The St. Louis Cardinals rolled into Chicago for a series against the Cubs with a healthy lead in the National League Central and the best winning percentage in baseball.
Why did the Cardinals win two-thirds of their first 30 games but then lay an egg on a national stage this weekend? I believe it’s because the team has a lot of pitchers, but it doesn’t have any top of the rotation, big-game hurlers who can win in a playoff atmosphere.
Second-year pitcher Jack Flaherty did OK in game one of the series Friday. But he buckled with a three-run inning in the first game and the Redbirds never recovered. On Saturday, veteran Michael Wacha was terrible. He was staked to a four run lead and promptly gave it all back by loading the bases and serving up a meatball for a grand slam. On Sunday, former ace Adam Wainwright gave up five runs in five innings as St. Louis was humiliated on ESPN television.
The Redbirds simply were never in the Cubs series. As well as they played in the 10 days before series, they were that lousy in games that arguably were the most important so far in this young season.
Former Cardinals President Branch Rickey used to say “there’s quality in quantity.” But I don’t know if I buy that when it comes to the starting rotation. You might be able to get away with having a lousy fifth starter over the course of a long season. But you’re not going to get away with not having a legitimate number one or number two pitcher in a short playoff series. Who would St. Louis pitch in game one of a play-off tilt against the Cubs or the Los Angeles Dodgers? Miles Mikolas, a guy who has never started a postseason game before?
I don’t know how the team fixes this problem mid-season. But it certainly didn’t do anything about it over the winter this year or last, and I am afraid it’s going to be the thing that ultimately keeps this team from being a legitimate contender in 2019.
Why did St. Louis Cardinals demote Tyler O’Neill to bring back Luke Gregerson?
Speaking of lousy pitching...
Although I could see the move coming from a mile away, I still can’t believe that the Cardinals demoted Tyler O’Neill in order to make room for free agent bust Luke Gregerson.
I guess the Birds felt like they needed to make up for trading away Gregerson when he was a young and effective pitcher. So, they went ahead and signed him when he was an over-the-hill, broken down hurler. Great. I completely wrote him off when Gregerson spent 90 percent of 2019 on the disabled list, so much so that I forgot he was even on the payroll until this spring.
Yet, this weekend, the Cardinals sent down a guy who is presumably going to be their starting left fielder next year to make room for a pitcher who doesn’t have a role in the current edition of the bullpen other than a middle innings mop up man. He pitched like that in Sunday, making his grand return to the major league club by giving up two hits and a run in two-thirds of an inning. Yeah, I get that O’Neill wasn’t playing much and he needed to get some at-bats, blah, blah, blah. But the team needs to make it a priority to get him big league at-bats to prepare him for his future.
There is no reason that O’Neill shouldn’t be able to start two or three times a week and come in as a late inning replacement in other games. As his debut game in Class AAA showed, he has nothing at all left to prove in the minor leagues. O’Neill walloped two home runs in his first game back. Meanwhile, Lane Thomas is crushing AAA ball pitching, too. Yet Dexter Fowler is clogging up the St. Louis outfield.
It’s a shame that the Cardinals seem more interested in justifying the more than $20 million a year they wasted on Gregerson and Fowler than they do about fielding the best team possible. Just imagine if the team spent that cash on a top of the rotation starter.