(Baseball StL) -- With about 20 percent of the 2013 baseball season already over, here are five observations about the Cardinals.
1). Stop worrying about Pete Kozma at shortstop.
His play is very respectable and the Cardinals have bigger problems. Before opening day, fans wanted the club to trade for someone – anyone – to replace Rafael Furcal. Kozma was too slow, his arm was too weak, his range was limited and he couldn’t hit. We’re only about 30 games in, but Kozma is hovering around .270 and makes all the plays he should make. He doesn’t have Furcal’s arm, but his hands are soft and his release is quick. He doesn’t have the range of Mark Belanger or the power of Barry Larkin but to paraphrase Rick Pitino, Ozzie Smith ain’t walking through that door.
2). Shelby Miller works too slowly.
He’s a great talent, a long-term starter who may develop into a 1 or 2 on the Redbirds staff, but he works too slowly.
In a recent start against Pittsburgh, infielders toed the dirt, wandered into the outfield, and gazed off in the distance while Miller rubbed the ball, paced the mound, toed the rubber, sighed heavily and then froze in his stretch. Routinely taking 30-40 seconds between pitches is far too long to keep the fielders alert and the rhythm of the game intact. He needs to understand the need to get the team off the field and preserve the natural pace and speed that makes a game vibrant.
3). Starters don’t make good relievers. The Cardinals have an abundance of starting pitchers and this embarrassment of riches is only going to become more difficult as Michael Wacha, John Gast (0 earned runs in his first 29 innings this year at Memphis) and possibly Carlos Martinez force their way into consideration in coming years. Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal in an ideal situation would not be relievers. But with a solid line-up of five quality starters, the only place on the big club for them is in the bullpen. But short relief is as different from starting as shortstop is from catching. It is not about throwing 97 mph; it is location, staying ahead in the count and the knowledge that the game hangs on every pitch. Starters take time to stretch it out and find their stuff, often overthrowing early until they get their rhythm, a luxury they don’t have in the 9th inning.
Don’t be too hard on Kelly and Rosenthal. They are thoroughbreds temporarily pulling a plow.
4). The spectacular starting pitching the Cards have enjoyed so far has masked some serious problems, until now.
When you have a staff dealing shut-outs and complete games, everyone looks like an all-star and the World Series is clearly within reach. But as hitters catch up to pitchers and high pitch counts force out starters earlier, the bullpen’s obvious shortcoming were the first issue revealed. Timely hitting, an early season strength, has abandoned them.
In the Reds opener, the Birds left eight runners on base in the first six innings. The hitting struggles of David Freese, John Jay and Daniel Descalso are amplified. The unusual lack of power by Allen Craig and even, at times, Matt Holliday, becomes more pronounced. And Holliday’s follies in left field are more difficult to accept.
What does this mean? It means the Cardinals are a good team with some serious issues to address, just like every other major league team. Quality starters will keep them close until hitting turns around. But if hitting is contagious, so is the lack of hitting, a fact not lost on Cardinal management.
5). While the minor league system has produced some compelling prospects, don’t get too excited - yet.
The Cards system is full of legitimate major league prospects, led by outfielder Oscar Taveras, Wacha, Kolton Wong, Martinez, Gast and others. But two things to consider; First, the Cardinals are a contending team, not a rebuilding franchise with patience to allow young players to develop. They need immediate contributions.
Secondly, the majors is not about what you can do in a game or a week, but what you do over 162 games, day in and day out, through endless travel, lonely nights and unforgiving crowds. A lot of players can turn in a great game. Only true major leaguers turn in great seasons.