With the Cardinals languishing at the .500 mark and in third place in a weak division, I wonder if the injuries the team has suffered are to blame for its bad showing... or if the decision to hire a manager with absolutely no experience bears more of the blame.
The Cardinals have been without former Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter and veteran bullpenner Scott Linebrink (who was eventually released) all season. They've lost All-Star first baseman and clean-up hitter Lance Berkman for nearly that long and spark plug centerfielder Jon Jay and middle of the rotation lefty Jaime Garcia have missed significant chunks of the season as well. Utility players Skip Schumaker and Matt Carpenter have also lost time.
But, with that being said, the Cardinals haven't exactly been forced to field a team of Class AA players for the last six weeks. Carlos Beltran leads the majors in homers with 19 to go along with his .305 batting average and 48 RBIs. Catcher Yadier Molina is having his best offensive season by far with a .324 average, nine homers and 37 batted in. And Matt Holliday is batting a very respectable .284 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs. Allen Craig, who has missed six weeks of the season but who is currently is back in business, is batting .327 with eight homers and 27 batted in.
St. Louis, even in its battered state, has a ton of firepower. So why can't the Cardinals score any runs?
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I know this team respects skipper Mike Matheny. But I think it is a bit confused, to say the least, by his managerial style. Matheny seems to be trying to do way too much manipulating lately. And I think this bunch of veterans the Birds have on the field might just be better off if he left them alone to do their thing.
Every time the Cardinals get a runner on base it seems like Matheny wants to bunt. I know runs are scarce. But why give away outs with the heart of the order coming up and play for one run when you have a chance to put a crooked number on the board?
The bullpen has been terrible of its own right. But it has only made things worse when Matheny has handled his relievers so oddly. It seems like he's managing more like a little league coach than a major league skipper. He's more worried about stroking hurlers egos and showing that he believes in them than he is in making sure he has the best guy on the hill for a particular occasion. And the bullpen can't be saddled with all the blame for the Redbirds' lousy performance when the offense is averaging two runs a game.
The Cardinals' crumminess is definitely a whole team effort.
I get the sense that the Cardinals are playing extremely tight right now. As if they aren't comfortable in their roles and as if they aren't all working on the same game plan.
I'm not trying to say Matheny isn't smart or that he won't eventually be a good manager. But it seems obvious that he's taking his lumps right now as he learns the ropes. Injuries or not, the Redbirds have a lot more talent on the field than their results over the last six weeks or so would tend to indicate.
I said it before the season began and I will say it again: I think it was unfair to the fans, the players and to Matheny himself for the Cardinals to hire a manager who has never skippered a professional or college baseball game. It's not an easy job and the team made it a lot tougher on Matheny than it needed to be. The Cardinals should have insisted Matheny get some experience in the minors -- or at least as a coach -- before it gave him the big league job. Now it looks like he's going to have to do things the hard way.