Cardinals fans have been frustrated with every aspect of the team through the first couple weeks of the season. With the exception of middle of the road starting pitching (15th in ERA by starters), the Cardinals rank poorly in every meaningful statistical category. The offense has been anemic (25th in runs, 28th in batting average), and the bullpen battered (their 7.34 ERA by relievers ranks last in MLB).
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the team’s early performance for the fan base has been the defense. If nothing else, this was an area that the Cardinals vowed to improve upon after last year’s fielding difficulties. Through 12 games, it hasn’t happened. The Cardinals rank 28th in fielding percentage and they’re tied for last in defensive runs saved in the early going. For those who watched this team a year ago, it’s been like déjà vu all over again.
That statement applies to the fan base as well as it does the Cardinals general manager. John Mozeliak spoke to the media assembled at Busch Stadium Monday afternoon about the Cardinals rough start defensively.
“Obviously our offseason narrative was about defense,” Mozeliak said. “It was about being more athletic and we’re not living up to that. Obviously we have to be held accountable for that. That’s something we have to take a very hard look at.”
Defensive woes haven’t been confined to one area in particular. With a heavier dose of playing time, Kolten Wong was prescribed as a player who could help improve the Cardinals stature defensively–he’s already made two errors. Yadier Molina is a perennial Gold Glover throughout his career; he cost the Cardinals runs with multiple passed balls and wild pitches over the past week. Even the players with whom defense is typically taken for granted have struggled.
“Some of the errors have been a little bit on the unexpected side,” Mozeliak said. “Certainly, when you think about this from a defensive catching standpoint, that’s been a little bit surprising. Sometimes when you make these types of statements in the offseason on what you want to see happen, you do make certain assumptions."
Mozeliak speculated whether Molina may have something physically wrong with him, but stated that he had not yet spoken to Molina since the team returned from the road trip, nor has he been made aware of anything medically related for the catcher. His words reflect a simple evaluation: things just don’t look right with this team.
“I do feel like some of the infield work we’ve done has been cleaned up,” Mozeliak said. “I am a little frustrated with some of the outfield defensive mistakes we still have made, but our staff is aware of this and it’s the responsibility of the players to take control of it.”
In order for the player to take control of this situation and improve the circumstances, they have to be put in the right position to do so. One of the most obvious symbols of the Cardinals disconnect from their priority on defense has been the usage of career-first baseman Matt Adams as a left fielder. Mozeliak touched on that as well, implying the ill-fated experiment could be over.
“I honestly feel like, for him to get playing time in left field, it’s a hard place to do this, at the big leagues,” Mozeliak said of Adams. “At the time, we were trying to be creative and find a way to get him some at-bats, but I do think that takes away from our main goal, from a defensive standpoint. But arguably, as you sit here 3-9, you’re trying to get the offense going as well as keep the defense going, so it’s always that push/pull which is tough. But I do feel like there’s a better way to stay stronger defensively than perhaps Matt (in left field).”
Carpenter scratched from Monday’s lineup
Matt Carpenter was originally scheduled to play first and bat third in the Cardinals lineup Monday, but was a late scratch as he continues to deal with a swollen finger. Matheny said the ailment would make throwing difficult for Carpenter. Matheny is hopeful Carpenter can return to the lineup Tuesday, and said he may be available to pinch-hit Monday. Jose Martinez will play first base in Carpenter’s stead.