Who Are These Cardinals?

It’s early in the season, and yet things with the Cardinals are not looking particularly good.  It happens.  It’s baseball.  The sample sizes are small so the numbers will tell you very little if anything useful about the future.

Invariably every season, however, if things are bad for any length of time, the amateur general managing begins.  It is as predictable as sunrise and sunset.  Something is wrong and someone or multiple someones are to blame.  Finger pointing begins.  Moves that are made are criticized and alleged to be the cause.  On and on, yada, yada.

Hey, we as fans really become emotional about these things.  We want to believe we know how to do better if the Cardinals would just listen to us.  I can’t say how many fans actually believe this, or just act like they do because it’s fun or their bored or whatever.  Having something to analyze and discuss with other fans is part of the experience, with the internet even more so than it used to be because the avenues for discussion are widespread.  It’s a good time be a sports fan.

I am no different than any other fan.  I have a blog, so that reinforces that I have opinions and I am not hesitant to express them to anyone who is willing to listen.  Maybe not so many people are willing to listen, but I can live with that.  It won’t stop me from expressing said opinions as often and as forcefully as I choose.

Okay, so get to the point you are saying to yourself.  As much as I have strong opinions and am willing to exclaim them to the entire universe, I don’t for one millisecond think I have the answers or know more than those in the Cardinals organization who are paid to make the decisions.   Not that they are always right, they are human just like me and make mistakes.  At the end of the day, however, in the aggregate those folks are going to make better decisions than I would likely make if I were in their shoes.

Nevertheless, here is what I think.  The 2016 Cardinals are a less talented team than the 2012-2015 versions were.  I believed at the start of the season that this was not a division winning team and I continue to stand by that assessment.  The “core” players like Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are aging and will never be the players they once were.  The young players are finding their way, and the jury is still out as to whether any of them will reach their potential.  Players like Carpenter are peaking, still have good years left and I suspect will continue to be the stalwarts for a couple of years.  Wong has room to improve, and Matt Adams is, well, an enigma.  I don’t see much improvement in his future, though I could be wrong.  Maybe call this a transition year if you will.  This team is going to be overshadowed by the Cubs, and perhaps the Pirates if they can get their starting rotation to work.

I am a fan of John Mozeliak. I think he has done great things for this organization.  He is fallible, however, as even he, I imagine, would admit.  I think he whiffed on some things in the offseason, to be frank.  The Heyward situation is somewhat murky, as there is some evidence, if you believe what Heyward says, that he was bound and determined to be a Cub, and nothing Mozeliak did was going to change that.

On the David Price matter, however, I think Mozeliak could have done better.  Yes, it is a lot of money to pay for a pitcher, and maybe the Red Sox were going to  be insane and keep bidding until they got what they wanted.  It wouldn’t surprise me, the Red Sox have done many stupid things with their money.  But I think the Cardinals could have, and should have offered more.  Sometimes I think they are a little too conservative for their own good.

I also think the outfield situation could have been handled better.  Once Heyward was a thing of the past, resorting to the “do nothing further” approach didn’t sit well with me.  I think Piscotty, Grichuk and Pham are fine players, Piscotty I like better than the other two, but all are still fine players.  Grichuk and Pham are injury prone, and Grichuk is a weird player who one cannot really count on to be consistent, in my opinion.  I am not saying that keeping Jay and/or Bourjos was the answer either.  I have never  considered Jay to be more than an average player at best, and Bourjos, though I think he was mishandled and undervalued, as he is a better player than most give him credit for, he was not going to work out, as it was clear that Mike Matheny had no use for him.  In an organization that appears to value offense over defense and speed, Bourjos was not a good fit.

As for Matheny, well, he makes bad decisions.  I think he will keep making bad decisions, because I think he is too stubborn and set in his philosophy to take direction from others and change his approach.  Having said that, I don’t think his bad decisions in the aggregate  have a large effect on the performance of the team.  In individual games the bad decisions can make a difference; over the long haul, not so much.  The organization, however, seems satisfied with him and that is what matters.  It is the overall talent of the team that will make a bigger difference, and as I said, I think this is a less talented team.

