On the outside looking in

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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.

Who Do You Hate?

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Orioles vs. Royals is a win-win for baseball fans. Both teams feature long-suffering fan bases, cool uniforms, great stadiums and likable rosters. So far game 1 lives up to that belief, producing a 10-inning classic.

The NLCS on the other hand, I’m guessing it’s producing groans from anyone not from the Bay area or eastern Missouri. The Cardinals and Giants have represented the National League five consecutive years in the World Series. This is the Cardinals fourth NLCS in a row and if not for Marco Scutaro in 2012, the Redbirds would be vying for a fourth-consecutive World Series birth.

The Giants are working on their winning the World Series every even-numbered year streak; 2014 would make it three even-numbered years in a row. The Giants and Cardinals are remarkably similar. Despite roster turnover since 2010, both franchises have continued great success. For the Cardinals, gone are Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, David Freese, Allen Craig, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran and replaced with Matt Adams, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter (kind of), Randal Grichuk, Jhonny Peralta and Oscar Taveras.

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I know it’s partially because of injury but the Giants are playing without Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum in the starting rotation — I would argue the foundation of their sustained success — and they still have a great pitching staff anchored by underrated Madison Bumgarner. While Buster Posey continues to impress with his sustained brilliance both behind the plate and swinging over it and Kung Fu Panda is still his streaky, free-swinging self, the Giants lineup has been remade as well. Brandons Belt and Crawford have more prominent roles now. Scutaro is out and Joe Panik is in.

Yadier Molina

The backstops for both teams are sources of consistency off which to build. Yadier Molina is Posey’s counterpart and equally strong on defense and offense. Both teams generally play strong defense. Both teams have been frustrating on offense this season. The Cardinals struggles kept the Birds with a negative run differential most of the year. Both teams seem to get breaks to go their way all the time, like it’s predestined.

All that said, if I polled 100 baseball fans, all 100 would be rooting against the Cardinals. It’s gotten to that point.

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When I first figured out the Cardinals were becoming universally loathed, I was in straight denial. It took me long enough anyway not coming to the realization until the beginning of the 2013. I thought it might be a fad, something that would go away. The backlash has only intensified since then with “the Cardinal Way” being shoveled down fans throats and the Cardinals faithful being unwavering in their pitch as the greatest fans in all sport.

Realizing what was happening I tried to downplay my association. I became wary of announcing I was a Cardinals fan and avoided talking about the team in front of my friends, or at least that was after my former college roommate (and Rangers fan) pointed out that he hated the Cardinals. I was part of something I hated in other franchises — who thought they were better because they rooted for a perpetual winner. The Cardinals have made the NLCS 9 out of the past 14 seasons. I don’t know what it’s like to root for a losing baseball team.

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Now though, I’m embracing the hate. Bring it on. I think it makes an I-70 series (even though I’m sure the MLB front office is rooting for an all black and orange World Series) rematch more interesting. The Cardinals will play Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger and baseball fans better hope this is act 3 of that movie.

The Lackey, Craig and Kelly deal

That's Joe Kelly pranking STL rapper Nelly. Kelly and Allen Craig were locker room favorites.

That’s Joe Kelly pranking STL rapper Nelly. Kelly and Allen Craig were locker room favorites.

I hate the trade the Cardinals made acquiring John Lackey and single A pitcher Corey Littrell from the Boston Red Sox. The Redbirds gave up Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.

I have an emotional reaction to this deal, so I’ll get that out of the way first. Are we trying to get rid of all the guys from the 2011 World Series team that I love? Albert, Craig, Freese, Furcal, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter, Skip Schumacker, Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot are all gone. I know a lot of those couldn’t be helped but I thought Craig and Freese were part of the young core going forward, those were building blocks.

All that being said, I understand getting rid of Craig. Matt Adams is five years younger and having a great season at first base, hitting .315. Oscar Taveras is eight years younger and a mega prospect we have to play in right field.

And Craig has been horrible this season, hitting .237. In fairness, I think the move to right field has messed with Allen Craig. Second, you’re telling me he couldn’t be valuable as a pinch hitter in the playoffs? Third, we’re losing a veteran position player and replacing him with one of the guys famous for eating chicken and drinking beer with the Red Sox.

Yadi is coming back at some point and he’s an amazing leader. After Yadi though, you have Matt Holliday (who has never struck me as a great leader), Jhonny Peralta (ditto), Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter (neither of whom I’m sure are ready for that role) for veteran leaders. The chemistry of this team has been off this season and I don’t think this move helps.

However, the Joe Kelly decision is the real puzzler here. I’ve never liked John Lackey much but I’ll be fair. Lackey is an older version of Lance Lynn. He does not have great stuff but he is durable and consistent. He’s never had an ERA under 3.00, coming close in 2007 at 3.01, but most of the time he has an ERA around 3.50. This season his field independent pitching is better than his ERA, which is a good sign. We also get him for two years.

But he’s 35 years old; Joe Kelly is 26. Kelly is a valuable player right now, either in the rotation or in the pen. Kelly has great stuff, a fastball that moves and dirty breaking pitches. Joe Kelly’s problem is that he didn’t throw enough strikes and that’s fixable. I wasn’t ready to give up on Kelly as a starter. I would not be surprised at all if he’s like Ervin Santana: starts throwing strikes consistently and becomes a beast.

I think Kelly is going to haunt us. This trade reminds me of the Mark Mulder and Dan Haren swap. Haren was languishing in the back end of our rotation before becoming an ace in multiple stops hence.

Then again, I guess Mulder has a ring from 2006 and Haren does not.