I like Kolten Wong. I really do.
He seems like a conscientious young guy and a nice person. I don’t think his shortcomings have anything to do with a lack of effort and I certainly don’t wish him any harm. But, with that being said, I’m really starting to think it’s time for him to move on to another team.
Maybe he puts too much pressure on himself or maybe he just needs a change of scenery. But the harder Wong tries, the more likely it seems he is to make a boneheaded play... or two... or three in a game that costs the St. Louis Cardinals an important win. Would it not be better for both the team AND the player to give him a chance to start fresh someplace else?
On Monday night Wong was back at it, making elementary mistakes at the worst possible times. The Redbirds trailed the Milwaukee Brewers most of the game and, for St. Louis, runs were at a premium. Wong, one of the fastest players in the game, killed one early rally by hitting into a double play. Later, the Cardinals would have had runners at the corners and two outs with a chance for one key hit to change the complexion of the night... Except the St. Louis second baseman failed to do what every little leaguer is taught to do on the first day of practice: Find his third base coach as soon as possible to guide him in where to go and how to get there.
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Wong somehow rounded second, headed to third and then rounded third all without ever checking with his third base coach. When he finally saw that he was getting the stop sign — about a third of the way from third to home — Wong slammed on the brakes so hard that he fell down. He then stood there, caught, with his hands on his hips as the Brewers set up a rundown that snuffed out the St. Louis rally.
Wong did tie the game with a late hit. I give him credit for that. But, even then, the ball glanced off an infielder’s glove and very nearly ended another rally. He got the job done and I tip my cap to him for it. But it seemed like he was living rather dangerously, as if he didn’t have a good idea of how to accomplish what he was trying to do — and it nearly cost him.
We’ve all been dazzled in recent days by Wong’s resurgent bat and a handful of dazzling plays he’s made in the field. But, almost on cue, when the game mattered most he had an easy chance — and he botched it.
With the game tied in the top of the 10th, the second baseman was on the receiving end of a soft line drive that hit him right in the glove. Somehow, the ball popped out. No worries. It fell at his feet. All Wong had to do was bend down, set his feet and throw the ball to first base to record the first out of the inning. Instead, he casually lobbed the ball in the general direction of first sacker Matt Carpenter, pulling the recipient off the bag and starting the chain reaction that caused three unearned runs to score with two outs.
After the game, Wong told the media that the loss was his fault and that he took full responsibility. That’s awful sporting of him. But, with the way Wong gets down on himself and becomes basically non-functional out of fear of making another mistake, I strongly suspect his recent hot streak has come to an unfortunate end.
Wong reminds me of Rick Ankiel when he was a pitcher. He’s got incredible amounts of talent — but a curse of not being able to harness it. He can go out there and have 10 or even 20 good games in a row. But you just know in the back of your head that he’s going to stumble at a key moment and then not be able to recover from it. Ankiel could throw 500 great pitches in a row. But then he’d uncork one bad one and it would all unravel —and there was nothing he or anyone else could do to stop it.
Maybe Wong will go someplace else and the pressure he seems to feel will be lifted. Maybe he’ll go on to be a fabulous player and we’ll all lament the one that got away. But I have run out of faith that it’s ever going to happen here.
What sort of standard does it set for the other Cardinals players when a guy who accidentally sabotages his team time and time again is given a free pass? Why should they try? What must the players who are sitting behind him on the depth chart think? Former St. Louis Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey used to call getting rid of the rotten apple before it could spoil the whole bunch “addition by subtraction.”
The Wong situation has even divided the fan base. Last night I saw his apologists take to the social media world to blame the loss on reliever Seung Hwan Oh for not being able to pitch around the obstacles Wong set up for him. I even witnessed one person who said Matt Carpenter was to blame for not being able to acrobatically leap from the first base bag to catch Wong’s errant throw and then rush back to the tag the runner before he could reach safely. Maybe if Wong could make the routine play, everyone else wouldn’t have to defy physics like they were in The Matrix.
Any time parting with Wong is mentioned, Cardinals fans quickly point out that his five-year contract makes him impossible to move. Doesn’t it say something about his abilities when no other team would be willing to take a chance on him because of a relatively modest guaranteed deal?
I can’t help but believe the Redbirds would have a better chance of winning over the course of 162 games if they reconfigured the infield to put Aledmys Diaz at second base where he could play deeper and his lack of range would be less apparent. Then Greg Garcia could hold down the shortstop spot until one of the youngsters the Cardinals are grooming is ready.
After fighting so hard to get back to the .500 mark, two absolutely awful losses have the Redbirds taking on water again. Something has to be done to right this ship. And I can’t help but think it ought to involve the guy who is responsible for one-fifth of the errors committed by his club’s 25-man roster.