Need for Goldschmidt turnaround is urgent for Cardinals, but ‘It’s got to be all of us’

Paul Goldschmidt didn’t play on Wednesday, but thanks to rain, neither did any of his St. Louis Cardinals teammates. Goldschmidt’s off day, however, was planned and definite long before the clouds came in, owing in large part to the clouds that have hung over his season to date.

“I think having that off day and then having another opportunity, luckily we’ve got a lot of good players on this team,” Goldschmidt said Thursday in front of his locker at American Family Field. “It’s really not that different…Maybe there’s a little bit where you’re not preparing as much for the game.

“But you know, this sport’s weird. You just don’t have a practice day, ever, from the regular season to the end, if you’re playing every day, which I have and most guys do.”

“Definitely wanted to give him at least these two days, and I’ll talk to him today,” manager Oli Marmol said. “See how that work went on the field today and then make a decision from there, but not very long [out of the lineup].”

Finding a stat that points in a positive direction for Goldschmidt’s offense is a real challenge, and even if one turned up, it would not provide an accurate view of the career-worst funk in which he’s found himself almost without interruption since the start of the season. He enjoyed a brief respite last week during the team’s trip to Detroit, putting up five hits in two days to drag his batting average north of .230 and on base percentage above .320.

Since the first two games against the Tigers, though, Goldschmidt is in the midst of an 0-for-23 spiral with ten strikeouts and just three walks. Entering this weekend’s matchup with the first place Brewers, his average sits at .195 and his OBP at .287, alongside a dismal .267 slugging percentage.

“There’s times where you remove yourself from having to perform later on that night,” Marmol explained, “and it allows you to be in a different mindset of, I’m strictly working, and not this pressure of having to carry it into a game in a few hours. Having a couple of days like that, I can’t tell you how helpful it is, especially when you’re in a little bit of a tough spot.”

“You learn how to separate,” Goldschmidt said. “You learn how to detach after the game and show up the next day and not carry it. I’ve done a really good job of that. I haven’t felt like it’s snowballed and carried over from day to day. But those feelings, whatever they are, in the moment are healthy and good. We’re competitive and we want to win, and those are there even when your stats are good.”

When a player’s numbers are lagging as bad as Goldschmidt’s are, relying on a single day uptick is a good way to continue to feel hopeless. And Goldschmidt, to his credit, seems to have avoided that trap. Still, there were at bats in the series against the Mets that would have been irresponsible to ignore.

Goldschmidt struck out three times in the final four innings of Tuesday night’s loss, stranding five runners in the process. He whiffed with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, and again with two runners on in the ninth, in both cases missing an opportunity to tie the game or take the lead.

The ninth inning strikeout against former Cardinals draft pick Adam Ottavino was particularly egregious, culminating in an ugly swing on a pitch that never drew much closer to the plate than the center of the left-handed batter’s box.

Those at bats may not precisely have been alarm bells, but they also couldn’t go ignored.

“There’s probably a lot this whole year,” Goldschmidt said when asked about those at bats which did not look at all like his standard. “I felt good, and I felt confident going into the at bat, but obviously the results didn’t turn out that way.

“I think especially that last game, I swung at a lot of pitches out of the zone, I took some that were in the zone. Afterwards, as you’re going over it, you know it’s not going to lead to success.”

If the Cardinals are going to find a route to turning around their season and cutting into the six-game lead the Brewers currently hold in the division, they will need Goldschmidt to hit close to his career standard. No amount of shuffled lineups, fired coaches, or fingers poked into chests will generate sufficient runs to make up for a missing Goldschmidt. If an offense is built around a small group of hitters and one collapses entirely, very few teams could cover that loss.

With Willson Contreras out of the lineup for a matter of months due to a fractured arm, that spotlight on Goldschmidt grows brighter, and his turnaround becomes more urgent – after, of course, a couple more days of waiting.

“It’s gonna take all of us to play well,” he said. “[Contreras] was carrying our team and our offense. He was such a big part. I think there’s also a responsibility, and it’s OK to want to play well and understand that it’s going to take a team effort.

“It’s not just me or Nolan [Arenado]. It’s got to be all of us. I think that’s a healthy, good thing and something we need to embrace.”