The first two games of the St. Louis Cardinals’ series against the Arizona Diamondbacks are a perfect snapshot of the home team’s maddening early season.
The Cardinals couldn’t do anything right in the first contest of the Arizona series. The defense and pitching were terrible including a nine-run inning given up by the bullpen, previously the rock-solid foundation of this team. The offense was completely missing in action, there was an unsettling injury of a key player, Matt Holliday, and it looked like St. Louis might not win another game anytime soon.
Then, on Tuesday, the Redbirds kicked Arizona’s collective rear end into next week, pounding out eight runs while starting pitcher Carlos Martinez throttled Diamondbacks hitters for eight innings, allowing only three hits and a walk.
How can the Cardinals look so bad one day but so good the next?
St. Louis seemed not ready for prime time when the season started in Pittsburgh -- and the Cardinals were swept by the Pirates.
Then they flipped the script and swept their second series. They flopped against the Cubs, then they dominated the next two series. Will the real redbirds please stand up?
Tuesday was evidence of the kind of baseball the Cardinals are capable of playing. The question is: Why can’t they perform like that on a consistent basis?
Part of the problem might be as simple as the offense finally finding an early season groove.
Stephen Piscotty and Matt Carpenter have shown signs of life lately and it was key to the Tuesday night breakout. We’ll see if Brandon Moss, who was struggling below the .200 mark before collecting four hits in five at-bats in the second game Arizona, can keep it up. Randal Grichuk has had flashes of brilliance but he continues to struggle with a .215 average. Meanwhile, second baseman Kolten Wong is so messed up that he can’t even find his way into the lineup with Jedd Gyorko assuming the bulk of his playing time over the past several games.
With the infield defense leading the majors in errors, maybe that’s the problem and it’s time to shake things up.
In the short term, I wouldn’t mind seeing if Aledmyz Diaz can play third base. He’s struggled to make lateral plays but has an excellent throwing arm. So eliminate the weakness and accentuate the positive by putting him at more reactionary position at third. You don’t take three or four steps to get to a ball at the hot corner. You might get one step and a dive on a hot-hit ball.
If Diaz plays third, Matt Carpenter can move over to first base where he played in 2012 when Lance Berkman was injured. Suddenly, the Cardinals’ weakest offensive position becomes the home of one of the team’s best hitters.
Then Ruben Tejada can play shortstop and hold the fort, defensively, until Jhonny Peralta -- who has reportedly begun taking infield practice -- continues to heal from thumb ligament surgery.
Hopefully, shuffling the infield deck will give the team some more consistency. But it also accomplishes something that MUST be done -- and that’s finding Diaz regular playing time for as long as he keeps up his offensive onslaught.
I don’t expect Diaz will continue to bat .466 -- or even .366. But he’s a dynamic player who collects extra-base hits in bunches. he’s got 12 already in 18 games played. He’s the best offensive weapon -- complete with a healthy dose of speed on the bases -- the Cardinals have in their arsenal right now. He has to keep playing as long as he’s hot.
The Cardinals ought to be in prime position to capitalize on their Tuesday win with ace Adam Wainwright pitching Wednesday.
But in this upside-down season, Wainwright has been St. Louis’ worst starter so far in 2016.
It would sure help my confidence level to see Wainwright, who will be pitching in ideal weather conditions in an April game in the desert, could right his ship and turn in his first solid start of the season.