Here’s a quick glance at what went right — and what went wrong — with the St. Louis Cardinals before the all-star break of the 2017 season.
The Cardinals likely wouldn’t be anywhere close to contention if it weren’t for production coming from several unexpected places.
Tommy Pham seemed like a shoo-in during spring training for a major league roster spot. If not as a starter, at least as a reserve. But he was absolutely terrible in spring training, earning a ticket to Class AAA Memphis. To his credit, Pham kept his head up and played his way back to St. Louis. And when he got here, he showed he deserves to stay. Pham hit 11 home runs, good for fourth on the club, despite the fact that he missed the start of the season. His 11 stolen bases are more than double the next highest total on the club.
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Paul DeJong had a good showing during spring training. But the Cardinals didn’t seem to have a place for him on the major league roster. He got a call up early in the season and impressed. When starting shortstop Aledmys Diaz couldn’t get his bat going, DeJong took over and hasn’t looked back. He’s hitting .313 at the all-star break with nine home runs in only 128 at-bats.
Jedd Gyorko wasn’t supposed to be a starter, somehow losing out a rigged spring training competition with Jhonny Peralta to man third base. But, as Peralta disappointed, Gyorko just kept hitting. He leads Cardinals regulars at the break with 44 RBIs, batting cleanup most days. He’s carrying a .300 batting average and has 13 homers and is tied for the team lead with 16 doubles.
Luke Voit wasn’t even on the radar in spring training. But he tore the cover off the ball in the minor leagues and forced the offense-starved Cardinals to give him a look. I don’t know where he fits in this club over the long haul. But he’s hitting .316 in the majors with three homers. At the very least, he looks like he could fill the power threat off the bench role that used to belong to recently-departed fellow first baseman Matt Adams.
He may not be a surprise rookie. But, given the way he struggled last year and early this season, it sure looked like Adam Wainwright was toast. Don’t look now. But, despite a terrible earned run average because of a few clunkers here and there, Wainwright is playing the role of team ace again, winning 10 games to lead the club by a long shot. Wainwright has much less of a margin for error than he used to have. But he’s found the way to get the job done. Hopefully, he’ll have more consistency in the second half, continuing to build on his success.
We’ve already talked about Peralta who was a question mark going into the season. It’s not really a surprise that he couldn’t cut it in 2017. But the Cardinals definitely weren’t counting on Aledmys Diaz making a return to the minor leagues. An all-star a year ago, it’s a huge blow to lose someone who was expected to be a key cog of the offense.
Last season the front office sent outfielder Randal Grichuk to the minor leagues — TWICE — but, when he was given a chance to settle in during the second half of the season, he hit well. Well enough that the front office decided he was going to be handed a starting job in 2017. Unfortunately, Grichuk has struggled to hit .220 this year and, once again, finds himself on the Memphis shuttle.
Stephen Piscotty has never been a guy that I expected to be flashy. But I certainly didn’t expect him to struggle in every facet of his game. The St. Louis right fielder hasn’t hit for average, he hasn’t produced much power, he’s been miserable in the outfield and worse on the bases. I’m not sure if his problems are related to his mom’s well-publicized health issues in any way. But his struggles certainly aren’t what the front office expected of Piscotty when it rewarded him with a long-term contract.
Seung Hwan Oh did a pretty solid job last season when incumbent closer Trever Rosenthal lost his control and struggled. But he seems to have lost the handle on his slider this season and has been beat around pretty handily. Oh has racked up 17 saves. But not many of them haven’t raised the blood pressure of Cardinals fans as he seems to have to have two guys on base before he gets down to business.
Manager Mike Matheny was charged with cleaning up the Redbirds’ sloppy defense, bad baserunning and lack of execution on offense. Fail. Fail. Fail. If anything, the Cardinals are worse in all those areas than they were the year before. This team has much more talent than it’s shown but seems to have a problem getting the rubber to connect with the road. In the second half, St. Louis needs to stop beating itself and to concentrate on beating the other team.
With a wild card berth seemingly out of reach, the Cardinals are lucky to still have a shot at winning the National League Central Division, tied at the break with the Chicago Cubs. But I still believe that this team needs to land at least one significant middle of the order bat to make it to the playoffs and have a chance to win. And everyone else needs to get their act together and play like major league players, not little leaguers who ate a little too much candy before the first pitch.