Cheap Seats

These games against Cincinnati show just how far away the Cardinals are

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon didn’t allow a hit in his major league debut. Unfortunately for him, his teammates still couldn’t find a way to beat the Reds.
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon didn’t allow a hit in his major league debut. Unfortunately for him, his teammates still couldn’t find a way to beat the Reds. AP

The St. Louis Cardinals have a pair of rookies throw at least six innings of no-hit ball in their first big league starts, the first time that’s happened in Major League Baseball since 1964.

That’s amazingly exciting and should be a big reason for celebration in an otherwise disappointing season. Unfortunately, the Redbirds lost the first game in which Daniel Poncedeleon pitched his heart out. Then they needed extra innings to salvage Austin Gomber’s gem.

That’s the kind of season this has been for the Redbirds. We all knew going into the season that this team’s strength was going to be its starting pitching. But it defies belief how terrible both the offense and bullpen have been, costing the team games that it could have won with just a couple of runs pushed across the plate.

It goes without saying that the product on the field just isn’t good enough.

I admit, I really didn’t get what the Cardinals were going for when they promoted Mike Shildt to be the manager on an alleged mission to right a club that Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said ought to be a playoff contender. I’m convinced this isn’t a move made with designs on making the playoffs. Instead, it’s a salvage job. The Birds are more interested in forcing the new manager to play Dexter Fowler every day to see if they can make something of the remaining three years on his contract than they are in putting the best team on the field. If St. Louis hired Joe Girardi or another high-end candidate to pilot the team, he would want to do things his way. Shildt didn’t exactly have people knocking on his door to offer him an MLB manager job, so he doesn’t have the leverage to say no.

It worked out — sort of — Tuesday when Fowler hit a home run just over the right field wall in extra innings to provide the winning margin. But Fowler is hitting .196 over his last 15 games with three walks and 13 strikeouts. So, it’s not as if he’s suddenly found the magical cure to all that ails him. His homer was nice. But he is 1-for-6 in the series. Maybe if he would have done something with just one of his other at-bats, the Cardinals might have won both games in Cincinnati and gained some desperately-needed ground.

Meanwhile, Harrison Bader, who is hitting 100 points better than Fowler, is twice the outfielder and is the hardest-hustling player on the team, has been relegated to bench-warmer status. I don’t believe for a second that St. Louis has a better chance to win with Fowler on the field instead of Bader. Or Tyler O’Neill, for that matter.

As seems to be their theme this year, the Cardinals are sending a contradictory message. They want to build from within. But, after their veterans including Fowler and Greg Holland and others have failed them, they won’t cut their losses and commit to playing the kids — unless they’re forced to by injury as was the case with their two young starters.

When is it enough? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals kept their first and second year big leaguers and replaced everyone else — except maybe Yadier Molina — with the starting lineup of the Class AAA Memphis Redbirds that the results wouldn’t be better. The Cardinals spent years cultivating a winning culture. Now, the message the kids are getting is that the old guys aren’t there to lead them and make them better. The veterans are dragging them down.

As for Fowler, I think the best solution to his situation would be to put him on the disabled list for the rest of the season. Certainly, with the way teams abuse the DL these days and his injury history, they could come up with a plausible reason. Then Fowler, who frankly has looked slow of foot and with the bat this year, can have an extra-long off-season to clear his head and rest his knees, feet and back in hopes that he can return to being a serviceable player in 2019.

Until then, I’d let the kids show what they can do, if I was in charge. Then the team would at least have an idea this winter of what it has to work with and where it needs to seek help from outside the organization.