The St. Louis Cardinals may have at least stopped the bleeding after a terrible start to the season.
For a while, it looked as if the club might not make it to 10 wins, much less 100. But, somehow, despite the baserunning gaffes, hot-and-cold pitching and unreliable defense, the Redbirds have managed to make it back to the .500 mark by the end of the first month of the season.
While the ball bounced the Cardinals’ way more often during the second half of April than it did in the first, I’m still not convinced that a trade or two isn’t in order to give this team a more realistic chance of competing for a playoff spot.
The Redbirds could use some talent. But they’re closer to being a good team than they sometimes show. For one thing, many of the defensive problems this team faces seem to stem from players are being asked to man positions that aren’t necessarily a good fit for them.
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We all see that Aledmys Diaz is a good hitter. But are we sure he’s a shortstop? He doesn’t seem to move well to his right and it’s tough to be confident about what type of throw he’s going to uncork when he does get to the ball.
Maybe Diaz would be more comfortable defensively at third base where range is less of an issue. Most throws from third to first are shorter than throws from short to first because the third baseman doesn’t play as deep and he’s more often coming in on the ball as opposed to moving laterally.
Meanwhile, Jedd Gyorko is a second baseman by trade who is forced to play third base to make room for Kolten Wong. And I don’t know what to do with Wong, who turned in a gem of a play Sunday, but often looks overmatched by easy chances.
Matt Carpenter is at first base because it appears that’s where manager Mike Matheny and General Manager John Mozeliak seem to think that’s the place where he could do the least damage. They’ve tried him at third and second in previous years and first seems to be the last resort.
St. Louis has several good building blocks. But it lacks a foundation. It doesn’t have a big bopper in the middle of the batting order to make everyone around him better. It would be great if that player was a corner infielder who could make the defense better while making the offense more potent.
It would be great if that mystery player could come – a la Jack Clark in 1985 – and settle the lineup around him. The Cardinals would then have to decide which of the remaining infielders they’d want to keep in the starting lineup and who would be relegated to the bench.
In the era of two wild-card playoff berths in each league, it seems like earth-shattering trades are much less frequent than they used to be. But after passing on chances to better this team over the winter when they could have signed a free agent, it seems the front office has few options besides going the trade route. A key addition to the starting lineup could be the difference between being a legitimate World Series contender and sitting home and watching the playoffs on television for the second year in a row.
Whether the Redbirds find a first or a third baseman, Carpenter is going to have to play the opposite position and stay there. A better third baseman would make it more palatable for Diaz to remain at short while the Cardinals continue to develop several promising middle infielders in their farm system. Gyorko and Wong would have to fight it out to be the starter at second base. Ideally, Wong would seize the job and Gyorko could get plenty of at bats as a utility player.
Any way the Cardinals players are deployed, it would be better for the team to have more lineup certainty from day-to-day. Let the players do what they do best instead of patching together a different lineup or batting order every day.