I am coming to a conclusion, I promise.  My conclusion is that this is not a talented enough team to win the division, perhaps not talented enough to even make the postseason.  I don’t see this as the end of the world, however.  These things tend to come and go in cycles; no team, not even the Yankees, have been able to keep a run of success forever, it just doesn’t happen.  The down times were coming, and as one who lived through the Cardinals of the 1970s, that is not something that I am going to freak out about.  Others can do as they please.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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The Brotherhood of Baseball

I have not posted here for a while.  I haven’t abandoned the blog, I have been both dealing with some personal health issues and have been doing some writing for another site that has taken my concentration away from the blog.  I haven’t had much to say lately anyway, most of my thoughts these days about the Cardinals are repetitious of many of the thoughts I have had all season.  But last night’s events have provoked me to speak up.  This will be a short post, I don’t want to bloviate about this topic but I do want to say something.

What I am talking about is last night’s horrible collision between Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos in the seventh inning.  Like everyone else I watched in horror as Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the ground, after colliding with Peter Bourjos on a fly ball to the left center field gap.  Bourjos made a spectacular catch there, but the greatness of it was lost in the horrible events that followed.  It was right that the catch was not noticed, the well being of Stephen Piscotty had to be paramount.  Peter Bourjos knew that, it was clear that his first thought was to go to his teammate and summon help immediately.   As we all watched silently, one could not help but be concerned about the mental state of Piscotty’s teammates as well.

Baseball players are paid a lot of money, more money than many of us will ever see in a lifetime, to play a kid’s game for six months out of the year.  The hugeness of the salaries often leads to fans taking cynical views about players.  Many see them as overpaid divas, men who are pampered and spoiled, who think of no one and nothing but all the dollars in their bank accounts.  What gets lost in all this cynicism, I believe, is the notion that these men are like brothers to each other, like soldiers on a battlefield who protect and fight for each other.   These men spend months with each other, in clubhouses and hotels, long plane rides together, day after day.  They spend more time with their teammates than they do with their own families for half a year.  When one of them gets hurt, they all hurt with him.  They have to, the humanness of them mandates it.  It could just as easily be them, each of them, lying motionless on the grass, and they know it as profoundly as it is possible to know it.  There can be nothing more terrifying than that.

Matt Carpenter sat kneeling on the ground, as did Tony Cruz, and Kevin Siegrist.  The bullpen stood staring, wondering whether their teammate was going to get up, or even move.  Kolten Wong looked ready to burst into tears at any moment.  Jason Heyward comforted Peter Bourjos as he roamed, no doubt agonizing over what his tumbling body had done to his teammate.  Can any of us imagine what it must have been like to these men as they waited, hoping and praying that their brother was going to be alright?

Do we ever even consider the human side of these men we watch play this kid’s game?  Or do we just see them as a means to entertain us?  We praise or we condemn them based on what they do on the field, but do we think for even one second that they may be as vulnerable and emotional as the rest of us?  Do we even consider the possibility that the amount of money they make doesn’t define who they are?  These are a lot of questions, but I believe they are questions worth asking ourselves, especially before we make assumptions or say things about players that might be hurtful.

Stephen Piscotty lay motionless on the outfield grass last night and we all collectively held our breath.  When things like this happen, I like to think it is a good time to reflect on what it means to be a fan and what responsibilities we bear.  It’s a self reflection worth doing.

My thoughts and prayers are with Stephen Piscotty, his loved ones, his friends, and his teammates.

 

Peace.

In Search of First

Good morning, good afternoon, good night, gentle readers (I want to be apropos to my readers in whatever time zone they may be).  I haven’t been posting as often as I have in the past, partly because I have been somewhat busy, but more so because I have found myself searching for something new to talk about.  It’s not that I don’t have concerns or frustrations with this year’s Cardinals team, I do. It’s that those concerns and frustrations are virtually the same as I have always had.  After a while, even I get tired of listening to myself.

So, the one clear difference so far this season from last season, is the changes at the top of the Cardinals’ lineup.  Last season, no matter what lineup shenanigans were pulled by Mike Matheny, the one thing Cardinal Nation COULD count on was the comforting presence of Matt Carpenter in the first place spot.  Well, no longer.  Carpenter has been moved down one spot to number 2.  That change was welcomed by some, not so welcomed by others.  For myself, I don’t have an issue with Carpenter batting second, it’s a good spot for him, but moving him leaves the important spot of lead off bereft of a natural occupant.  Matheny has played musical chairs with the top spot ever since, and the last one standing each time has left much to be desired.

There have been as many difference of opinion as to who should be in that spot, as there have been bodies in that spot.  We have had Jon Jay, Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk, and Jason Heyward.  Jon Jay is now on the DL and the rest have not cemented themselves in that spot.  The differences in opinion have been differences in approach more than anything else.  There is the old school thought that speed should be at the top of the lineup; 4 of the 5 aforementioned occupants fit that mold.  There are those who view OBP as the deciding factor.  Others want a combination of both speed and OBP.  Still others look at the offensive profile of the hitter; the top spot gets the most PAs of any other spot in the lineup, so it follows that that post should be occupied by one of your best hitters.

