On the outside looking in


In the first game of a double header against the Blue Jays, the Cardinals played the field the way I want them to play it the rest of the year. The results were mixed.

The positions were as follows: Molina behind the plate, Carpenter at first, Wong at second, Gyorko at third, Diaz at short, Jose Martinez in left, Fowler in center and Piscotty in right.

Through two innings Diaz made a competent play in the hole and Gyorko made a barehanded play up the line. Wong also committed an error on a ball hit up the middle.

Thus far, the Cardinals have committed nearly an error per game. The Cardinals committed 107 errors in 2016, the sixth worst mark in the majors. Atlanta, Cincinnati and Oakland all played better defense.

I believe the reason the Cardinals were so bad last year, and have been even worse on defense this season, is that the team is not playing a regular defensive lineup. As an example, Diaz made a diving stop on two-foot hop about 7 feet from the second base bag in the game on Tuesday. He gets up, hesitates and then throws the ball past the outstretched glove of Martinez. The error goes to Diaz, but Rick Horton commented that Martinez should have gotten off the bag and played the ball, sacrificing an out for security.

Carpenter may have made that play. Matt Adams probably would have made that play. Martinez has never played first in his pro career and he is under the added pressure of trying to prove himself in the big leagues. Diaz is still a young player and he should be throwing to the same guy in nearly every game.

With a set lineup, certain position players will be on the outside looking in. Well, I have an opinion about who those players should be.

Jhonny Peralta

 Jhonny is on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb. I think he should be the next victim of the curse of Wally Pipp. Jedd Gyorko is a better player than Peralta in every way.

Last year in 289 at bats, Peralta hit .260 with 8 homers, 29 RBI and 37 runs. His on base was .307 and his slugging was .408.

Gyorko in 400 at bats hit .243 with 30 homers, 59 RBI and 58 runs. His on base was .306 and his slugging was .495. Jedd is off to a hot start this season, hitting .340 with 3 home runs.

You would think that Peralta being a converted short stop he would be a better fielder, but Gyorko has just as much range and more consistent hands.

Randal Grichuk

 There’s a scene in “The Natural” where Pop Fisher is talking to Bump Bailey, trying to convince Bailey that he better shape up because Roy Hobbs is going to take his job. I hope Mike Matheny has already had this conversation with Randal Grichuk.

There is no indication that Jose Martinez is going to stop hitting. He’s currently batting .375, more than 100 points better than Grichuk. Martinez deserves Grichuk’s job in left field.

Unlike Gyorko and Peralta, Grichuk is a much better defensive player than Martinez. While a good athlete at 6-foot-5, Martinez has looked very stiff in the outfield. Grichuk could play major league center field.

But, Martinez is much better in left than at first. The Cardinals were willing to put up with an occasional brain fart from Matt Holliday. I am willing to bet that Martinez defensive play will smooth out with regular playing time.

Matt Adams

 I feel bad for Matt Adams because the guy has worked really hard. He lost a ton of weight in the offseason and he looked sharp in spring training. However, Matt Carpenter has to play somewhere and the best option is at first base.

Adams, 28, has had plenty of opportunities over the past three seasons to win the first base job and he has failed to hit consistently. Teams need their first baseman to hit and hit both lefties and righties.

On the other hand …

 In the first game of the double header on Thursday, Kolten Wong committed an error and made a bonehead, base-running mistake by the sixth inning. Wong hit a double and then got picked off by Russell Martin at second.

Kolten Wong is the guy I want to step up. It was my feeling that the constant platooning over the past couple of seasons hurt him more than any other player. His talent at the plate and in the field is undeniable.

Of any of the Cardinals that can play second base, he has the most range. The team can’t wait forever and there may be a point where playing Greg Garcia every day may be the better options. Garcia’s ceiling is much, much lower, but he does not make these types of mistakes.


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

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.

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

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.

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.