Cheap Seats

The St. Louis Cardinals are a puzzle, and they are missing too many pieces

How could the St. Louis Cardinals look so good one day and so bad the next?

It’s easy to understand. The team has a dynamic and powerful offense that can put up runs in bunches and a bullpen that is among the best in baseball. Get them a lead and the Redbirds are likely to hold it.

At the same time, the team still has major defensive issues and a starting rotation that too often stakes the opposition to an early lead. Get behind early and start to press, the team is susceptible to disheartening losses like it suffered three games in a row in Chicago against the Cubs and Tuesday night at home against the Philadelphia Phillies when an error-filled second inning put the game out of reach before fans warmed their seats.

The offense has carried the load far more than it’s share this year. When the other team scores six runs in an inning during which it should have tallied two at the most, I can see where the hitters might become demoralized at the plate. The situation throws ice water all over what is days ago was the hottest team in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals made efforts to improve both the offense and the defense over the winter. But it seems every time they strengthened one, they weakened the other. For example, the team added perennial all-star and Gold Glover Paul Goldschmidt to the roster, But by doing so, the team shifted defensively-challenged leadoff man Matt Carpenter back to third base, a position where his bum shoulder and iffy leather are too often exposed.

Carpenter’s presence at third also creates a problem for infielder Jedd Gyorko, who has a solid power bat and much better hands than at the hot corner. Gyorko is an all but forgotten man since the first baseman moved to third base. He’s also been frozen out at second base where Kolten Wong’s defense is prioritized, although the diminutive second sacker seemed to use up all his hits in the first three weeks of the season.

The team claimed it was going to play fleet-footed fly chaser Harrison Bader in Centerfield to limit the effect of Dexter Fowler’s diminished range. But when Jose Martinez hit the ball so well that he had to be shoehorned into the starting outfield, Fowler found his way back into center and put the team in a spot where it is starting the worst defensive outfield since Jose Canseco’s playing days. It’s a good thing that Martinez is crushing the ball while Ozuna and Fowler are both vastly improved at the plate over last year because you have to score a whole lot of runs to make up for two or three balls a game finding the outfield grass instead of the inside of a mitt.

It’s hard to argue with plans to get Martinez and Carpenter to the plate as many times as possible. But the decision to start Martinez means Bader and Gyroko are stuck on the bench. Even worse, Tyler O’Neill, who the team seems to have penciled in as the starting left fielder next season, isn’t getting the big league at-bats he needs to prepare. Instead, he’s back in Class AAA Memphis waiting for a roster hole to fill in St. Louis.

While there are tough decisions to be made, and I don’t know what the ultimate answers are, it seems that the Cardinals need to pick a direction and tailor the roster to fit it. Instead of going back and forth on players who don’t necessarily fit together, they need to get rid of the guys they aren’t going to use. If Gyorko isn’t going to play, send him somewhere he’s needed. One of either Fowler, Ozuna, Bader or Martinez have to go. If Fowler is going to keep playing in center, would it be better to ship Bader out? I really like the kid and think he could be a spectacular player if given the chance. But if St. Louis wants O’Neill to be the left fielder of the future, maybe he’s a better choice for the fourth outfielder in 2019, especially with Lane Thomas bucking at the gate in Memphis.

My only reservation about such a move would be the fear of injuries. But the Cardinals are so redundant in utility infielders and spare outfielders it’s ridiculous. In addition to Yairo Munoz as a utility infielder in St. Louis, the Cardinals have rapidly-ascending infielder Tommy Edman in Memphis. Besides O’Neill, they have Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena in Memphis. If they run out of players on the depth chart at those positions, the Redbirds have serious problems.