For myself, I see speed as the least important factor of these to consider.  Speed is nice to have and it certainly makes a big difference in scoring runs.   But speed only matters once that speed is on base.  If it doesn’t get on base at a healthy clip, it’s wasted.

I see the ideal lead off candidate as a hybrid of getting on base and getting on base with a vengeance.  That means consistency, for one, and getting into scoring position as quickly as possible, for another.  It’s one thing to get on base, but you have to get on the right base to score runs.  This is where speed can be helpful, if you can stretch a hit into extra bases, or steal a base.  Doing this has its dangers, however, as we have so painfully seen with our bunch of base runners.  The other way to do it is to hit for extra bases, meaning hit the ball hard and far.  So my criteria is two fold: OBP and hitting profile.

Matt Carpenter fits my ideal lead off candidate better than anyone else on the squad.  He both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  He is also the most consistent hitter on the team.  Prolonged slumps are very rare for Carpenter.  Unfortunately, Carpenter no longer occupies that spot.  I would like for him to move back there, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Therefore, another candidate must be found.  So let’s look at who we have.

I am going to start by addressing those who have been occupying that spot in Carpenter’s stead.  Jon Jay is currently on the DL, but is expected back soon.  I don’t like Jay in the lead off spot for one clear reason, he doesn’t get on base with a vengeance.  He gets on base with a whimper.  When Jay gets an extra base hit, it is cause for a National Day of Thanks.  Jay has the distinction of having the least amount of power of pretty much anyone in major league baseball who qualifies as an everyday player.  Jon Jay has an ISO (Isolated power) of .020.  There isn’t a word in the English language for how awful that is.  Jay’s ISO has steadily declined for several seasons, and with the issues he has with his wrist, the likelihood of it getting any better is pretty slim.  So, NIX on Jay as a lead off hitter.

Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, and Randal Grichuk all have the same problem; they don’t get on base enough.  Career OBP for each:  Wong .297, Bourjos .306, Grichuk .282.  Is it possible for their OBP to improve?  Sure, it’s possible, more so for Wong and Grichuk because they are young.  Is it likely?  I wouldn’t count on it.  I give Wong a better shot than Grichuk, because Grichuk, though he has plenty of raw power,  has very poor contact skills.  He is basically a mistake hitter, throw him a juicy fastball and he is going to hit the crap out of it.  Otherwise, he is going to strike out, or hit a weak grounder.

Jason Heyward is an intriguing possibility, he has a career OBP of.349, good speed, and the ability to hit for extra bases.  The issues with Heyward are that he is currently struggling quite badly, and he has demonstrated an aversion to hitting lead off.   Neither of those things are immutable, so he remains an option, if not now, perhaps at a later time.

So who does that leave?  Well, someone who doesn’t seem at all like a lead off hitter, and one who is probably not going to get that spot as long as Mike Matheny is the manager.  That person is Matt Holliday.  Yes, Matt Holliday.  Matt Holliday both gets on base and gets on base with a vengeance.  Blessed with a career OBP of a whopping .386, and enough power to hit for extra bases, Matt Holliday is my candidate for lead off hitter in the place of Matt Carpenter.  Holliday’s  power has declined somewhat, but he still has enough to fill the role.

I imagine a lot of people think I’m crazy, but a lot of people are mired in the past ways of thinking about baseball.  IT FITS, people.  Get with the program.  You want to win lots of baseball games?  Then stop thinking like you can’t wait to drive your Edsel to the General Store.

My work is done here.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

The Mettle of Kolten Wong

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want

to test a man’s character, give him power

—Abraham Lincoln

I remember back in April of 2014 when Kolten Wong was inexplicably benched and then subsequently sent down to Memphis for several weeks. It made no sense to me at the time; the offense as a whole was struggling, but Wong was doing no worse than others on the starting squad, in fact he was doing a little better than a few. The explanation that was given was a non sequitur; the offense was struggling, therefore Wong needed to “face adversity”. Many of us thought at the time that the explanation from Mike Matheny was a heaping pile of horse hockey. But then again, many of Matheny’s explanations for things fit that mold. Anyway, Wong went to Memphis and hit the snot out of the ball for three weeks. Yeah, he really needed to be there.

