After a month of lousy baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals made one move to try to shake things up.
It’s fairly obvious it hasn’t worked.
Dexter Fowler put up another goose egg in the hits column Tuesday as the Redbirds followed up a three-run outburst in the first inning with eight frames of nothing to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies. Putting the embattled Fowler at the top of the order and Matt Carpenter down in the fifth spot has done little to change the results. More moves have to be made unless this team has conceded that it’s a fourth-place club.
I understand that Mike Matheny was criticized for constantly juggling the pieces of his lineup. But that doesn’t mean that new manager Mike Shildt has to do exactly the opposite, refusing to shuffle the deck to freshen things up from time to time. The Cardinals just don’t seem to be taking good at-bats these days. No matter where they hit in the order, they’re swinging for the fences every trip to the plate, resulting in too many strikeouts and not enough home runs to justify the tactic.
If I were in charge, I’d move Paul Goldschmidt, the most dangerous hitter on the team, to the third spot in the order. If they’re going to play the home run game, get people on base in front of your slugger so he puts up crooked numbers when he connects. As for the higher spots in the order, I’d like to see speedy outfielder Harrison Bader get a shot in the leadoff spot and Kolten Wong in the two hole.
I know Bader doesn’t have the highest on-base percentage on the team. Maybe the move would be short-lived. But Bader makes things happen. He plays the game hard, isn’t afraid to get dirty and he puts pressure on the defense. That’s the sort of guy I’d like to see setting the tone for the offense right now. As for Wong, he got off to a hot start and then went ice cold. So put the guy in front of Goldschmidt to make pitchers throw him more strikes and see if it gives Wong’s production a boost. Let Marcell Ozuna remain in the fourth spot where he’s been hot and cold but has put up respectable power numbers. Then bat Jose Martinez fifth because he is strong in the clutch and hits the ball consistently even if he doesn’t often hit it a long way. Paul DeJong can bat sixth and Matt Carpenter can bat seventh with Yadier Molina in the eighth spot.
Again, the Redbirds don’t have to field this lineup from now until eternity. But it seems to be a good way to light a fire under a team that needs a boost right now.
Adam Wainwright was OK on Tuesday. But he’s been unable to be consistently strong in the rotation and he might be better served at this point to spend some time in the bullpen. Over his past three starts, Wainwright has given up 19 hits and nine walks to allow 12 runs. He seems to start off well and then fades in the third or fourth inning. He might make a nice bridge reliever if he was willing to fill that sort of role at this stage of his career. The problem with that is the Birds have already demoted soon-to-be free agent hurler Michael Wacha to the bullpen because of inconsistency. Unless one of them is placed on the injured list for a malady real or imagined, it would seem like there isn’t room for the both of them in the bullpen.
The Cardinals seem determined to plug oft-injured, permanent prospect Alex Reyes to the major league roster when he recovers from going a coupe of rounds with a wall after a disappointing minor league appearance. But is that the answer to the under-performing rotation? As I have said for three years, this team doesn’t have a legitimate top of the rotation starting pitcher who you’d want to be your go-to guy in the first game of an important series. I don’t see that guy in the system -- at least not for a year or two until Reyes or Jack Flaherty is able to get some experience under their belt. St. Louis is going to have to make a trade for a big-game pitcher unless it wants to open the checkbook for a free agent.
Either way, while there is never a shortage of people willing to tell you to calm down because it’s early, the Cardinals are headed to irrelevance in the National League Central Division race. Unless they do something dramatic to change the way they’re playing the game soon, they’re more likely to be sellers than buyers as we reach the trade deadline in a couple of months. The team never seems to show much of a sense of urgency. But I have to wonder if a fourth season without a playoff appearance is survivable for team architect John Mozeliak and his front office staff.