I live for baseball.
I look forward every day during the season to coming home to rush over to Busch Stadium or sit down in front of the television to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play. During the winter, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss when the games aren’t there.
So, while there are many folks in the world with bigger problems than I have, I feel cheated that the Redbirds have been absolutely unwatchable during the first week and a half of the season.
It’s not that they’re losing. It’s that they’re getting beaten so badly in every facet of the game that it’s miserable to witness. The pitching has been terrible, the offense has been worse and the defense has been atrocious. It seems as if the players are just waiting for something bad to happen so they can slump their shoulders and watch the game unravel.
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Can the team turn it around? Possibly. I’m not declaring the season to be lost. But I am saying that the frustratingly poor brand of baseball that the front office was going to cure not by adding better players but by shuffling around some of the suspect defenders and working on the fundamentals in spring training has clearly survived the winter and is rearing its ugly head again this spring.
This club had a chance over the free-agent signing period to better itself but its leadership said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Instead, Jhonny Peralta was moved from shortstop to third base to try to hide his postage stamp-sized range, and he has been a butcher at the hot corner.
Aledmys Diaz, who looked as if he was trying to catch balls with an iron skillet much of last year, is showing signs again that his defense isn’t nearly as helpful as his hitting to the Cardinals cause.
Kolten Wong was going to make things better in his fourth shot at nailing down the starting job at second base. But he hasn’t gotten over the maddening lapses in concentration that cause a guy capable of making stunning plays to botch the routine ones.
And then we come to first base. Matt Carpenter was moved there from third, first to make room for Peralta in the lineup, but also to take his scattershot throwing arm out of the equation as much as possible. But that’s left Matt Adams without a regular home and the career first baseman has been standing in left field for no particular reason several times so far this year.
Remember when letting slugger Matt Holliday was going to make the defense better by sliding Randal Grichuk to left field and installing free agent Dexter Fowler in center? That plan doesn’t work when Adams is lumbering around the outfield like an elephant in a nitroglycerin plant.
Peralta took over as the cleanup hitter this season with Holliday’s absence in the middle of the order. And he’s hitting .150 with three times as many strikeouts as hits. It seemed fairly obvious to me that the team was crying out for a third baseman with power who could anchor a good supporting cast. But instead, the front office decided to apply some touchup paint and to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship instead of actually trying to patch the leak.
We hear a lot of talking about the “Cardinals Way.” But kicking the ball around like a junior-high soccer game, striking out 10 times a night and averaging two runs a game isn’t what Stan Musial, Branch Rickey, Bob Gibson and Red Schoendienst taught players about St. Louis’ brand of baseball.
Justin Turner was at the top of my winter wish list. So it was disappointing to see him re-sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers for a cheap price (by Major League Baseball standards.) Not only is he an excellent defender, Turner is off to a .357 start with the bat and leads the National League with five doubles.
Don’t tell me the Cardinals wouldn’t be a better team or that they likely wouldn’t have won two or three more games with Turner’s production in the mix in the place of Peralta.
I think one significant player would have been the difference between being a legitimate contender and an also-ran in 2017. But I don’t think General Manager John Mozeliak and the front office are worried about 2017 as much as they are focused on 2018 and 2019.
By then, third baseman Patrick Wisdom and fellow infielder Paul DeJong will vie to replace Peralta and possibly Wong or Carpenter. In a perfect world, the slugger Wisdom will take over third and DeJong could hold down shortstop until younger prospects Edmundo Sosa or Delvin Perez are ready.
In the meantime, I think the range-challenged Diaz would be more suited for second base where he could play deeper and would be able to knock down balls and still make a play as opposed to having to pick the ball perfectly to have time to make a longer throw across the diamond.
The Cardinals won’t use the word “rebuild” because this isn’t a major market like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles that can live on a mega television contact alone. They have to put people in the seats to make money, so they have to have an exciting product to sell every year. But make no mistake, this is a rebuild.
The team is riding out the last year of Peralta’s contract and running out the clock on former ace Adam Wainwright while giving enigmatic outfielder Randal Grichuk and the maddening Wong a chance to prove they deserve a place on this team.
I hope patience pays off. Because the team’s hope of winning with smoke and mirrors isn’t working.