ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak strode into the media room at Busch Stadium Friday with grim purpose. There was no table, no water bottles, no Gatorade. Just one lectern, one mic.
This was going to be unpleasant.
“There were different facets of the game we were going to focus on and improve upon and we’ve come up short. I feel like standing up here and doing nothing and hoping for a different outcome is not the right strategy,” he said, calling the Cardinals’ abysmal performance en route to a 26-32 record “a breakdown on many levels.”
So Friday, the GM started with third base coach Chris Maloney.
Promoted to third base duties in the absence of longtime fixture Jose Oquendo, Maloney is in his second season at the post.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals have not improved their base running from a year ago, and are again near or at the bottom of the league when it comes to unforced errors on the basepaths.
In particular, Maloney has made a handful of blunderous decisions, sending runners home in ill-advised situations and giving away outs at the plate.
“Clearly if you look at the dynamics of what was going on and think about sort of offseason narratives- baserunning and better defense- unfortunately a lot of these were colliding in a negative way. We felt like something had to be done,” Mozeliak said.
Maloney was relieved of his duties at third and will be reassigned elsewhere in the organization, though that role has not yet been determined.
Replacing him will be Mike Shildt, who was originally tapped to take charge of “Quality Control;” a somewhat nebulous concept that ostensibly focused on improving the team’s weak spots (baserunning and defense).
With Friday’s news, the club has shelved that quality control idea, instead making Shildt third base coach and putting him in charge of the outfield defense, an area of regression for the Cardinals this season.
Former Triple-A manager and current roving infield instructor Ron Warner will join Mike Matheny’s staff as an extra coach to make up for Maloney’s absence.
A new hitting coach will also be on hand, following assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller’s leave of absence. Mueller was hired in 2014, but has recently taken an open-ended break from the team to address personal matters.
In his stead, Triple-A hitting coach Mark Budaska was promoted to assistant hitting coach on the MLB staff.
Currently, the Memphis offense is fourth in doubles (120), sixth in home runs (62) and fifth in team OPS (.784) in the PCL. All of those numbers outpace the Cardinals in roughly the same amount of games.
Budaska also has relationships with current players in St. Louis, having recently worked with a lot of the younger talent on the 25-man roster.
“You look at our current roster, how many people he’s worked with and when he’s worked with them, how successful they were. I don’t look at him as the bat whisperer, but I look at him as a person who has a way of doing this that may be different than how (hitting coach) John Mabry does it. I think having a different voice makes sense given where our offense is,” Mozeliak said.
The Cardinals currently have the fourth-fewest runs in baseball (232) and an OPS of .718, which is 24th out of 30 teams.
But the peak of their offensive nadir came during this most recent seven-game road trip.
The Cards lost every game and were outscored 43-20. They hit .212 and slugged .332. They had two runners thrown out at home. They gave away two runners on other bases.
“It’s hard to win games when you’re scoring 2.5 runs a game. It magnifies everything. It puts pressure on it,” Mozeliak said.
That pressure was felt by every other area of their performance, and on the whole, those areas crumbled as well.
Their starters averaged five innings per start and didn’t manage a single quality start. In five of their seven losses, the Cardinals had leads of at least two runs. The bullpen had an ERA of nearly 6.00. They made two errors, essentially giving the game away on Thursday.
“This is not how we envisioned it. This season has not gone how we’d hoped,” Mozeliak said. “People are being held accountable for what we need to be.”
The Cardinals haven’t had a record this bad at this point in the season since 2007, when they won just 78 games. They are in a gruesome spiral in which they’ve lost 17 of their last 22 games.
The first plan was to shake up the coaches, and Mozeliak confessed he mulled reaching out to Oquendo about the possibility of a return. Oquendo stepped away from the staff two seasons ago citing a need to recover from knee surgery and a desire to work with young players on their fundamentals. His departure coincided with the Cardinals’ pronounced decline in fielding and baserunning, two areas he had previously overseen.
But Mozeliak ultimately decided against it, not wanting to hang too much expectation on Oquendo at this point in the season.
“I didn’t want to force him into a position where he didn’t feel comfortable,” he said.
The general manager believed these moves were the smoothest route to meaningful change, and he’ll now take the time to reassess.
“Take the next four to six weeks, see what changes are being made. If it’s not to the point where we feel the next level of investment makes sense for this year, we may need to start thinking about the following year,” he said, alluding to the possibility of blowing things up at the trade deadline. “We’re not prepared to go down that path today.”
Those four-to-six weeks will be critical to not only Mozeliak, but others within the organization. Mike Matheny was given a contract extension in the offseason, and had the freedom to assemble his coaching staff. That meant promotions for Shildt and Oliver Marmol, who has overseen the infield. So far, it hasn’t worked out, and the unpleasant trends that began in 2014- those of worsening finishes and diminished performance, have continued
Friday’s changes were the first move to right the listing ship. If it continues to sink unabated, eventually the spotlight will turn toward larger names.
“I think everybody, including myself, is not in the most secure situation right now,” Mozeliak said. “I want [Mike Matheny] to feel confident we trust him to do his job, and we want to give him that. But we clearly need to be doing better.”