There’s plenty of baseball to be played, so let’s concede that point right from the start. Nonetheless, it’s no longer quite so easy to ignore the stagnant offense that we’ve seen from some key Cardinals over the first 35 games of the season. The small sample size isn’t quite so small anymore.

The Cardinals have already played a fifth of the season. Heck, they’ll be done with a quarter of the 162-game season by late next week. It’s clear that there’s reason to worry about the offense.

The Cardinals must start plotting a trade for three-time All-Star Manny Machado, who would fit perfectly in the lineup in front of slugger Marcell Ozuna. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak, general manager Michael Girsch and their front office staff have put together a team that is a legitimate NL Central contender.

From this corner of the press box, the Cardinals are the team to beat in the NL Central. Mike Matheny’s bunch already won four of five from the defending division champion Cubs, who are widely considered the NL Central favorites by many so-called experts.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their offensive depth was exposed when they managed one run while dropping a two-game set to the Twins immediately after completing a three-game sweep over the Cubs. They were impotent without the injured Tommy Pham and Yadier Molina against the Twins. Most teams would see a dropoff without two of their three best hitters.

The Cardinals will be tested as Molina, the unquestioned leader on the field and in the clubhouse, is out for at least four weeks. Molina’s absence will be felt far beyond what can be measured on the stat sheet because he’s such an important part of the defense while guiding the pitching staff.

Outfielder Harrison Bader has done well when called upon in place of Pham, who appears headed to his second consecutive team MVP award.

Perhaps Bader might help the Cardinals most this year in an Orioles uniform as the centerpiece of a deal for Machado, who could ease some of the extra weight that Ozuna has seemingly been carrying this season.

According to a veteran American League scout who spoke with the Post-Dispatch recently, the Cardinals have the type of young, major league-ready talent that could tempt the Orioles to send Machado to St. Louis.

The Orioles, arguably the worst team in baseball, actually had a scout at Busch Stadium during the last homestand doing the type of homework that’s routine at this time of year for teams that expect plenty of calls as the July 31 trade deadline nears.

Although acquiring Machado won’t be cheap, the cost in terms of talent isn’t expected to be as steep as the Cardinals paid for Ozuna because Machado will be a short-term rental.

Bader and Class AAA Memphis outfielders Tyler O’Neill, Adolis Garcia, Yairo Munoz and Oscar Mercado are the types of young, major league-ready position players who could be appealing parts of a package for Machado. First baseman Jose Martinez, who might flourish as a designated hitter, is another Cardinal who might tempt the Orioles in a package because he’s young, inexpensive and proven.

With catcher Andrew Knizner already knocking on the door all the way from Class AA Springfield, catcher Carson Kelly is another quality prospect who could help anchor a package for Machado. There’s more than one reason for the Cardinals to hope Kelly thrives while he gets his chance as Molina is on the disabled list.

Kelly must understand that Molina’s absence will give him a long audition for teams like the Orioles and other potential trade partners.

Then, there’s the deep starting rotation at Class AAA Memphis with right-hander Jack Flaherty, lefthander Austin Gomber, John Gant, who is currently in the majors, Dakota Hudson and Daniel Poncedeleon. Hard-throwing right-hander Alex Reyes, who is expected in the majors later this month, should be an untouchable. He hit 99-mph during his first rehab start at Class A Palm Beach on Wednesday. He may very well be the Cardinals’ No. 2 starter by the end of the season.

Reyes is quite simply too special to give up for a rental, but there’s more than enough quality young depth in the majors and the upper levels of the Cardinals’ system to play in the Machado sweepstakes.

You can debate which players should be given up for Machado, but nobody can deny that this offense could benefit significantly from Machado’s bat.

The Cardinals succeeded during the first 35 games of the season even though Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong struggled badly at the plate while Ozuna sputtered along below his and the club’s expectations.

The Cardinals cannot expect to thrive this season if Fowler (.151), Carpenter (.152) and Wong (.212) remain close to the batting averages they had Thursday heading into the series against the Padres.

This lineup desperately needs Machado, who is hitting .350 with 10 home runs, 29 RBIs, a .439 on-base percentage, .629 slugging percentage and two stolen bases for a team that has one of the worst records in baseball.

The Orioles are going nowhere. The Cardinals have already shown that they’ll contend for the NL Central, but they need Machado to become a stronger contender.