Three games do not a season make.
But it’s the way the St. Louis Cardinals have played – more than the team’s win-loss record – that gives fans reason to be concerned about the 2017 season fresh out of the gate.
We were told after the Redbirds closed up their hot stove league shop without acquiring a middle of the order hitter or a dominating pitcher that they planned to win with better defense and a more dynamic offense.
While we saw a more aggressive style of play on opening night, the offense slumbered in games two and three, scoring one run in the middle contest. In the finale, the offense put up four runs – but three of them were gifts that came after the Chicago Cubs botched a tailor-made double play. It’s hard to steal bases and go from first to third when you can’t get on base in the first place. It was the defense, in those two games, that was offensive.
When the Birds claimed free agent Dexter Fowler would improve their run prevention by pushing Randal Grichuk over to replace Matt Holliday in left field, I don’t think any of us envisioned that first baseman Matt Adams would actually spend more time playing left field in the first series than Grichuk.
Adams’ dive on a ball to the left centerfield gap in the sixth inning Thursday was just embarrassing.
The Cardinals got a brilliant start from Carlos Martinez in the opener and solid starts from Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn in the other two games. But the bullpen, which was supposed to be a strength, has blown two late-inning leads in three games.
Chicago scored three runs in the ninth Sunday and five Thursday. New St. Louis bull penner Brett Cecil walked two and gave up two hits – including the game-losing home run to Kyle Schwarber – to allow four earned runs without an out recorded. To be fair, he did strike out one hitter in what was the most bizarre play of its type I have ever seen. The ball bounced on strike three and hit catcher Yadier Molina’s chest protector. Yadi looked for the ball at his feet while the batter scampered down to first base. After the runner reached safely, Molina realized the missing ball was somehow stuck to his chest protector.
The Cardinals just don’t look as if they are prepared for the start of the season. Their play is sloppy and desperate. Their roster seems compromised with no true cleanup hitter and without a decent fourth outfielder. Jose Martinez hit well in the spring, but he’s not exactly a lock down defensive replacement. And having Adams as the next guy on the depth chart is ridiculous.
I’m sure the reason the Birds didn’t invest in one of several quality reserve outfielders available this winter was because they believe prospect Harrison Bader will be up sooner or later. But they’re putting an awful lot of pressure on a young player to develop quickly and then produce immediately upon arrival in the big leagues.
This is the roster the team is going to have to work with, barring a major unforeseen trade. So the Cardinals better tighten up their game – and quick – otherwise this is going to be a long season.
Cubs series heroes: Shortstop Aledmys Diaz hit .286 in the opening set, stealing two bases and hitting a pair of doubles. Martinez deserved a win, pitching 7 1/3 innings, scattering 6 hits while striking out 10 and walking none.
Cubs series disappointments: Johnny Peralta as a bus in the cleanup spot, with four strikeouts in eight at-bats. Cecil not only got smoked Thursday to blow a lead and lose the rubber game of the Cubs series, he bolted out of the clubhouse, refusing to talk to the media afterward. Not cool. Players don’t have a great game every day. But being unwilling to take responsibility is another story.
The Cardinals welcome the Cincinatti Reds to town for their second series of the season. Hopefully they won’t push snooze on their alarm clock again and they’ll show up ready to play this time.