In the meantime, Wong’s replacement, Mark Ellis, was setting the world on fire. Yes, that is sarcasm. I had no issues with Ellis, his signing was welcomed by me because he had some seriously good defensive skills and I believed he would be an asset to the bench as a back up second baseman. He also was a league average hitter in his career, which was a long one. Unfortunately, age and injury took its toll on him and he was unable to get anything going with the bat in 2014.

However, it appeared Matheny found Ellis’ “veteraniness” appealing and couldn’t wait to allow Ellis to have sufficient rehab work in the minors after his injury before having him brought to the big leagues. Ellis had one rehab start, and then was brought up to play in Wong’s stead while Wong sat on the bench and contemplated his navel. After a while, Wong was sent to Memphis, and we were treated to all the Mark Ellis we could handle (or not, as it turned out). Eventually, Wong came back and was reinstated to the starting second base position, with recurring intervals of Mark Ellis still to be had.

I regurgitate all of this Wong history for one purpose. To show just how far Kolten Wong has come in his big league career. From the days of involuntarily “facing adversity” to the days of being the kind of second baseman we all had hoped for. The kind like we saw play last night against the Washington Nationals. We saw some dazzling, web gem worthy plays on defense, and some really big hits on offense. Kolten Wong showed us what he is made of and we like it. We like it a lot.

Now, Wong is still going to have bad days, as does every big league player. Hopefully there will be no more banishments for illusory purposes. Kolten Wong is a major league second baseman and there should be no more doubts about that, even during the inevitable periods of struggle. Adversity happens to everyone, and it shouldn’t have to be faced in shame and disgrace.

Kolten Wong is the second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Thank you for reading.

Make Me Smile

Prior to the Baltimore series I posted that I didn’t feel very engaged with this St. Louis Cardinals team.  I said at that time that perhaps I would feel differently after that series.

Well, I don’t.

Two embarrassing blowouts later I see the same problems magnified.  Offense (when it shows up at all) with no life to it.  Even the win on Sunday was accomplished with little to no pop (except for the 3 run HR by Peter Bourjos, you know, the guy with the elite defense and blazing speed who spends most games pulling splinters out of his posterior end).  But hey, Daniel Descalso had a couple of nice games, so all is right with the world (insert eye roll here).

Speaking of Daniel Descalso, I had to chuckle when I saw references to Descalso’s below Mendoza line season being the result of “rust” and that his two games against Baltimore proved he was a better player than he had shown.  Seriously?  Descalso has been a replacement level player his entire major league career.  Granted, his season thus far had been below even previous years, (and “rust” could account for some of that) but over his career Descalso has managed to accumulate a grand total of -0.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).  Even his mythical “plus” defense is belied by his career -2.9 UZR and -3 Defensive Runs Saved at his “best” position, 3B.  Daniel Descalso is not a league average player whose performance is being hindered by “rust”. Descalso is a replacement level player whose lack of playing time only showcases his lack of major league baseball talent.

I’m sure Daniel Descalso is a super guy that everyone likes.  I have no reason to think otherwise.  However, being a nice guy doesn’t qualify you for a spot on a major league roster if you don’t have the baseball talent to deserve one.  As much as folks groan over the idea of Pete Kozma as a major league player (his offense is certainly groan-worthy) he at least has a major league level skill, his defense is above average, and would be an asset as a backup shortstop to Jhonny Peralta.

So I am being a Debbie Downer and I know it.  There were many things to like about yesterday’s game.  The 2 inning shut down performance by Pat Neshek was fun to watch.  What a great pick up by John Mozeliak.  I just hope he can maintain that level of performance (or close to it) throughout the season, given Mike Matheny‘s propensity to overuse his preferred pitchers.

I always enjoy Kolten Wong‘s success, he is a particular favorite of mine.  Jhonny Peralta’s performance both offensively and defensively has caused me to overcome my initial reservations about his signing.  Matt Carpenter pretty much always makes me smile.  Lance Lynn also has shown much improvement from the beginning of the season.  See?  I can be happy about some things about this team.

Tonight begins a 3 game series against the Marlins, in a ballpark that makes me cringe when I look at it. I really hate orange and lime green as a color scheme.  Nasty.  Aside from the decor (and that hideous thing in the outfield) the Marlins also tend to give the Cardinals fits.  That’s even in years when they are terrible, and this year they aren’t terrible, so watch out.  I will be happy to get back to Busch Stadium and the San Diego Padres (who have been no slouches lately either, by the way).  The Cardinals really need to bust out before it’s too late.

