While there are certainly several areas of the St. Louis Cardinals roster worthy of concern, the thing that worries me most is the offense.
Specifically, it’s the inability of the offense to make adjustments and find some way to create some action.
The best Cardinals teams I have ever seen in person, with all due respect to the Whitey Herzog clubs of the 1980s, were the 2004-05 clubs with a lineup of players who had an incredible ability to come through late in games. The opposing pitcher might retire the lineup in order the first time through. But he was going to throw a ton of pitches to do it and, when he tried to make it through the order the second and third time, St. Louis was going to have him just where it wanted him.
This team doesn’t seem to learn anything as the games go on. A hitter’s third at bat looks a lot like his first and the strikeouts start to pile up like cord wood. I guess part of it is the approach of players today who would rather roll the dice on trying to hit a home run that cut down their swing with two strikes in effort to start a rally. That’s why we keep seeing games where the Cardinals have a total of four or five hits.
I don’t think Whitey, who is in our thoughts as he recovers from a mild stroke suffered Monday, would quibble too much about my comparison of those teams. In the early to mid 2000s, I had the opportunity to sit with him for a while at one of his charity golf tournaments and he told me he thought he could have won a lot of games with the likes of Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen on his roster.
Those guys were professionals. But, above all, they were team players. I remember when Carpenter won the Cy Young Award but St. Louis fell short of its goal of a world championship. He was gracious but he said he didn’t play for individual accolades, he played for a World Series trophy.
These Cardinals aren’t interested in playing as a team
Sure, the guys on the current roster probably would like a championship ring. But I’m not convinced they want it bad enough to hit the ball the other way instead of pulling it into the shift. It was telling Tuesday night when Miles Mikolas shook off two-time World Series champ Yadier Molina, insisting on throwing an 0-2 curveball to a Washington Nationals hitter. Yadi is pretty composed. But he didn’t try very hard to hide his disgust as he watched the ball sail over the center field fence. It seems like the Cardinals are made up of a bunch of guys who are more interested in free styling than they are in pulling in the same direction.
Is it a coincidence that notoriously un-coachable St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong suddenly had something click in his head, and now he’s playing by far the best baseball of his career? I was told by a Cardinals coach a few seasons ago that Wong was like talking to a toddler. The coaches would ask him to do something a certain way — and five minutes later it was as if the conversation never happened. He was a one-dimensional player who was unable to build upon his natural talent. Suddenly, he has all cylinders hitting and he’s the player the Cardinals hoped he would be again and again over the past five years. Maybe if some of the other players would try to be more well-rounded they would enjoy similar success — as would the team.
While the starting pitching has been great since the All-Star Game, the bullpen has gone in the other direction. John Gant has been absolutely terrible for the past six weeks, Giovanny Gallegos was incredible in the first half and now he’s just ordinary and Andrew Miller has spent the season trying without success to reclaim his glory days. At least if the Cardinal could score more than two runs a game, they would have a chance to erase some of the mistakes of the relief corps.
But, generally, its cause for concern that the 2019 Cardinals aren’t a big moments kind of team. When they have two strikes on the hitter, the pitchers can’t put him away. When they have a runner on third base with one out, they can’t drive him home. Good teams find a way to do things like that. While manager Mike Shildt has done a great job of improving the defense and base running, he’s still got a long way to go in teaching this club about situational hitting and putting hitters away from the mound.