A year after St. Louis finished last in the National League in stolen bases, the Cardinals are putting an emphasis on becoming more athletic and aggressive on the base paths.
The arrival of newly acquired outfielder Dexter Fowler is leading that push, though the rest of the Cardinals — including manager Mike Matheny — are on board, too.
St. Louis stole only 35 bases last season, second to Baltimore's 19 for lowest in all of baseball. Part of the reason for the station-to-station approach was the Cardinals' National League-best 225 home runs, though Matheny said the team's mindset played a large role.
"I think everybody in this room would be completely shocked and surprised to know how many times we had the green light in the last several years," Matheny said. "More often than not, I'll tell you that."
Outfielder Stephen Piscotty and second baseman Kolten Wong led St. Louis with seven steals each last season, while Fowler had 13 steals on his way to a World Series victory with the Chicago Cubs.
More than simply trying to steal bases, though, it's Fowler's overall aggressiveness on the bases that has already had an impact on his new teammates. The 30-year-old scored 84 runs in 125 games last season, and both Piscotty and Wong said they have focused on improving their overall speed in the offseason to keep up.
"We're bringing the speed back to St. Louis," Wong said.
It's comments like that from the players that Matheny has paid close attention to during the offseason, all of which he hopes signals a change in approach from the Cardinals.
"I can give them the green light all day long, but if they don't have that inside their own mind that one, they have the ability to do that and if, two, they don't think that's something commonplace within our club, then they're not going to do it as whole-heartedly as they should," Matheny said.
The Cardinals stole 91 bases in Matheny's first season in 2012, but they've averaged only 52 per season since — including 45 while winning the National League pennant in 2013. And while the home runs did come at a near club-record rate last season, the end result was a missed playoff appearance for the first time since 2010.
In addition to Fowler's arrival and more aggressive approach, the likely departure of free agent first baseman Brandon Moss — one steal in two seasons in St. Louis — should help move things along on the base paths this season for the team that was home to speedsters such as Lou Brock and Vince Coleman.
"I think the reality is when you look at our club over the past few years, we weren't going to be a base-stealing club," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We weren't going to be a club that was going to be able to take advantage of that extra 90 feet. But when you look at sort of the makeup of this team, you can envision that that could happen."