The St. Louis Cardinals used to say that their motto was to “play a hard nine” innings every game. That meant they gave a full effort from beginning to end of each and every game.
These days, it seems like we’re lucky if we get a hard three. I hope some home cooking and a big opening day crowd will light a fire under the local nine. Otherwise, the mid-stream change of horses that almost saved the 2018 season might have to come early in 2019.
Why the Cardinals don’t seem ready for prime time is a mystery. They have the manager they wanted, a new hitting coach, and a new power hitter. There ought to be plenty of reasons to be motivated. But for about two-thirds of the innings St. Louis has played so far this year, it just seems like the other team wants it more and has a better idea of how to get it.
The Redbirds have had to play catch-up far too much this season including, in games in which they at one point held a three-run lead. They’re a woeful 1-3 in games that only go nine innings, but they’re 2-0 in contests that include extra frames. It’s almost like a pitcher who comes into a game before he’s warmed up. While I credit the team for not giving up after it gets behind, and if it did it would be 1-5 on the season, maybe if the club played with more urgency from beginning to end it would have more success.
Ultimately, I blame the team’s woes on its incredible inability to consistently make contact. The strikeouts are maddening and it’s difficult to get into a groove either offensively or defensively when batters quickly whiff and then come back to the bench to grouse. They’re making it too easy on opposing pitchers because it’s much tougher to manage a ballgame when the bases are empty than when there is a runner or two on. When there are people on board, fielders are moving around trying to hold them, the pitcher’s attention is divided and the manager has to make tougher decisions about where to station his defenders and such.
Strikeouts also suppress offense because they leave base runners in place. It’s much more likely that a team will score if it makes productive outs, moving runners to the next station even when the batter doesn’t reach safely. What really drives me crazy are strikeouts when there is a runner at third with less than two outs. There are too many games where easy runs are left to die on the bases.
It’s also tough on your pitcher when a team can’t mount any offensive pressure. When you don’t get a chance to sit down and catch your breath before you have to go back out to the mound, eventually it starts to wear on you physically. Also, it causes mental pressure when you know you have to be perfect because if you allow even a single run you will be behind.
This team just doesn’t seem to be playing with much confidence right now. If the players don’t believe in each other, it’s difficult for the fans to believe in them.
It’s been a long time coming. But, hopefully, the Cardinals home opener will give the team a boost it needs to come together and realize its potential. Otherwise, something more serious is going to have to be done to shake this team up.
Fowler and Ozuna continue to hurt the Cardinals
Could the situation with Dexter Fowler and Marcell Ozuna be dividing the clubhouse? They may be fine fellows and well-liked human beings. But the players who are performing well must feel a bit hamstrung to be forced to help carry two guys who are obviously incomplete players at this point. Fowler can’t hit and he dropped the easiest of fly balls Wednesday night in right field. Ozuna is a cleanup hitter with absolutely no power and an outfielder that can’t throw. Opposing base runners have taken notice and are taking advantage at every opportunity. It’s incredibly deflating to see a guy with a .167 batting average come to the plate with the game on the line, and it creates resentment when he doesn’t come through.
It was a breath of fresh air to see Tyler O’Neill come into the game Thursday and get the job done with a clutch hit. He’s a free swinger, but is he really more of a strikeout threat than Fowler? He’s a better outfielder than Ozuna and he’s got more clutch hits this season, despite playing in a reserve role, than both of the starters put together. There are a lot of people out there who think Fowler isn’t trying. I don’t think that’s the case at all. You could see it on his face when he dropped that lazy fly that he was crushed inside. He cares plenty. I think his body — and maybe his mind — have betrayed him. He’s not capable of playing at the high level he used to any longer and he’s lost his confidence to do even the most routine things because of it.
Gyorko ready to return to roster, but does he fit?
Jedd Gyorko is coming back to the team. While that might give the Cardinals a more useful bat, it’s not a great roster make-up to add a third utility infielder to the mix. This is only a temporary solution. At some point in the near future, St. Louis is going to have to decide which one of Fowler, Gyorko and Ozuna is going to have to go.
Sure, they could send Yairo Munoz or Drew Robinson to the minor leagues. But what’s the point of that? Is the team going to occupy a bench spot with a player who basically has no future? My guess is that Fowler will soon come up with a lingering injury that will put him on the shelf for two months. But I’m not too sure that he would go along with such a thing if he thinks he’s healthy.