Young players are going to have growing pains. That's just the way it goes.
But it is excruciatingly painful to watch Kolten Wong make fundamental mistakes when the St. Louis Cardinals need desperately to win every ballgame they can.
Although starting pitcher Lance Lynn, who gave up only one earned run, offered to take the heat in an embarrassing 3-1 loss to the weak San Diego Padres, the defeat could much more directly be traced to Wong who disappointed with both his bat and his defense.
The game got off to what looked to be a promising start for the Redbirds Tuesday night when leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter walked on five pitches. The San Diego starter seemed as if he wasn't ready for the bell and his control was shaky. So what did Wong do? Instead of trying to exploit the problem, he took an early hack -- and promptly grounded into a tailor-made double play to kill the rally.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Some hitters claim that they don't take pitches because, if they get a good one, they figure it might be the only acceptable offering they get. But if the pitch was so good, why couldn't Wong do more with it than hit it to the worst possible place?
To underline the mental error, the next batter, Matt Holliday also drew a walk. But by then there were two dead and the opportunity had passed.
In the third inning, with the game tied, Wong was hit a routine ground ball by San Diego catcher Rene Rivera, a .238 hitter. Wong fielded the ball smoothly, cocked his arm in a throwing pose that reminding me of the way college football players imitate the Heisman Trophy when they score a touchdown and, after everyone got a look at how pretty his glove work is, he threw the ball over Matt Adams' head at first base for his eighth error of the season. He's played in only 62 games.
Oh, and speaking of his limited playing time... Since I'm piling on Wong I thought I would mention that he has managed somehow to hit into 10 double plays this season in only 216 at-bats. Half of Cardinals Nation passes out in rage every time Matt Holliday grounds into a double play. But He's hit into only six more than Wong -- in 200 more at bats.
That's testament to the fact that Wong's not using his skill set very well. Wong is a speedy player who doesn't seem especially good at tactics like bunting either for sacrifice or to try to get a hit or in moving up runners with productive outs. He has trace amounts of pop in his bat, so he looks for pitches to try to drive over the fence. His over aggression has come through in spectacular fashion on rare occasions. But it seems like, day in and day out, it shoots the Cardinals in the foot.
He dominated pitchers in Class AAA Memphis to the tune of a .360 batting average. But in St. Louis against big league pitchers his rough around the edges play amounts to a .245 mark.
I'm not trying to make the case for releasing or trading Wong. I don't necessarily think this sort of performance is unusual for a player in his first full season in the majors. But it is just an example of where the Cardinals are failing.
While we don't think of a team that is 1 1/2 games out of the division race as "rebuilding," the Redbirds have a rookie starting at second and another splitting time in right field. They've got a second year closer, a number two starter (who is injured) who has one year of service time under his belt and several other young players counted on for key roles.
Meanwhile, the veterans kept around to backstop the kids, Mark Ellis and Allen Craig, have been uncharacteristically terrible this year. Depth was supposed to be a main strength for this team. But the Cardinals have black holes of production at second base and right field with nowhere to turn.
It's no wonder, if you look at things through that lens, why the Cardinals aren't the dominant team they were last season.