I’m still waiting to feel love for this team.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

There Is No Poetic Justice In Baseball

So I missed two games in a row.  Couldn’t be helped.  They would have to be these two games.  Well, barring anything unforeseen I will be watching tomorrow.  On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t, they have scored 17 runs in two games with me not watching.   Hmmmm.

Kolten Wong hit another home run.  This is getting to be a habit.  Tony Cruz had a good game too.  Despite what people who don’t seem to understand the concept of small sample sizes think, Cruz is not a bad hitter.  He’s never going to tear up the league, but he was a decent hitter in the minor leagues.  He just needs to play to hit.  Gee, what a concept.  Too bad a lot of people don’t seem to understand that one either.

I missed the Gabe Kapler Incident, too.  It’s too bad that a guy with so much promise as an announcer (he understands sabermetrics, which is a first), wasn’t more careful.  I doubt he meant it as a slight against Molina, but it wasn’t very professional.  What annoys me more, though, is how so much is made of playing in the All Star Game.  Like it is some prestigious award or something.  The whole thing is a farce.  I mean, why should anybody care whether Jonathan Lucroy or Bugs Bunny starts the freaking All Star Game?  Is Jonathan Lucroy going to be less of a player if he doesn’t start?  He’s had a better offensive 3 months than Molina and all of a sudden it’s a matter of national pride that he didn’t get voted in over Molina?  Give me a break.  I would expect homer fans to be outraged that their guy didn’t win,  but a professional on a national broadcast?  Do better Mr. Kapler.

Unfortunately, the only thing that all the complaining on Twitter will do is make sure we all wake up to another “Let’s Trash Cardinals Fans, It Gets Us Mucho Page Views” article from Deadspin.  This is another of my pet peeves.  What fanbase doesn’t get upset when someone disses one of their players?  Anybody think if Gabe Kapler had said the same thing about some other player, that that player’s fanbase wouldn’t be outraged?  Yet, many act as if  Cardinals fans are unique to being protective and defensive about their players, as if it was some kind of monstrous disease that only they had.  That whole “Best Fans in Baseball” nonsense probably contributes to it, but still, it’s just ridiculous to suggest Cardinals fans are any dumber or sillier than other fans.  People really need to grow the hell up.

Being tied for first place is nice.  Being there all by our lonesome would be better.  Too bad the All Star break is coming up, it might slow down this offensive momentum.  I was so happy that Adam Wainwright got all this run support, it was about time.  I wish he hadn’t had the two runs scored, because he is going to have to be twice as good as Clayton Kershaw to get any consideration for the Cy Young award.  That is too much to ask for any pitcher, but when you don’t get the recognition that Kershaw gets you are fighting an uphill battle with the voters. I’m not knocking Kershaw, I love the guy, but let’s face it, he gets extra points from the media just for being Clayton Kershaw.  Waino is usually just an afterthought, like “yeah, that guy is pretty good too”.  However, Waino has to out-pitch Kershaw, and so far it’s pretty dang close.  Kershaw’s next start is likely to be against the Cardinals, so our guys need to step it up and whup up on him.

Get out the brooms tomorrow folks.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

Walk Off Mania And Stuff

Two walk off home runs in a row.  That’s pretty exciting stuff.  I was especially happy to see Kolten Wong hit the one last night.  I think he has been getting a bum rap this season, both from his manager and from fans.  The kid can play, and if folks would stop dogging him and let him grow into his own, he will be a valuable second baseman for the Cardinals for years to come.

Same goes for Oscar Taveras.  This kid has so much promise as a hitter, and if he is allowed to play he will become what everyone expects him to be.  I get that folks like Allen Craig, I like him too, but he is not the player he once was.  He can still contribute to the team, just not as an everyday player, not now at least.  Platooning him at 1B with Matt Adams, who doesn’t hit particularly well against lefties, and giving him an occasional start in the outfield, is the best way to utilize him at this juncture.  If Mozeliak does decide to trade him, so be it, though I hope if he does it is for a better return than Jake Peavy.

Things have looked better offensively these last two games.  I hope that continues.  I worry about Yadier Molina though.  He is another one that doesn’t look like himself.  I wonder if the knee problems have returned.  The most worrisome part is that the Cardinals do not have another good option in that position.  Tony Cruz is quite satisfactory in the backup role, but he can’t replace Molina.  I am hoping against hope that Matheny has the wisdom to not play Yadi for more than a couple of innings in the All Star game.  He has both Lucroy and Mesoraco to use, I would use them both.

