Second Half Keys for the Cardinals

Mike Matheny has managed his way to consecutive postseason appearances, once to the NLCS and last year getting all the way to the World Series. However, those teams were loaded. This year’s team is too, but injuries and offensive struggles have increased the degree of difficulty.

How the Birds finish this season will go a long way to determining my confidence in the young Cardinal Skipper.

1. Figure out what to do with the outfield
oscar_taveras

The Dodgers are getting all the attention right now for their bonkers outfield situation and rightly so because it is ridiculous. One current all-star (Yasiel Puig), three former all-stars (Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp), a lanky legacy kid with speed and pop (Scott Van Slyke) and a hot prospect with a great name (Joc Pederson) are vying for three spots.

But the Cardinals situation is almost as crazy. Holliday is entrenched in left, no one is usurping him, especially when he’s the only one on the team hitting with runners in scoring position this season (although his average is only .265 and he’s hit just 8 home runs, his average jumps up to .359 with runners in scoring position).

The other two positions are up for grabs. The plan at the beginning of the season was for Allen Craig to succeed Carlos Beltran in right. That plot was spoiled when Craig started the season hitting sub-Mendoza. His average is only .242 now and his on base is below .300.

The backup plan was for super prospect Oscar Taveras to to take that spot. The dude hits like a monster at Memphis but in 27 games is hitting .205 with a single (while majestic) homer.

The idea in center field back in April was that Peter Bourjos was in line for that gig after being acquired in the David Freese trade. In 73 games, Bourjos is hitting .228 with an on base below .300.

Jon Jay has been one of the best stories of the year. He gets crapped on by everyone during the playoffs (including me) for his shoddy defense and his minimalist hitting. He’s hitting .289 with an on base of .347.

I support what Matheny has done so far, which is exactly what La Russa would do, and that is play everyone. Bourjos is the fastest and best defender of the three, Jay’s a lefty, so a lefty starter and Bourjos plays. Taveras has been playing more lately but he’s left handed and Craig is right handed, setting up another platoon situation.

I want to see it go even further. Let’s play both center fielders together a little. I wouldn’t mind seeing Taveras playing a little bit of center. I would work Holliday in and out a little bit.

2. Got to get something out of the back end of the rotation.
carlos_martinez

You know what you’re getting out of both Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn at this point. Waino is going to be great. Even after a shaky start on Tuesday against Tampa, he has 12 wins, an ERA of 2.02, FIP of 2.59, 119 Ks and he leads the league in home runs per nine innings at .3.

Lynn is just solid: 11 wins, 3:05 ERA and 117 Ks. He’s walked too many guys this year but that’s my only complaint.

After that is a little bit of a crap shoot. Joe Kelly has only pitched in five games but has been good with two Ws and a 2.82 ERA. Carlos Martinez has only started seven games and has been shakier with an ERA of 4.57 and 30 walks. Shelby Miller has pitched 19 games is 7-8 with a 4.25 ERA and he’s given up 12 homers. Jaime Garcia is out for the season to the surprise of no one.

Michael Wacha is coming back soon and he’s shown no indication he’s not going to be good — ERA of 2.59, WHIP of 1.12 and works entertainingly fast. The question is which one of those three guys — Martinez, Kelly and Miller — do you drop down? Yesterday, Matheny decided to move Miller back into the rotation and Martinez back to the pen.

Martinez is the best reliever of the three, a definite weapon there, but I worry about his long term maturation if he’s in the pen too long. The league is littered with setup guys — Joel Zumaya is one that jumps into my head — that never became anything else. He’s too talented to waste as anything other than a starter or closer.

But there might be a confidence crisis brewing with Shelby Miller. After starting last season like a house on fire, Miller collapsed down the stretch and openly pouted about losing his starting role in the playoffs. So I support this decision. If Miller collapses again, I have no problem with Martinez permanently taking his spot in the rotation. I hope he figures it out and becomes the beast he was early in 2013.

3. Do some creative things to help the team on defense
wong_error

The picture above is second baseman Kolten Wong committing an error, which I feel like happens every time I watch the team. He’s only committed seven errors this season, but it feels like more.

At least Wong makes up his sometimes shaky glove work with good range. His infield mate Jhonny Peralta has eight errors and is down grade in range to Pete Kozma. He makes up for this with by hitting 14 home runs.

Yadi is out until September (Wah, wah. That’s me crying) so there is a massive down grade defensively at catcher. Matt Carpenter, who I would be the best infielder of the group, has nine errors at third. Matt Adams, while improving, is not a good defensive first baseman. Matt Holliday is historically shaky in left; Craig has struggled in right.

My doomsday view of the defense is a little exaggerated. The Birds have committed the fifth fewest errors in the majors.

However, the way to make up for defenders who aren’t that good is to both shift and platoon. Every left handed hitter, we should be shifting the infield (especially because Carpenter has good range at third). I also want to see Carpenter play some second base. We’ve still got Daniel Descalso and Mark Ellis.

4. We have to beat up on bad teams.
cubs_jack_white

We start out with the Cubs and Padres in the next two series. I want sweeps of both.

5. trade_stanton

I like Giancarlo Stanton but even if he were available, the Cardinals should not trade anyone. We shouldn’t go after David Price; we shouldn’t go after Cliff Lee. No one.

Historically, when you give prospects at the deadline, you will regret it. The Cardinals built the best farm system in the baseball while consistently contending. Let’s not do anything drastic.

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