St. Louis Cardinals

Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry: Takeaways from Cards’ mixed-bag season

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has won eight of his last 10 decisions after a 1-3 start.
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has won eight of his last 10 decisions after a 1-3 start. AP

Let me remove my hat so I can get these thoughts off the top of my head.

Did you realize the St. Louis Cardinals are 12-6 since Matt Carpenter’s oblique injury July 6?

While we scribes forecast doom and gloom, a number of Carpenter teammates have stepped up in his stead:

▪ Greg Garcia is hitting .244 (10-for-41) – much of that from Carpenter’s leadoff spot in that stretch — but has nine walks and been hit by a pitch, giving him an impressive .392 on-base percentage.

▪ Jedd Gyorko has been even more productive, hitting .296 (16-for-54) with seven home runs and 12 RBIs since Carpenter was hurt —with 14 homers overall. He and fellow fill-in Brandon Moss (17 homers) are a big reason the Cardinals have hit 140 homers – three more, already, than they hit all last season. They have eight players in double figures in homers, compared to five all last season.

The flip side of the coin: Kolten Wong is muddling along at .232 overall, hitting at just a .216 clip with no homers and one RBI since he got more playing time (17 games) in the wake of the injuries to Carpenter and a recurring wrist problem for Jhonny Peralta.

Is it just me, or did all these issues with Trevor Rosenthal begin when the Cardinals gave him Jason Isringhausen’s No. 44 jersey instead of his old No. 26? Remember when Izzy pitched (often poorly) on a bad hip before surrendering to the inevitable (and a young-buck Adam Wainwright as his substitute closer) in 2006? I wonder how long Rosey’s shoulder has been bothering him without telling anyone, and that reticence goes a long way toward explaining his lack of control in and out of the strike zone.

Speaking of which, if Rosenthal heals properly and the Cardinals have an alternative to him in the bullpen, should they make him a starter next season?

But back to 2016: How long can the Cardinals wait to summon Alex Reyes? Maybe not beyond this weekend, but would it be better for baseball’s best pitching prospect to get a whole season of starts at Triple-A before making the parent club next spring? Is this team good enough to warrant his promotion this year, and would his addition to the bullpen be enough to help the Cardinals catch a Chicago Cubs team bolstered by Aroldis Chapman?

Speaking of change, are we seeing the last two months of 36-year-old Matt Holliday in a Cardinals uniform? His power numbers and RBI production have been OK (18 homers, 59 RBIs), but that batting mark (.235) is scarcely worthy of the third spot in the batting order.

And yet, an older guy can turn it around: Since Adam Wainwright, 34, hit the low point of his season — the end of April, when he was 1-3 with a 7.16 ERA — he has gone 8-2 with a 3.36 ERA.

His slow start, along with that of fellow starters Mike Leake and Michael Wacha, makes me wonder if the Cardinals were right to ease off their workload this spring, hoping to save innings for later in the season. I guess we’ll never know, but it’s something they need to think about this winter.

On the topic of better play recently, the Cardinals won six of nine to end their last homestand, a sharp improvement from their 19-27 start at Busch Stadium at this year.

Still, they’re on pace for only 36 wins at home, far fewer than the 55 they won at Busch a year ago. If they come up short this year – they are 55-47, 6 1/2 games behind the National League Central leading Chicago Cubs (61-40) — they’ll know why: Their play in the home whites.

John Mozeliak won’t get many votes this winter for General Manager of the Year, but at least he bolstered the team’s bench last offseason by adding Gyorko and Jeremy Hazelbaker and keeping Moss and Matt Adams on the 40-man roster. And Mo was smart enough to leave Garcia alone when he hit so well upon his return from Class AAA Memphis earlier this season.

All three have contributed mightily in the wake of the infield injuries and disappointing outfield (and middle-of-the-order) production from Randal Grichuk.

With all those injuries and less-than-stellar play from key members of the club, this may be Mike Matheny’s best managing job. You wouldn’t know it from the critics on the radio call-in shows, but Matheny has had to do more juggling with the lineup card and his bullpen choices than in any of his previous four seasons.

Then again, I wonder if Matheny doesn’t hurt himself in the public’s eye with his all-too-serious-all-the-time approach to the media (and in turn, the public). We thought Tony La Russa was often dour, but he could poke fun at himself once in a while. I wonder if Matheny wouldn’t benefit from a looser approach in front of the microphones?

Full disclosure: I miss the fun we had with Whitey Herzog and the fun times just chatting ball (and myriad other topics) in his office before the game. (But: The White Rat didn’t have to manage when there was a Twitterverse and a thousand bloggers covering the team, so who knows how that might have gone? Heck, it might have even been more fun, come to think of it.)

Another blast from the past: Do any of you think the Cardinals will ever hand out No. 5 or No. 51 to any player? If that’s the case, why don’t they just retire Willie McGee’s jersey now, and do the same for Albert Pujols when he winds it down in Anaheim?

But back to the present (and future): Will Stephen Piscotty be on many writers’ Most Valuable Player ballots this winter? Probably not, but imagine where the Cardinals would be without him. Ditto Seung Hwan Oh, who with six saves has made a seamless move to the back of the bullpen in the wake of Rosenthal’s stumbles and then the shoulder malady.

Oh, and this: If shortstop Aldedmys Diaz doesn’t get serious consideration for the Rookie of the Year Award, I’ll eat this hat in my hand.

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

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