There is a lot of season to go.
But after the first two series of the 2017 campaign, the St. Louis Cardinals just don’t look like a very good baseball team.
The team’s offseason efforts to improve seem to be woefully inadequate to fix this team’s many problems.
The Redbirds front office decided after missing the playoffs in 2016 that it needed to make the club’s defense better and make its offense, which hit home runs in bunches but struck out with startling frequency, more diverse.
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The team signed former Chicago Cubs centerfielder Dexter Fowler to a free agent contract and let plodding slugger Matt Holliday go as a free agent with plans to make the outfield more fleet-footed. The team tried to trade first baseman Matt Adams but found no takers. Now Adams, who makes Holliday look like a gazelle, is spending time in left field to get his bat into games. On Sunday, Adams misplayed an easy fly out into a triple and helped open the flood gates in an embarrassing Cardinals loss.
Manager Mike Matheny explained he’s getting Adams at-bats in the outfield because his bat is too good to keep on the bench for occasional pinch-hitting appearances. Are we to believe that the defensively-challenged Holliday is less of a hitter than Adams? Holliday collected his 2,000th hit with the New York Yankees over the weekend. Holliday is a .303 career hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in every season he played with St. Louis but one. Adams is a .270 career hitter who has never hit more than 17 homers in a season and averages 11 in a year.
The Cardinals left themselves shorthanded in the outfield and when Stephen Piscotty was injured (first by getting hit in the head by a thrown ball and later by tweaking his knee) the team was left woefully shorthanded. Questionable outfield defense is now unquestionably bad with Adams in the picture.
Things are much better on the infield.
The Birds moved Adams away from first base to put Matt Carpenter there. Carpenter, who may be the team’s most accomplished hitter in the absence of Holliday. But he wasn’t very good defensively at third base. So, the team decided to take his scattershot arm out of the picture and move him to the other side of the diamond where he’d do more catching and less throwing baseballs.
It seemed to me that the move of Carpenter to first base made it clear that the Holliday-less Cardinals should have spent the off-season shopping for a slugging third baseman who could fill Carpenter’s defensive spot and Holliday’s place in the batting order. Instead, the team decided to recycle former shortstop Jhonny Peralta – who missed much of the 2016 season with a thumb injury and returned to find that Aledmys Diaz had taken his old job – as a third baseman.
Peralta, who is now 35 years old, has been terrible defensively and has struck out in half of his at-bats so far in 2017. On Sunday, he botched a ball that could have been turned into a pivotal double play. Then he made matters worse by throwing the ball after he’d recovered it about half way between first and second base on its way to right field.
I don’t know how much longer the Cardinals can continue to weather the crummy defense being displayed by Peralta and Adams. They’ve had trouble scoring runs, so they can’t afford to give any away to the other team. But they’re giving them away like they’re going out of style.
The Redbirds have a lot of good, young talent all around the field. But they needed a few key pieces here and there to turn this team from mediocre to marvelous – and the front office really dropped the ball.
After six games, the Birds are 2-4. I can see a split against the Cubs. But the Reds easily handled St. Louis in two of the three games the teams played. And Cincinnati is in the middle of a painful rebuilding process.
Now the Cardinals have to go on the road and play a pretty good Washington Nationals team. If they don’t get their act together soon, they could find themselves in a pretty deep hole before they know what hit them.