Cards face myriad of challenges entering third month of year

News-DemcoratJune 3, 2014 

St. Louis Cardinals' Oscar Taveras watches his solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 31, 2014, in St. Louis. The home run came during Taveras' second career at-bat in his major league debut. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

JEFF ROBERSON — AP

As Week 10 of the season opened Monday against the Kansas City Royals, the St. Louis Cardinals have hit all of 30 home runs.

Is that all bad? After all, the Cardinals began Monday with a 30-27 record and again are in contention in the NL Central.

Yes, it is that bad. The Cardinals rank last in home runs in the National League, with nine fewer than the New York Mets, and are 29th of 30 in the majors. Only the Royals have fewer (24).

The Cardinals can say all they want about the power outage from the bat of first baseman Matt Adams, who is on the disabled list with a strained left calf.

Adams was expected to provide thunder in the middle of the Cardinals' order, but he has three homers in 202 plate appearances.

Sure, he's hitting .325 --far higher than anyone expected. But did you hear anyone in the spring ask: "Wow, wouldn't it be great if Matt Adams could hit .300?"

No. Not one person pondered that question.

But indeed, the chances of Adams hitting .300 are now overwhelmingly greater than they are that he will hit 25 homers.

There's another issue. Will Adams even survive the trade deadline? It's clear the Cardinals are going to need some kind of tweak to stay in the race; something just isn't right about this team.

And with Oscar Taveras entrenched in the lineup --firmly entrenched, preferably, from now until October --where is the right spot for Adams?

Off the bench? That would be beneficial, considering Cardinals' pinch-hitters are batting .182 with no homers.

But Adams could, and should, be part of a bigger scheme, perhaps a trade to help solve the Cardinals' riddle in center field.

The question, however, lingers: What team wants a first baseman who should be hitting for power, but isn't? General managers aren't going to be lining up to see whether Adams is their answer.

The next topic is sensitive, given that fans begin to clamor and criticize every time Matt Holliday is held accountable for anything.

Holliday is as much to blame for the team's lack of power as Adams. Sure, Holliday isn't a pure home-run hitter in the mold of Adams. But a .270 average with three -- three! --home runs in 247 plate appearances isn't enough from the left fielder. Not nearly enough.

Only one other time in his career has Holliday had a measly three homers on June 2, and that was in 2005 in Colorado when he didn't play his first game until May 17.

So while everyone expects Holliday to approach his career average of .310 and perhaps drive in 100 runs, a few long balls now and then could be the antidote for the Cardinals' startling power shortage.

Two other topics.

Is anyone comfortable with center field?

Peter Bourjos can flat-out run, but his big swing and inability to make consistent contact negate anything his speed can offer. His .202 average and .272 on-base percentage are far worse than his career marks of .246 and .303. What role can he fill?

And then there's Jon Jay. Two years ago, he was dazzling on defense. The spectacular plays are fewer in number these days, but he's a favorite of manager Mike Matheny and has, of late, been making contributions.

But Jay is not a long-term answer. He's not fast, has little power, and at age 29, isn't expected to be much more than he already is. If there's a team willing to take him, the Cardinals should explore the possibility.

OK, so if Bourjos and Jay aren't the answers in center, who is? I'm not opposed to Taveras receiving time in center, even though he is raw and will be prone to defensive mistakes.

When Adams returns, Allen Craig can move back to right field and the Cardinals can hope that soon, very soon, Adams will regain his power swing and decide that home runs are more important to the offense than singles to left field.

Finally, isn't it time for Shelby Miller to take a step forward? He was 6-4 with a 3.94 ERA entering his start Monday, and his previous two assignments had dreadful results (11 earned runs in 10 innings).

More than that, Miller must begin making improvements in holding runners. Opponents have stolen seven bases in nine attempts against Miller. Catcher Yadier Molina, despite his strong and accurate arm, had no chance to make a throw on Jacoby Ellsbury's two steals for the New York Yankees on Wednesday

Could Miller be part of a bigger trade package to acquire a center fielder? He could be expendable, particularly if Joe Kelly and Tyler Lyons can return from injury. Carlos Martinez, who has struggled in the bullpen, also could be given a shot.

So, the Cardinals have options. Which one will they exercise?

Reporter David Wilhelm has covered the Cardinals for the Belleville News-Democrat since 1995. He can be reached at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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