The St. Louis Cardinals have put together a mild winning streak, sweeping the hapless Philadelphia Phillies at home after a winless road trip against the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.
But that doesn’t mean all is well in Redbirds land.
Two of the three wins against the Phillies — did I mention they aren’t a very good team? — came down to the final out. If St. Louis can’t put away the worst team in baseball without a struggle, how is it supposed to beat the good teams?
Jhonny Peralta may be gone in effort to add new life and fresh legs to the roster and third base coach Chris Maloney took the fall for the Cardinals’ bad baserunning. But there are still a lot of rough edges for this team to clean up. Many of them were apparent Sunday.
To start off at the finish, the Cardinals need to pull the plug on the Seung-Hwan Oh as a closer experiment. Oh has become a one-trick pony, counting on his slider to get hitters out. In short, they’re not biting on it and when he gets hit, he gets hit hard. On Sunday, Oh came into the ninth inning with a three-run lead. Four hits later, he had the losing run at the plate and the Birds barely got off the hook with a W.
It seems like every game Oh has to get into trouble before he gets it in gear.
Trevor Rosenthal may not be able to pitch every day. But he’s certainly a better option on days when he is available. Rosenthal has been smoking hitters in the eighth inning, throwing more 100-MPH pitches than any other hurler in baseball this season, then the Cardinals take him out and hope that Oh doesn’t blow up in the ninth. Ridiculous.
Oh seems like a pitcher you bring on with hopes of getting one key out in the sixth or the seventh. He’s being given more credit than he’s earned by letting him finish games.
While the Cardinals have made an effort to stop running into outs on the bases — and especially at the plate — there are still things that can be done to improve their running game.
When Tommy Pham stole his sixth base of the season Sunday, he passed a slow-footed catcher (Yadier Molina) and a guy who’s in the minor leagues (Randal Grichuk) for the team lead in that category. It’s pretty ridiculous that a guy who has been here for less than half of the season leads the team in stolen bases.
Wasn’t Dexter Fowler brought here to give the Redbirds an element of speed? The guy is six-foot-five and thin as a rail. He could probably take second base in about four steps. Yet he has swiped on three bags all year. At this pace, he isn’t going to make it to double digits in stolen bases in 2017. He ought to get 20-25 at least. Kolten Wong is a speedy little guy. He also has three stolen bases. Speedster Aledmys Diaz has four.
A few years ago, the Cardinals didn’t have anyone who COULD run. Now they don’t have anybody who WILL run. Ridiculous. Speed puts pressure of the defense and pressure causes the other team to make mistakes. If the Redbirds want to score more than a run and a half a game, they need to be smart but aggressive on the base paths.
Finally, St. Louis has cleared some of the dead wood off the roster — and more changes are in the works with either Marco Gonzales or Luke Weaver likely to come up from the minor leagues by Tuesday to pitch one of the games of a double header.
But the Cardinals still need to make a bigger, transformational move to add a legitimate power source in the middle of the batting order — and to shake up a stale offense.
While this team has shown the ability to be successful over short stints, I doesn’t seem to have the juice to put things together and keep them that way.
With the National League Central underperforming from top to bottom, this division championship is still in play. The Cardinals still have the opportunity to make or break their season based on what they can do to get better between now and the All-Star Game.