The St. Louis Cardinals continue to sputter offensively. It’s been a week since they’ve gotten a hit from a leadoff hitter.
But, beyond the obvious bright spot that the team actually won a game Thursday, I was also encouraged by the fact that Cardinals manager Mike Shildt made the rare move of mixing up the batting order to try to make something happen.
Shildt, tired of watching Dexter Fowler put up goose eggs game after game, inserted Kolten Wong into the top slot in the lineup against the Philadelphia Phillies. Whether or not Wong was able to break the leadoff hitless streak, it was good to see Shildt have the courage to try something different. While he was at it, he slid Paul Goldschmidt down to the third position where he had a much greater chance to come to the plate with a runner or two on base than he did while he oddly batted second.
I’m not asking for Shildt to turn into Mike Matheny and change the lineup every single game. But when a team is suffering through the worst May of its century and a quarter of history, its ridiculous not to try something different.
While we’re on the subject of changes to be made, Shildt not only moved Fowler out of the leadoff spot where he wasn’t getting the job done, he parked the outfielder on the bench for most of the game. The veteran fly chaser came into the game late and had one plate appearance, collecting his first hit in recent memory and a phenomenal catch to end the game.
If baseball is anything, it’s a game of adjustments. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over and hope that it’s going to work out. If your opponent is worth his salt, he’s going to figure out what you’re doing sooner or later and try to get you out in a different way. Then the hitter has to change his tactics and force the pitcher to adjust again. Shildt allowed his team to get into a rut by refusing to make any changes to break up the bad streak. He’s hasn’t been keeping the players accountable by making them earn their playing time, so they lose their competitive fire.
It was a mistake to announce before spring training started that Dexter Fowler was going to have every chance to be a starting outfielder. It’s would be a mistake to hand any player a job in a competitive sport without making him earn it. When he was the best player in the National League 10 years ago, Albert Pujols used to show up for spring training every year and say he was there to win a job. Maybe he knew deep down inside that he would make the major league roster even if he ended Grapefruit League play hitting below his weight.
The St. Louis veterans ought to know better than to let themselves get complacent. But this team has a lot of youngsters on the roster. Shildt was hired to be the permanent manager because he was supposed to know how to develop and nurture those up and coming players. Instead, Tyler O’Neill, who had an excellent spring, was rewarded with rotting on the bench and then getting sent back to Class AAA instead of getting used in a productive way by the big league club. Harrison Bader, who broke through last year and proved himself to be quite a spark plug, lost his job to Fowler. Jose Martinez was shoehorned into right field because Shildt had to find a place to get his bat into the order on a daily basis.
On the pitching side of the equation, Shildt’s sleeping behind the wheel made a mess of the starting rotation. I wonder if he was forced to finally pull Michael Wacha out of the starting five. But when he did move the former top prospect into a bullpen role, he didn’t seem to really have a plan for how to use him. Wacha threw the worst inning of his career on Wednesday when he came into the game in relief. I don’t see where the Cardinals can afford to stash him on this roster because the starting pitchers don’t get deep into games and the bullpen is already starting to show signs of wear and tear one-third of the way through the season. This isn’t going to end well if the pitchers aren’t used more effectively and efficiently.
The Cardinals didn’t play great on Thursday, threatening to let the Phillies back into the game late. But they played well enough to get the job done. It’s up to Shildt to find a way to keep the ball rolling.