The St. Louis Cardinals were due to have a clunker, riding an eight-game winning streak and the best record in the National League over the past month. I can’t complain about eight out of nine or about taking three of four games in a series.
Besides, after sleep walking through the first half of their contest Thursday, St. Louis managed to get up the floor and rally later in the game to make things very interesting. They were one hit — or one fewer error — away from coming back to win.
While you can’t win them all, maybe a positive is that it should be a lesson learned. The circumstances of the game ought to give the Birds a little bit of pause, especially with major roster decisions to be made in the near future.
The Redbirds took a step backwards in offense, defense and pitching in their Thursday loss, all at the same time. Why? Was it a coincidence that all those things fell apart in one night? Or was it because the Birds, who have been getting some excellent work from their starting hurlers, went back to Luke Weaver, their weakest rotation member. The 6-11 hurler with a 4.67 earned run average has decent stuff. But he slows the pace of the game and seemed to take the home team out of its groove. It was obvious he put the defense back on its heels with glacier-slow innings.
Early in the game, down 2-0 with the bases loaded and only one out, Weaver seemed on the verge of being knocked out of the game. He managed to wiggle off the hook with no further damage. But it seemed like Weaver’s struggles took his teammates out of their winning mindset. St. Louis has been playing much better defensively of late. But on Thursday they made three errors and seemed lifeless.
This isn’t to say that Weaver ought to be put on the waiver wire. He’s got a lot of talent and may have a very bright future ahead. But the Cardinals, who underachieved through the middle of July, found lightning in a bottle with the new roster additions that came up at about the time former manager Mike Matheny was fired. Why mess with a winning streak? Weaver has obviously been the weak link in the rotation for quite a while. The team kept its winning streak alive when the young hurler was skipped his last scheduled turn because of an injury.
Weaver has made it through four innings or less in three of his last five starts. He has a wins over replacement figure of (in the voice of Animal House’s Dean Wormer) zero-point-zero. So, how can the Cardinals justify sending him back out to the mound in five days when there are so many better options on the roster?
And that brings me to my point about being careful in the near future. In addition to returning Weaver to the rotation, the Cardinals sent Chasen Shreve and his 1.69 earned run average to Class AAA Memphis in exchange for bringing Brett Cecil and his 5.70 ERA off the disabled list. Beloved and legendary Redbirds pitcher Adam Wainwright has been sidelined almost all season. But, while he deserves a chance for a victory lap and a bow, can the Cardinals afford to take one of their successful young hurlers off the roster to make room for a questionable Wainwright?
Also returning soon are John Brebbia, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. Do the Birds owe them their roles back? Or do they stick with the hot hands? Remember, the Cardinals were a .500 team — even under new interim manager Mike Shildt — until struggling right fielder Dexter Fowler’s season ended with an injury.
The Cardinals ought to resist the urge to rush players who weren’t cutting it earlier this season back into the lineup. Not only are the guys who have been winning the past couple of weeks hot right now, many of them are going to be the core of the team in 2019 and beyond. So, don’t delay their development out of a false sense of loyalty to guys who aren’t going to be here next year.
The Birds have been miserable to watch most of this season. But lately, they’re playing fun, Cardinals style baseball. I hope they don’t let that go. And interim manager Mike Shildt ought to make sure this team keeps up what was working if he wants to hang on to his job permanently.