This is the heart of trade season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Mozeliak make some kind of move for more offense.  If the Cardinals have any hope of overtaking the Brewers, the second half must be better offensively.  The problem is that to get value you have to give up value.  That likely means pitching prospects or someone from the ranks of the outfield logjam.  Mozeliak has shown reluctance in the past to part with pitching.  In the prospect outfield category there is Stephen Piscotty (who I desperately hope doesn’t get traded because I see him as our left fielder of the future), Thomas Pham, Randal Grichuk, and James Ramsey.  Any of these guys would have some trade value, some more than others.  There are some others in the lower levels of the minor leagues, but the aforementioned are MLB ready or darn close to it.  As for MLB level outfielders, Jon Jay would be the only one I see with enough trade value to get a halfway decent bat (Taveras should be off limits).  However, the BFIB wouldn’t like it and Mozeliak would likely have to pry Jay away from Matheny’s cold dead hands.  I won’t deny that losing Jay wouldn’t bother me a bit, because I like Peter Bourjos better, as anyone who has a pulse probably knows by now.

Whatever happens in the trade market the next few weeks, I don’t think the Cardinals can afford to stand pat.  With Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina all struggling at the plate, one cannot count on this offense too much in the second half without some additional help.  I would prefer to see Mozeliak pick up someone with some pop in his bat.  It’s not going to be Troy Tulowitzki or Giancarlo Stanton, those guys are pipe dreams.  There are other lesser but still decent bats to be had for the right price.  We need to get one.  An infielder would be preferable.

In the meantime, let’s take the Pirates and the Brewers to the cleaners.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

What’s Next?

The Cardinals did not play well in Los Angeles.  I hope they do better in San Francisco.

It seems like I have been having these hopes of a breakout all season.  I think I have.  Just when it looks like the breakout is about to happen—-it doesn’t.  I don’t know what to think anymore.

I have said there is something wrong with this team.  I could speculate on and on about what I think it is.  I have thoughts and impressions, but nothing I could back up with anything concrete.  Moreover, I think my biases would color those thoughts and impressions anyway.  I don’t like how this team looks, and I don’t like how it is being managed.  Those are my biases.  Anything I theorize about why this team has played so inconsistently is going to be influenced by those biases.

The Cardinals are calling up Oscar Taveras again.  Maybe that will work.  It didn’t accomplish anything the first time Taveras was up, but it was a small sample size.  He needs to play, but he also needs to play in the right environment.  I am just not sure the environment he is coming into is not toxic.  I am not sure that it is, but I am sure that something is not right.  What that something is is the mystery.

I will come right out and say it.  I am not enjoying this season at all.  I am not enjoying it to the point of not watching any games for over a week just to have some peace of mind for a change.  Yesterday’s game was the first one I watched in a while.  I sat there, crocheting, to have something to do with my hands, and I thought I don’t really want to even watch this.  I have never thought that way before.  If my brother wasn’t there with me watching it, I probably would have turned it off.

My brother says the team needs to manufacture runs.  He says they finally have some speed and they need to use it.  He says the power isn’t there, so they need to use the speed.  I can’t disagree with that, but that doesn’t appear to be the strategy. Kolten Wong is hurt, and Peter Bourjos isn’t going to play enough to get in the rhythm he needs to hit.  Those are the facts.  Without Wong and Bourjos there is no speed.  Therefore, the power has to come.  Maybe Taveras will bring it.  If not, then I don’t know.

We just have to wait and see what happens.  That is all I am going to do.  Wait and see what’s next.

 

Thank you for reading.

A Royal Pain

The two games against the Royals have pretty much sucked. I don’t know what’s worse, getting shutout 6-0 or scoring 7 runs and still losing.  It doesn’t much matter as far as the standings go, but it sure feels like one should feel worse than the other.  My brain hasn’t quite processed it yet.

Things were looking good for the first 4 innings.  Jaime Garcia was pitching well and my little man Kolten Wong hit a grand slam to put the Cardinals in the lead 4-0.  In the 5th inning, it all went to heck.  Garcia started getting pitches up and Royals hitters started hitting them.  After the first two runs scored I began to wonder why no one was stirring in the bullpen.  When the 3rd run scored I was thinking that surely someone would be getting warm.  Nope.  A visit from the pitching coach happened but that was pretty much it.  When the 3 run homer happened all that went through my head was how I saw that one coming.  Garcia finished the inning after giving up 6 runs.

