St. Louis Cardinals

Hey, even a columnist can have a bad day (make that a month) once in a while

Will it work? The St. Louis Cardinals are in flux, dispatching Kolten Wong to the outfield and banishing Trevor Rosenthal from the ninth inning.
Will it work? The St. Louis Cardinals are in flux, dispatching Kolten Wong to the outfield and banishing Trevor Rosenthal from the ninth inning.

Footnotes on the news, or as I like to think of it: I know exactly how Trevor Rosenthal feels.

Exhibits A, B, C, and D:

A: Exactly two days after I wrote in this space a week ago that the Cardinals needed to keep Rosenthal in the St. Louis Cardinals’ closers job, Mike Matheny took the ball out of Rosenthal’s hands. What, the skipper couldn’t have waited three days? Maybe even the entire weekend?

B: Or that column in late May when I speculated the Cardinals would keep Kolten Wong in his role at second base because of the $25.5 million contract he signed this spring? Two weeks later, Wong was in the minors, and I’m still plucking egg off my face as he learns to play outfield now that he’s back with the Cardinals.

C: Or that column in mid-June where I bemoaned the fact there were too many Chicago Cubs and not enough Cardinals — to wit, only one, Yadier Molina — leading the All-Star voting? The voters ganged up on me and Yadi, dumping him into second place behind San Francisco’s Buster Posey in the balloting this week. And there are still four Cubs, the entire starting infield, leading the vote.

D: Or there was that May column when I noted the struggles of the Cardinals’ starting pitchers. Who, I’d like to note, promptly went out and posted a 2.94 ERA in their next seven starts.

Hitters get in slumps. Pitchers get in slumps. Even fielders get in slumps.

I guess columnists get in slumps, too. One too many dangling participles, I imagine.

Except that I contend that maybe I wasn’t wrong to make any of those declarations, just a little ahead of my time.

A. The Rosenthal move

As much as fans applauded the Rosenthal demotion, in fact I thought it was precipitous, and potentially damaging not only to him but to the bullpen as a whole.

At the time the change was made, Rosenthal had just converted two saves in Chicago and then had a very ugly blown save in Seattle. Just like that, Matheny tossed Rosey – and his 107 saves the last 2 1/2 years – to the side of the road, putting the ninth inning in the hands of, well, a bunch of people.

Since the demotion? Rosenthal has pitched three innings, allowing no runs on four hits, no walks and three strikeouts. And the trio of pitchers who indeed might replace him – Seung Hwan Oh, Kevin Siegrist and Jonathon Broxton, only one of them appearing in a save situation – have pitched a combined 10  1/3 innings, with three runs allowed (two earned) and seven walks.

Oh, everyone’s popular choice to take Rosenthal’s job, got the save in the Cardinals’ 3-0 win over Milwaukee on Saturday, striking out two of the three hitters he faced in the ninth inning. In two innings before that this week, though, he had allowed an unearned run and five base runners on two hits and three walks – matching the number of free passes he had issued in his previous 30 appearances.

Broxton has allowed a run on two hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings, while Siegrist – who went on the disabled list Friday with mononucleosis – has given up a run on two hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings.

Which is to say what I said in the column last week: Whether it rests on Oh or Rosenthal or anyone else, the save mantle can be heavy for the person wearing it. But the sooner Rosenthal can return to the role he’s held the last two seasons, the better it will be for the Cardinals long-term.

B. The Wong way?

As for Wong, his on-the-job tutoring in the outfield remains a work in progress, even as he learns to play left field at the major-league level following a couple games in center field after his return from Memphis.

But I wonder: If it’s tough for Rosenthal to get his game straightened out while still pitching in the majors, isn’t it equally as tough for Wong to learn two new positions playing in the bigs? Oh, and there’s this: He was back at second base on Saturday, giving him something else to think about as he struggles with the new playing challenges coming his way.

As Matheny likes to say, “We’re in the game-winning business here.” So it raised both my eyebrows to see a hit sail past Wong in right center when he took a wrong first step during a Rosenthal appearance last week.

And it makes me wonder anew: Will the Wong-in-the-outfield project last as long as the Cards are set on Jhonny Peralta, Aledmys Diaz and Matt Carpenter at third, short and second? And how does Matheny juggle an outfield that already has too many guys — Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham and Brandon Moss — vying for playing time?

C. The stars are out

The All-Star Game balloting concluded as of Thursday night, and it’s likely there won’t be a Cardinal in the lineup when the starters are announced early next week. Molina is hoping to make it to his eighth consecutive Midsummer Classic, but he might be left off the roster this year.

What other Cardinals who deserve a trip to San Diego for the July 12 game? Matt Carpenter has been on a tear since he’s moved to second base — hitting .347 (25-for-72) with two doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs and 15 runs scored in 19 games — but is on the ballot as a third baseman.

And Piscotty has been the Cardinals’ most consistent hitter all season, at .288 with nine home runs, 40 RBIs and 46 runs scored. But he was 10th in the outfield vote as balloting entered its final week.

D. Whither the Redbirds rotation?

Starting pitching remains the key for the Cardinals, no matter what happens with the back of the bullpen, the outfield mix or any of Matheny’s playing time decisions.

As such, Adam Wainwright remains a concern in his return from Achilles tendon surgery last year, with a less-than-ace-like 7-5 record and a 4.70 ERA. Sadly, that’s only slightly worse than the numbers posted by three other St. Louis starters: Jaime Garcia is 6-6 with a 3.84 ERA, Mike Leake is 5-6 with a 4.13 ERA and Michael Wacha is 4-7 with a 4.42 ERA.

The most consistent starter: Carlos Martinez at 7-5 with a 2.83 ERA. And even at that, he’s only two games above the break-even mark.

And that one positive is not nearly enough for a rotation that combined is 29-29, with a 4.22 ERA.

If those numbers don’t get a whole lot better in the second half, the Cardinals will not make up the double-digit lead held by the Cubs, as if that’s even possible at this point. And they’ll be hard-pressed to stay in the wild card race, unless the offense continues to make up for shortcomings in the team’s defense, baserunning and pitching staff.

Then again, that’s me talking. I wouldn’t bet the kids’ college fund on it.

Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association, has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985. He can be reached at 618-239-2512 or on Twitter @JoeOstermeier