The Cardinals Have Many Ailments

As I sit here on June 2, 2014, and look back on the first two months of the Cardinals’ season, one word comes to mind:  survival.  Despite a struggling offense for all of the month of April and into May, a defense that was at times shaky, and a bullpen that was inconsistent at best, the  Cardinals have managed to claw their way into a tenuous hold on second place in the NL Central Division.  After a grueling series of road trips, the Cardinals came back for a long stretch of games at home, hoping to get their bearings, and regroup for a recovery.  At first that seemed to be the case.  After a brutal beatdown by the Cubs in the first game of the home stand, the Cardinals came back to win 7 of the next 8 games.  A quick trip to Cincinnati yielded a series win against the Reds, and then the Cardinals returned home to face the Yankees.  That is when the wheels came off the bus.  The Cardinals dropped 2 of 3 to the Yanks, and then proceeded to drop 3 of 4 to the Giants, a series that included a uncharacteristic bad outing by ace of the staff Adam Wainwright, and a 9-0 drubbing yesterday.  The Giants series was marked also by the long awaited arrival of number one prospect Oscar Taveras, who signaled his arrival in his second AB by launching a hanging curveball into the center field stands.

Having gotten as close as 1.5 games back of the first place Brewers at one point, the Cardinals now stand 4 games back in the Division.  The road is not going to get any better, as the Cardinals now begin 9 games of interleague play.  Four games against the last place Royals may seem like a welcome relief, but then 3 games against first place Toronto and 2 games against the always tough Tampa Bay Rays follow.  To make matters worse, 7 of these 9 games are on the road.

It’s been a painful road for a team that was projected by most prior to the season as being the best team on paper in major league baseball.  Perhaps those projections were overly optimistic, or perhaps the Cardinals found living up to those expectations to be too daunting.  In any event, the team finds itself treading water to begin the third month of the season.

What is it exactly that ails the Cardinals?  Well, in my opinion, it is several things.  The first thing is the manager.  When a team struggles, the first place anyone looks is to the manager, so this at first blush appears to be the easy target for me.  There are those who insist that the players must bear the brunt of the blame for poor execution.  In most cases that is true.  Most.  However, there is an old saying that I am paraphrasing that basically says the best manager is the one that puts his best players out on the field, and then stays out of the way.  If that is the case, then Mike Matheny has been the antithesis of that strategy.

Mike Matheny has done everything in his power to put his team in the worst position to succeed.  He cannot stop tinkering and interfering with his team.  Constant and incessant lineup tinkering.  A bullpen management that overuses some arms to their detriment.  Putting bullpen arms in situations where they continue to fail.  Carlos Martinez‘s awful success rate against left handed hitters was a mystery?  Everyone, including my neighbor’s 10 year old grandson, had that one figured out, but apparently Matheny was clueless.  Pitching Randy Choate against right handed hitters, who are batting. 409 against him is another example.  Matheny will follow small sample size batting match ups to ridiculous extremes when putting together a lineup (it has never been shown statistically that these match ups have any predictive value, even in larger sample sizes ).  When it comes to pitcher splits, which are far more predictive, he is oblivious.

Then there are the maddening double switches, which have served no purpose the way he has been doing them, other than to take the best hitters out of the game in close contests and making his team far worse in the process.   I won’t even talk about the favoritism and double standards towards certain players, which he has been accused of by both national media and to some extent the local media as well.  I will just stick to the things that can actually be seen.

I don’t blame Matheny entirely for his team’s struggles.  That would be too easy and dead wrong. I do, however, blame him for making the struggles that already existed more difficult to overcome.

Another ailment that the Cardinals suffer from is an unbalanced roster construction.  There are too many outfielders fighting for playing time, and the ensuing battle is hurting the team.  The center field position is the prime example of this.  Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and even Oscar Taveras are candidates for playing time in that position.  Taveras is ensconced in right field for the time being because of the injury to Matt Adams necessitating putting Allen Craig at first base.  Mozeliak is reluctant to have Taveras in center field, largely because defensively he is the worst option there.  That position has become the musical chairs position, see-sawing between Jay and Bourjos, dependent on small sample size “hot hand” nonsense and the whims of a manager who appears to favor Jay over all others.  Add Grichuk, who has played center field in Memphis very credibly, but whose best position is right field (he won a minor league gold glove in right field in 2013), and possibly Taveras in some situations, and you have a 4 man race for who will play center field on any given day.  This merry go round puts unneeded stress on the corner outfielders, having to adjust to various levels of defensive competence, depending on who is starting that day.  Defense there could be anywhere from elite (Bourjos) to slightly below average (Taveras).  The decreased playing time also affects the players offensively in some cases (Jay being the exception, who seems to thrive from the bench and yet he is the one getting the most playing time).

Then there is the infield, where the starters are pretty much set, but the backups fall quite short of being acceptable.  Mark Ellis is currently the primary back up for second base, and while defensively he is more than adequate, offensively he is struggling.  I don’t consider this the worse case problem though.  That problem is the primary back up for both shortstop (in that case the only back up) and third base, which is Daniel Descalso.  Daniel Descalso is currently batting .173/.232/.231, with a wRC+ of 31, which ranks him 355th out of 374 in MLB for players with a minimum of 50 PAs.  Defensively Descalso is below average at 3B (career UZR/150 -4.8) to way below average at SS (career UZR/150 -18.8).  Let me just state this plainly.  Daniel Descalso does not belong on the Cardinals’ roster.  There are better options available.  Greg Garcia deserves a chance to show what he can do long term and he can play all the positions Descalso plays.  Even Pete Kozma, for all his offensive woes, has more value as a back up shortstop because he at least can play the position at an above average level defensively.

Something is going to have to change soon for this team to succeed, in my opinion.  What that something (or somethings) is, I think, up to General Manager John Mozeliak.  He has the power to affect the needed change.  What he is waiting for is a mystery to me.

The Cardinals have ailments, and the cure is standing silent.  Speak up Mr. Mozeliak.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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6 Comments

  1. bill w

     /  June 2, 2014

    I think you nailed it dead on Marilyn

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    • baseballmania

       /  June 3, 2014

      Matheny does what he is told to do.
      Its the GM. Matheny is his boy.
      Thats why he got the job over others.

      Like

      Reply
  2. baseballmania

     /  June 3, 2014

    Maybe Matheny is seeing the real Mo. You know the same one I think the players arent crazy for.
    I think many understand why Albert left..no love for the GM.
    I always thought that Ron Warner was being groomed for the position.

    Like

    Reply
    • Albert didn’t leave because of Mo. It was Bill DeWitt he was upset with. It was a good thing Albert left too.

      If there is friction I blame Matheny.

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      Reply

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