The Cardinals battled back and managed to tie the game in the bottom of the 5th.  A double switch was made.  Jay out, Bourjos in.  That one knocked my socks off I must say.  Matheny taking Jay out of a game?  Would wonders never cease?  Maness came in to pitch, and as per Matheny double switch protocol, pitched one inning and was gone.  This double switch actually paid off, however, as Bourjos came to bat in the bottom of the 6th and hit a 422 ft home run over the bullpen to give the Cardinals the lead.  That’s two home runs in one game by the two guys Matheny seems to like the least.   That gave some people some serious schadenfreude to enjoy, I must say.

It was, unfortunately, for naught.  Pat Neshek came in to pitch and as the Universe would have it, the Royals scored another run on a bloop hit to shallow center that neither Wong nor Bourjos could get to.  The lead was lost.  Insult was added to injury when Trevor Rosenthal came in in the 9th and gave up the winning run.  The Cardinals were not able to come back.  Two games lost to the last place Royals.  Can it get much worse than that?  I don’t think I want to find out.

Many folks blame Matheny for not getting Garcia out when he had the chance.  Matheny said post game that several pitchers were not available and that Garcia had to stay in.  He also added that he would have left Garcia in even if he had had a full complement of pitchers.  Something about starting pitchers needing to do their jobs or some such Mathenyspeak.  I stopped listening to a lot of what Matheny says weeks ago.

I actually don’t know who or what to blame for this one.  The Baseball Gods, the Universe, it’s Tuesday.  It all seems pretty irrelevant to me.   The Cardinals just keep losing, and that’s depressing.  The rest is just window dressing.

There is something wrong with this team.  I can’t pinpoint what it is, but there’s definitely something wrong.  I have bad vibes. I don’t like having bad vibes.  My bad vibes usually don’t end well.

The last two days have been a Royal pain.  That’s a bad pun and a bad feeling, anyway you look at it.

 

 

Thank you for reading.

Make A Wong Right

Okay, the title is cheesy.  Bad puns are not my literary métier.

The point is that the recent demotion of rookie second baseman Kolten Wong was not in fact in the best interests of Wong, or the Cardinals team.  It may have seemed that way to manager Mike Matheny.   However, what seems appropriate to Matheny has not lately been altogether logical or effective.

Let me expound on that a bit.  As was the case with most Cardinals fans, the demotion of Wong at the time it was initially made, created a head scratching moment for me (actually it was longer than a moment, but go with me here).  The rookie wasn’t hitting well, but he was holding his own at the same time most of the starting lineup was doing the same or worse.

Enter Mark Ellis.  Mark Ellis was signed in the offseason as “insurance” in the case of a struggling or ineffective Wong.  I thought it was a good signing at the time and I still think so.  The 36 year old’s best playing days are behind him, but he brought a solid defensive pedigree and a decent, but not overpowering, bat.  Ellis is a career .293 hitter, but his bat is on the declining side of that average.  Even hitting at a .250ish clip would be more than adequate for a part-time infielder.

So Ellis develops knee issues during Spring Training and begins the regular season on the 15 day DL.  Not a problem, because Wong has a very good Spring Training and begins the season with a modest 4 game hitting streak.  A couple of 0fer games follow, then he is right back with another modest 6 game hitting streak.  That brings us to April 13, the day Mark Ellis gets sent on his rehab assignment.

Wong goes 0 for 4 on April 14.  On April 15, Mark Ellis’ rehab assignment is cut surprisingly short (1 start) and he is headed back to the Cardinals, who were in Milwaukee.  Wong is hitting .255 at this juncture.  Ellis is put into the starting lineup that night and goes 0 for 3.    Wong starts the next game (April 16) going 0 for 3, but is pulled after the 6th inning and replaced by Daniel Descalso, who had started the game at 3B (don’t even get me started about Descalso).  Descalso contributes nothing that night at the plate, going 0 for 4, and the Cardinals lose the game 5 to 1 to the Brewers.  That is the only game the Cardinals lose in that series, by the way.

Wong starts the next game in Washington (April 17), and goes 2 for 6.  Matheny has one of his WTF moments the next day and starts Ellis.  Way to congratulate Wong for his previous day’s performance, huh?  Wong starts the next game (April 19), then sits two games for Ellis.

Now by this time, Wong had played sporadically and his performance at the plate had taken a not unexpected turn for the worse as a consequence.  Let’s remember, shall we, that Wong was hitting .255 at the time Ellis was unceremoniously ripped after one start from his rehab assignment.  That was when the roller coaster ride began.  By April 25, Wong starts his last game, and on April 28 he is demoted to Memphis.

