On paper, the St. Louis Cardinals seem to have a weak starting rotation and an overstocked bullpen.
So why is it that the Redbirds keep blowing good starts of games in the late innings?
They lost pivotal games in both the road series against the Milwaukee Brewers, allowing back-to-back homers in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie and then lose the game — and then again in the late innings of Luke Weaver's gem of a start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Teams are going to lose heartbreakers here and there over the course of a long season. But the Birds would have swept the Milwaukee Series with a clean ninth inning — or even a clean eighth inning when they blew the majority of what was once a five-run lead. Then, on Sunday, the bullpen blowup cost the Cardinals winning the Diamondbacks series.
Major League Baseball is all about winning series. And the Cardinals are doing just the opposite of what they need to be doing to compete.
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While I've been disappointed by the performance of some of the relievers, the thing that concerns me more than the players is the manager.
Why in the world are the Cardinals carrying an eight-man bullpen when two or three of the pitchers seem to be getting all the work and two or three other ones seem as though they're in the witness protection program? Is it worth having all those extra arms when every time the bullpen phone rings, it's going to be for Matt Bowman and Dominic Leone? Mike Mayers didn't look good in his most recent performance. But should we be surprised when he's had so much time to sit on the bench and rust?
If the Birds are going to use five or six relievers, how about bringing up a couple of additional bench players to give the team some roster flexibility? They really only have two pinch-hitters they can use, because once you get past the first two guys off the bench, all you've got left is the backup catcher and the last man off the bench to use in case someone gets hurt.
And maybe the offense would score more runs and the bullpen would be under less pressure if St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had more options. In the blown game in Milwaukee, he pulled the third-place hitter for a defensive replacement — then would have had no options after the team gave up the lead — had the bullpen also not allowed a walk-off homer. It's pretty tough when you have to send a pitcher up to bat in the heart of the lineup during extra innings.
Matheny also insists on running out the same odd lineup with Dexter Fowler muddling in the leadoff spot and Matt Carpenter batting in a spot we all know he doesn't like — third. Why? I wonder whether the team isn't trying to extend an olive branch to Fowler because it took away his role as the center fielder. Because he can't play the position he wants to man in the field, maybe the team told Fowler that he can have his customary spot as leadoff batter. And if that's the reasoning, it's crazy.
Fowler isn't getting on base at a high rate, and he's not stealing bases like he used to. So maybe he needs to bat fifth or sixth where he can try to drive in some runs.
They say a good manager can win an extra five or 10 games a year for his team. But a bad manager could lose a whole lot more. I think we can pretty safely pin at least two or threeL's on the skipper already this year because he refuses to learn from his tactical mistakes and — even though pitching coach Mike Maddux was supposed to handle the hurlers — it seems that the pitching staff is still being mismanaged in exactly the same way as it has been for the past five years.
I sure hope Greg Holland gets here soon. And that he can pitch about three innings a night when he arrives.