: 12th. 

OPS (OBP+SLUG): 19th. 

Those aren’t division-winning numbers, even if we are just a little less than two months into the season. Quite frankly, it’s just weak. Injuries haven’t helped early on, with power-hitting Tyler O’Neill landing on the injured list yet again and just last night, Harrison Bader exited with a rib injury. Both of those players ignited the putrid outfield near the beginning of the month. O’Neill produced big flies that helped that decent home run ranking, while Bader’s improved bat and assured defense stabilized the overall unit in the field. They’re gone and the replacements are less than satisfactory.

Bader’s replacement on Monday night, Justin Williams, may bring solid defense to the table, but his hitting looks wishful at the moment. He is 3-23 recently with nine strikeouts. He is batting .168 in 101 at-bats with three extra-base hits and 40 strikeouts. That scares exactly zero pitchers. Matt Carpenter, a bench bat who can draw walks while doing little else productive at the moment, batted sixth last night and went 0-3, leaving three men on base. Carpenter is hitting just .114 at the plate, producing an awful .510 OPS. Once upon a time, he slugged close to that mark. But remember, this team couldn’t use Albert Pujols, even off the bench.

St. Louis’ first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, broke up Lynn’s no-hitter last night in the sixth inning, but his overall .716 OPS doesn’t threaten much in the No. 3 spot of the lineup. Arenado is just 6-27 recently, even if his 25 extra base hits are hard to ignore. He’s doing his part, but it’s not enough. Yadier Molina is collecting big hits, but if your 38-year-old catcher is required to do the heavy lifting in that lineup, the big picture doesn’t look right. Tommy Edman is a fine leadoff hitter, but he’s hitting .219 in his last 15 games. Dylan Carlson missed a few games with an injury, but the rookie sensation can’t carry this team just yet.

How inconsistent and maddening is this offense? Adam Wainwright shut down the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night, throwing eight innings of shutout baseball. He departed the game, and the Cubs scored on the bullpen and won. The Cardinals’ offense couldn’t even muster a single run for Wainwright. They’ve totaled two runs over the past two games. A pitiful output for a team with playoff aspirations. It’s the same old story fans have witnessed over the last five seasons, a period of time that has involved a single playoff series victory and lots of early exits or lack of October baseball.

In 23 different games already this season, the Cardinals have scored three runs or less. Is that supposed to be scary to other teams? Save me the injury excuse. The San Diego Padres swept a red hot Cards team earlier this month while missing three of their biggest offensive threats, including Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wil Myers. Every team in the league deals with injuries in an extremely long and quite debilitating 162-game season. It’s a long ride, which is why the active roster includes 40 men and there’s a taxi squad waiting over in Sauget for reinforcements. Nobody scares down there either.

Nolan Gorman isn’t ready yet, even if he lacks a position to play at currently. John  Nogowski had a great spring, but the team forgot to tell him that Goldschmidt was signed for three more seasons at first base. He can’t even stay healthy on bench duty. Andrew Knizner doesn’t play when Molina is healthy, so he’s merely a cheerleader in the dugout. Shortstop Max Moroff will apparently never see the light of day on the field. Edmundo Sosa is exciting but not in a lineup-changing sort of way-at least not yet. Lane Thomas has three hits in 20 limited-duty at-bats. Don’t count on him to fill a gap right now.

Was this the plan? Acquire Arenado and spin the wheel. The Cardinals knew they had to give the outfield depth a boost and did nothing. They knew one big bat wasn’t enough. It isn’t like they stocked up on pitching in the offseason. By the time Miles Mikolas gets healthy, John Lackey will have made a comeback. Speaking of midseason acquisitions, bringing hometown thunder arm Max Scherzer would be a shot of adrenaline–until fans realize he can’t start in left field and produce hits. How rough will it look when Scherzer shuts the other team down and no runs are scored for him?

It’s not all bad. The Cardinals are 26-21 and lead the division, but there needs to be more reliance and certainty from the lineup. You can’t start two guys with a batting average less than the Mendoza line today. Just wave a white pity flag instead. Williams is new to the bigs and Carpenter is aging like Wolverine from “Logan” at the moment, so batting their troublesomely weak bats isn’t a winning strategy. What is? Getting your eyes on the open market ahead of time and collecting an answer or two. The team has pitchers and prospects that other teams want. It’s just a matter of President of Baseball Operations (aka unofficial senior general manager) John Mozeliak and primary owner Bill DeWitt Jr. making the necessary moves. This offense, as it stands, won’t get the job done. Even when completely constructed, it won’t hold for long.

Let’s say O’Neill comes back and needs a week or two to get his power stroke back. What if Molina’s bat defuses and Goldschmidt doesn’t reacquire his big bat ability? Eventually, Arenado will hit a rough patch. Bader was 2-23 leading up to his injury. Like most of the franchise’s outfielders in recent seasons, they sizzle for a little while before burning out.

Then again, the Cardinals knew that going into the season. They are wishing and hoping for renewal from their lineup, instead of finding proven talent. Something needs to be done, or the trade block should start being explored.

What is your remedy for this Jekyll and Hyde offense?