I really think the St. Louis Cardinals could have used another two weeks of spring training.
Even at the very end of Grapefruit League play, it didn’t seem the Redbirds were ready for prime time.
The pitchers were babied and not stretched out and the position players were never fielded in a way that represented a potential opening day lineup. It seemed that when camp ended the Cardinals were surprised it was time to answer the bell.
Maybe some would argue the Cardinals held back their starters in effort to try to preserve their health for when games counted. But if that was the plan it certainly didn’t work.
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Since the end of spring training the injury hit parade his resumed in 2015 proportions with backup catcher Brayan Pena, reserve infielder Tommy Pham, reliever Jordan Walden and shortstop Ruben Tejada all hitting the disabled list in the last week.
I’d think players would be less likely to pull a muscle when it’s 85 in south Florida than when it’s 45 in Pittsburgh. So maybe pushing things a bit earlier was in order.
Whether or not the temperature played a factor in the streak of injuries is debatable. But it’s more certain that this team didn’t have it’s work done when it ran out of exhibition games to play.
In games I saw during the last week of spring training, the Cardinals looked sloppy in the field and at the plate. That didn’t change on opening day when St. Louis hitters were embarrassed with 14 strikeouts and an incredible 22 runners stranded on base.
Second baseman Kolten Wong struck out twice and marooned six runners on the basepaths. Shortstop Jedd Gyorko left five. Centerfielder Randal Grichuk struck out three times in four at-bats.
If there is a silver lining, two of Grichuk’s strikeouts came looking. That doesn’t change much in the outcome of the game. But the Cardinals are trying to get Grichuk -- who distinguished himself in the game Sunday with a fantastic, heads-up play to nail a runner trying to advance to second base -- to chase fewer pitches out of the zone. If he manages to remain disciplined, Grichuk will get a better handle on the strike zone and will be a better player over the long haul because of it. This is the path from potential to becoming an established major league slugger. So we’re going to have to be patient.
Ace Adam Wainwright appeared to take a couple of innings to get his feet beneath him. But once he did he was much better.
His opening day start wasn’t bad. He allowed six hits and three runs over six innings while striking out three and walking three. It wasn’t a dominating performance. But it sure could have been worse. In short, he made big pitches when he needed to in order to get out of jams. Well, except for allowing an RBI single to the opposing starting pitcher... But things like that sometimes happen.
While a lot of folks on the internet and social media are quick to kick dirt on the Cardinals because of one bad game, it’s easy to see that the club could have won its opener with one or two hits in key situations.
While manager Mike Matheny’s strongest suit is motivating his players to perform for him, he seems to have a problem getting this club ready at the gate.
The two previous years, the Cardinals have seemed to get off to a stumbling start with sloppy play and overwhelmed pitching.
I can see why the Birds would want to play things safe with Wainwright as well as fellow rotation mates Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez coming off of health issues. But there is a zone somewhere between running players into the ground and taking it too easy that must be found.
I’m not ready to give this team up for dead. But I think the players view what happened Sunday in Pittsburgh as a wake up call.
They’ve spent all winter resenting the accolades heaped on the unproven Chicago Cubs. But what the other teams do doesn’t really matter. The Cardinals need to take care of their own business. If they do that, everything else will fall into place.