The minor-league tutoring St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk got during his brief exile from the major-league ballclub helped his swing.
But is that a bigger factor in the jolt of production he’s offered since his return than how he is deployed in the lineup?
Grichuk is batting .318 with three homers and a bushel basket of RBIs during the five games since his return. But if you break down the numbers, he’s hitless in eight at bats with three strikeouts when he’s placed in the lower part of the batting order, hitting sixth. When Grichuk has batted second (twice) and fourth (once), he’s 7-for-14 with three homers, a double and nine RBIs.
Those are small statistical samples. But if you’ve watched the games, it’s easy to see that Grichuk gets more pitches to hit when he’s batting in front of other imposing batters. When batting sixth or seventh with rookie Paul DeJong or slumping reserve infielder Greg Garcia behind him, why would a pitcher ever throw Grichuk a strike?
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The young slugger is known to chase pitches, so hurlers will throw him nothing but sliders off the plate and wait for Grichuk to become impatient. Grichuk is still learning as a hitter. He played half a season of Class AA baseball before the Cardinals acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels. Then he played about half a season at the Class AAA level in the St. Louis system before he was pressed into service by a series of outfield injuries on the major-league club and the struggles of ill-fated rookie Oscar Taveras.
Grichuk didn’t get the chance to develop his pitch recognition and plate discipline in the high minors. He’s had to do it in front of 45,000 people every night against the best pitchers in the world. He’s only 25. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and he has bat speed, power, foot speed and defensive abilities that can’t be taught. Yet so many Redbirds fans seem eager to trade him for a broken bat and a box of used balls.
Struggling without protection in the lineup isn’t something is unique to Grichuk. Good teams usually have an imposing slugger in the middle of the lineup that pitchers don’t want to deal with while there are runners on base.
Stan Musial was that guy for two decades. The Cardinals weren’t very good in 1965 and 1966. But then they were able to bring in Orlando Cepeda to fill that role and he led St. Louis to back-to-back pennants.
George Hendrick was that guy in the 1982 championship season. But the Cardinals lacked a big man in a down 1984 season and struggled — then they won the pennant in 1985 and 1987 with Jack Clark in the middle.
Mark McGwire certainly made the hitters around him better, although the Cardinals didn’t have enough pitching to be much of a threat in his years. But Albert Pujols anchored a lineup that won pennants in 2004, 2006, 2011 and 2013.
If the Cardinals want to see Randal Grichuk make a difference, they should continue to bat him second in front of Matt Carpenter. But if they want to see the whole lineup produce better, they need to find a scary cleanup hitter to keep opposing pitchers honest. In fact, this team really needs two sluggers because this isn’t 1982 and power is a much more important commodity in a world of home run ballparks.
Back to the original thought about the Cardinals sending Grichuk to the minors to work on his swing:
The Cardinals aren’t doing themselves or their players a favor when they ship them to the minor leagues, especially when they do something like send Grichuk all the way down to Class A Palm Beach.
What are fans — not to mention opposing general managers — supposed to think about a move like that? As far as social media experts were concerned, that move marked the end of Grichuk’s career. Kudos to the player for having a good attitude and coming back to make a big splash. But what if Grichuk struggled upon his return?
Twitter fans groaned collectively when they heard that Grichuk was being recalled. They wondered whether he going to take playing time away from Tommy Pham? The Cardinals amped up animosity against one of their own players by their ham-handed handling of him.
They could have pointed out that they wanted Grichuk to spend a few days with their minor-league hitting guru and that he would be back in two weeks. Instead, General Manager John Mozeliak publicly announced that he was out of patience with Grichuk who, if he made it back to the major leagues, would get one last chance to “sink or swim.”
Now the Cardinals have pulled the rug out from beneath the feet of Aledmys Diaz, sending the slumping shortstop back to the minor leagues after a breakout rookie season. Is this supposed to send a message to the rest of the roster that anyone who is not performing is in danger of being shipped out? Because the message it sends to the fans is that Mozeliak put together a team of fringe major-league talent and that manager Mike Matheny and his staff don’t know how to motivate players or run a clubhouse.
More and more, it seems like the Cardinals are trying to make a case with fans that a thorough housecleaning is necessary. But the way these players are being run into the ground will make that eventuality more difficult to accomplish because what is the trade value of a player who gets demoted from the majors to Class A? What is the value of a shortstop who gets demoted and then has his position switched?
The Redbirds keep making random moves on a whim. When you look at the big picture, these things don’t make any sense.