The St. Louis Cardinals’ best chance to improve upon their 2015 season -- or at least to keep pace with it -- was to kick an injury bug that plagued the team last year.
Unfortunately, the problem seems to have spread from the players to the coaching staff.
Third base coach Jose Oquendo has joined shortstop Jhonny Peralta on the sidelines with a bad knee. While Peralta could be out until June, Oquendo may miss the whole year, according to the team.
What’s in a coach? What difference does it make?
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In Oquendo’s case, a ton.
We all hear about the “Cardinals Way” until we’re sick of it. But, certainly, Oquendo is the standard bearer of the Cardinals’ brand of baseball at the major league level.
He teaches the little details of playing the game that take players up a level.
When Peralta went down, why didn’t the Redbirds front office panic? Because it had Oquendo, the in-house fielding whisperer, to make sure the team would have a capable person in place to catch the ball and the game’s most demanding infield position.
Oquendo is credited with making Peralta, a guy in his mid 30s who in many ways too big and too slow to be a shortstop, a serviceable player at the position. What he could have done with an enigmatic, high ceiling player like Ruben Tejada would have been interesting to see.
Oquendo’s bad knee will prevent him from being mobile enough to man his usual spot in the third base coaching box. But I hope at some point in the near future he can at least sit on the bench to offer his wisdom to players and manager Mike Matheny.
That would at least keep him in the fold -- although it’s tough to coach fielding without being out on the infield dirt to demonstrate technique as opposed to sitting on the bench trying to explain it.
Oqendo in many ways is the George Kissell of the modern Cardinals, taking talented players and maximizing their potential.
I hate to see this team without Peralta’s bat. But it may be a tougher blow to lose a valuable leader like Oquendo.