Say what you will about the St. Louis Cardinals’ poorly constructed roster, but at least there was some sound philosophy behind it when the season started.
It just didn’t work out.
The offense already had averaged the fifth-most runs per game in all of baseball last season. With three guys at the top of the batting order who each reach base at least 37 percent of the time, none of us foresaw a lack of offense in 2017.
Had the offense performed as recent history suggested it would, this team would be leading the Central Division by a wide margin.
So when the team finally limps to the .500 mark in early August with an offense in the bottom third of the National League, it is absolutely fair and just to cast some of the blame on the underperforming players.
But there is another disturbing trend at Busch Stadium that also begs some serious scrutiny: Is there any coaching going on at all at the Cardinals’ big-league level?
Why is it up to Memphis manager Stubby Clapp and his staff — which has led the Redbirds to the best record in the Pacific Coast League — to fix Mike Matheny’s problems?
Outfielder Stephen Piscotty was one of those guys the Cardinals counted on for 2017 because in 153 games last year, he hit .273 with 22 home runs and 85 RBIs. The club thought that was good enough to warrant a six-year contract — with a seventh-year club option — worth $33.5 million.
Monday, he was dispatched to Memphis hitting .232.
Aledmys Diaz arrived at spring training as the unchallenged starter at shortstop. He might have been the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 2016 if not for the fractured thumb that landed him on the disabled list for more than a month. At the time of the injury, Diaz was leading the team with a .312 average and was one of two Cardinals to make the All-Star team.
But he’s been in Memphis since June, when his on-base percentage withered from an impressive .369 to a woeful .293.
Randal Grichuk was supposed to be the keystone slugger that would drive home all those guys who had made an art of reaching base. But his career continues to be a series of fits and starts.
The club’s handling of the 25-year-old outfielder has worn a path along I-55 between here and Memphis. He’s been back and forth four times in the past season and a half.
At Triple-A this season, he’s a .271 hitter with a home run every 10 at-bats. In the big leagues, he’s a .228 hitter with a strikeout every three at-bats.
Second baseman Kolten Wong and reliever Sam Tuivailala can share similar experiences.
And look at Matt Adams. The first baseman returned from an injury, dropped 30 pounds and struggled to get much time in Matheny’s offense. He was hitting a respectable .292, but had just one home run in 48 at-bats.
So the Cardinals dispatched Adams to Atlanta, where he has subsequently played his way into a starting role with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs in just 63 games. He’s been good enough that the Braves are making room by trying out Freddie Freeman at third base.
Do the Cardinals overvalue their prospects? Do they miss Jose Oquendo that much?
Whatever the issue, it may also be what’s to blame for the Cardinals’ continued lack of defense and equally error-prone baserunning. These are problems that were identified more than a year ago, but which show no evidence of being addressed.
If President John Mozeliak and General Manager Mike Girsch are serious about changing the “attitude and culture” and “shaking things up,” we should anticipate some player moves this offseason.
They should remember, though, that clubhouse attitude and culture starts at the top.