Let me take a brief sojourn from this tale to point out that a similar course of events was going on for Peter Bourjos.  During the same Milwaukee series (are we seeing a pattern here?) the Bourjos saga began.   Bourjos started the last game of the previous series with the Cubs (April 13) and went 1 for 3 with a triple and an RBI.  His average had climbed t0 .219.  He was rewarded the next day by being benched for Jay.  He started the next game (April 15) and went 1 for 4, raising his average to .222.  Again he was rewarded by being benched for Jay for the next two games.  He played sporadically after that, starting only 4 of the next 15 games.  Not unexpectedly, his batting average plummeted over that period.

What can one conclude from this series of events?  One person concluded that Matheny was making terrible choices and managing poorly.  That person was Joe Sheehan, a writer for Sports Illustrated, who also publishes his own newletter, the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter.  In an article written for that newsletter entitled “Mike Matheny’s Terrible Choices” Sheehan had this to say about both Wong and Bourjos:

 

What I don’t understand is the urgency. If you rank MLB managers by “likelihood of being fired in 2014,” Matheny is going to be down at the bottom with John Farrell and Joe Maddon. A similar security envelops the front office. There is no baseball reason, no job-security reason, no organizational reason to panic after two weeks of baseball in April. Yet Matheny dumped two starters before Patriots Day. No, let me rephrase: Matheny dumped two new-guy starters before Patriots Day. See, Allen Craig was playing worse than both Wong and Bourjos were when they were benched — .133/.184/.133, with poor outfield defense — and was never challenged. Matt Holliday was at .214/.327/.310, also not helping in the field, through April 12. Heck, Mark Ellis has played considerably worse since coming back than even Wong did while he was here: .205/.273/.231. Matheny seems to have one set of standards for some players and a second set for others.

 

I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Sheehan.

I have attempted to impart some logical reasoning into the demotion of Wong.  At one point I had convinced myself it made sense and even expressed this to others.  My way of making it sensible was to reason that since both Wong and Ellis were not contributing with the bat, and both needing regular playing time to rectify that,  sending Wong to Memphis was the only practical way to accomplish that, because Ellis could not be sent to Memphis freely without restrictions and Wong could.

However, there was another aspect to this I had not considered.  Ellis was on a rehab assignment in Memphis starting April 13.  He only started one game and it was cut short.  At that time Wong was still holding his own at the plate, hitting better in fact than such players as Allen Craig, so why wasn’t Ellis allowed to continue his rehab assignment?  Perhaps if he had been allowed the 20 days allotted, or even half that, he might have been in a better situation at the plate than he ended up being after getting only 1 rehab start.  What was the urgency in getting him back?  It appears to me, at least, that Matheny cashed in the “insurance” policy way too soon.

The answer may lie in what Joe Sheehan suggested.  Mike Matheny panicked.  Is the fact that the roller coaster rides for both Wong and Bourjos began with the series against the Brewers significant?  The hot team, the team who was looking to challenge the Cardinals in the NL Central division?  The Cardinals team was struggling offensively, Matheny felt he had to do something, so he directed his attention to two players with whom he did not have much of a history (none at all prior to this season in the case of Bourjos).  Two players who perhaps Matheny did not feel comfortable with?  Were Wong and Bourjos scapegoated so that Matheny could play two players he preferred in Ellis and Jay?  Matheny didn’t have a history with Ellis either, but Ellis was an older, established veteran who had years of experience in the field and at the plate.  Wong was a rookie, and a still unknown.

At the beginning of the Milwaukee series the Cardinals were 7-5.  By the second game of the series the Cardinals were on a 4 game winning streak and were 9-5.  What was the supposed panic based on?  After the Cardinals lost the 3rd game of the series and the real lineup tinkering truly began, the Cardinals lost 10 of their next 16 games, being almost swept by the Cubs of all teams.

Matheny’s actions were neither logical nor effective.

The Cardinals have now won two games in a row.  Wong is still in Memphis, but Bourjos started last night’s game against the Braves and was a key to the win.  He went 2 for 4 with an RBI, his speed on the bases was instrumental in inducing an important error by Platinum Glove winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and he made a run saving catch in center field.  Will he be rewarded by being started tonight, or will he again be benched for more Matheny lineup tinkering?  Will Wong, who is hitting well in Memphis, return when he is eligible to do so?

These are all the $64,000 questions Cardinals fans are waiting to discover the answers to.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

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