I love old school baseball, but St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt is going overboard with his decision to prioritize loyalty over statistical evidence when it comes to making out his lineup card.
It was a little bit aggravating when he was penciling in Matt Carpenter at the top of the batting order at the midpoint of the regular season despite the fact that the left-handed swinger was having a hard time keeping his batting average over .200 and his keen eye for balls and strikes seems to have abandoned him.
It’s absolutely maddening when the Redbirds are in the National League Championship Series and Shildt keeps fielding a defensively-challenged lineup that can’t hit either.
Carpenter’s throws are painful to watch and Fowler doesn’t seem to cover half the ground in centerfield that Harrison Bader patrols. Still, they keep playing to allegedly give the offense a boost. But neither of them are hitting a lick in the playoffs.
Shildt finally moved Paul DeJong down in the order to compensate for his badly slumping bat. But the only place it seems that we’re going to see infielder Yairo Munos these days is on the back of a carton of milk. Why?
Munoz might not be the next Alex Rodriguez at short. But DeJong looks absolutely lost right now and, even more than the offense needs a shake up, DeJong needs a chance to reset himself. While former manager Mike Matheny was infamous for changing the batting order as often as he changed his underpants (daily, we hope) Shildt seems to be taking things too far in the other direction.
This isn’t the time for loyalty. It’s the time to try to do anything you can to win some ballgames.
Right now, the Cardinals have to win four of their next five games or they’re done for 2019. We can worry about loyalty over the winter when the Birds try to figure out what to do with Carpenter’s new contract and the last two years of Dexter Fowler.
Some people seem to think the Fowler crisis of 2018 is over. But he hit only .238 this year. Although Fowler had a decent .346 on base percentage, there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. He struck out a staggering 142 times in 150 games and I find it hard to believe his production is likely to trend upward in his age 34 season.
While I can still see a role for Fowler on this team — even a relatively significant one — are the Cardinals supposed to pass on trying to improve their outfield performance in the name of loyalty? Should the team offer oft-injured starting pitcher Michael Wacha a lucrative contract extension because he was an excellent pitcher four or five years ago and really helped the team back then? Of course not because we have to live in the present.
My other gripe with the way the Cardinals have played in the NLCS dates back to the regular season as well: Why can’t this team adapt to the situation of the day?
On the first night of the National League finals, the temperature was in the 40s and it was obvious the ball wasn’t carrying. What did St. Louis do about that? Not a darn thing. Over and over and over again, the Birds hit fly balls to centerfield that were converted into easy outs.
They seemed incapable of playing small ball, which is a shame because the team was able to exploit the fact that the Washington Nationals are pretty terrible at preventing stolen bases. Work a walk. Bunt for a hit. Do anything to get on base, then steal second, move to third on a hit to the right side and score on a single, a sacrifice or a wild pitch.
Do something to score a run here or there and give the excellent pitching so far this series to have half a chance to get a win.
Didn’t the coaching staff notice that the 10-run inning the Cardinals had against the Atlanta Braves in the deciding game of the NLDS happened when the team got a runner on base and then attempted to bunt him over? Playing sound fundamental baseball pressured the other team into making a mistake and then the dam broke, allowing a bushel basket of runs to be scored.
When runners are threatening to steal, it puts pressure on pitchers and when they’re attention is divided, that’s when they make a mistake.
The bottom line is that the Redbirds have made things far too easy for the Nationals. They have made outs too quickly and easily. This isn’t a perfect team by any stretch. But the Cardinals were given a gift when they were handed home field advantage against Washington instead of having to go on the road to play the top seeded Los Angeles Dodgers. This is too important to fumble away.
The deck is stacked against the Cardinals down two games to none. But, if they can inject some life into their offense — pronto — they can take two out of three games on the road and come back to St. Louis with a chance to get back to the World Series.