Harrison Bader has a memorable debut
Manager Mike Shildt finally pulled the trigger on the move I have been clamoring for when he moved Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot and Dexter Fowler into it. Carpenter has notoriously struggled to hit anywhere besides the top of the order, which seemed to be the reason for the reluctance to make the move. So, naturally, Carp got hot and raised his average 25 points after being dropped to fifth in the order, and the wheels fell off of Fowler who is hitless in 11 plate appearances in the leadoff spot.
I certainly agree that the way Carpenter hits these days, he ought to be down in the order in a spot where he can bat with runners on base as opposed to trying to get on base so the players behind him can try to drive the slow-footed third baseman home. But, while Fowler has showed a much better batting average and on-base percentage this season than he did last year, I’m not sure he’s got the consistency to lead off like he did a few years ago.
Ironically, while Fowler’s better play has found him back in center field, the guy he displaced is one of St. Louis’ hottest players right now, Harrison Bader.
Over the past two weeks, Bader has hit .333 with a .405 on base percentage. On a team with some defensively-challenged outfielders, Bader is by far the best glove man and the fastest player in the group, but he can’t consistently get on the field. Meanwhile, Tyler O’Neill got demoted to Class AAA Memphis through no fault of his own because there wasn’t any playing time for him in St. Louis. But in the high minors, he’s tearing the cover off the ball with nine home runs in two weeks. How will O’Neill ever learn to hit major league pitching if he doesn’t have a chance to see major league pitching?
It’s perplexing why this team has so much trouble scoring runs when it seems like it has a plus hitter at every defensive position. But the Cardinals seem to struggle to do the little things, failing to move runners up on the bases and striking out way too much.
St. Louis Cardinals pitchers continue to struggle
The starting pitching was terrible up to the start of the series concluded Sunday against the Atlanta Braves. But St. Louis got three good starts from its rotation against one of the better teams in baseball, so, naturally, the bullpen that has been the rock of the club up to this point has begun to leak. On Sunday night, in front of a national television audience, fireballing closer Jordan Hicks couldn’t retire any of the four batters he faced. He turned a 3-0 lead into 3-2 with the tying run at third base in a blink -- although, in fairness, Yadier Molina dropped a foul tip that would have been one out and kept one of the runners who eventually scored off the bases.
Jack Flaherty, who had struggled mightily up to the past couple of weeks, was absolutely brilliant tonight against a team with a very talented offense. He held Atlanta to four singles, working effectively and efficiently. It’s a shame to see him go unrewarded for his effort because the bullpen couldn’t do the job.
Hicks has been allowed to gather some rust over the past three weeks. But in his last inning and a third, Hicks has surrendered six hits and two walks that have added up to six runs scored. I don’t care what the game situation is, you have to be better than that. In baseball, you can’t control what everyone else does, all you can do is make the most of your opportunities when they present themselves. Hicks hasn’t even come close to doing that lately. His earned run average has ballooned from 1.81 to 4.24.
It’s not like the other other relievers have done much better. In extra innings that never should have happened, Tyler Webb brought the gasoline can to the bonfire, walking in the go-ahead run after an intentional walk to load the bases.
Mike Shildt’s excuses getting old
Finally, the most ironic thing at all is that the Cardinals soared after being freed from the over-managing of former skipper Mike Matheny, who seemed to dig in his heels no matter how poorly his decisions turned out, doing the same thing over and over again as opposed to admitting he has ever made a wrong decision in his life. Mike Shildt was the anti-Matheny when he started. But now I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach when I hear his postgame press conference turn into a Mathenyesque excuse fest.
The bottom line is that the Cardinals are losing games because they are being out-executed. Atlanta was much better than the Cardinals at making productive outs and coming through in the clutch. The Braves simply seemed to want to win more than St. Louis did. And that’s a bad thing. Fowler expressed on the pregame show that he believes the Cardinals are a good team and that things are going to come together soon. I hope he’s right. Because the impression I get is that this team is far too comfortable with losing and a shakeup of the roster might be in order to get the team back on the ball.