Getting swept by the Cubs in some contentious battles at Wrigley Field left a rotten taste in your mouth, but it wasn’t necessarily an indication of severe deficiencies. One play here or there, and perhaps the Cardinals manage a series win last weekend–it wouldn’t have been too far-fetched.
But when St. Louis followed that up by dropping four straight to the Reds this week, it became clear: sticking with the status quo simply wouldn’t cut it. The Cardinals were in free fall.
The slew of moves announced Friday by Cardinals GM John Mozeliak are indicative of a genuine attempt to shake things up. What they had done wasn’t working, so do something else.
For all the coaching shuffling grabbing headlines in the wake of that Friday afternoon presser, the state of the situation remains clear in Mozeliak’s candid answer to one question at Friday's presser: Are the Cardinals a playoff team?
After a pregnant pause that left media leaning in toward Mozeliak’s podium and fans toward their radios, televisions, and streaming devices, Mozeliak conceded, “Not if we don’t start hitting.”
The crux of the Cardinals' quest to return to October: The bats must awaken.
For four games in Cincinnati, Cardinals hitters made Asher Wojciechowski, Tim Adleman, Bronson Arroyo, and Scott Feldman look like a competent starting rotation. If you’re a close relative to any of the aforementioned Reds’ hurlers, stop reading here…
Those pitchers? They’re not good. They’re barely mediocre.
They’re not the kind of pitchers for whom Mike Matheny can sit in his office post-game and tell the assembled media, ‘Gotta give credit to their guy, he made good pitches tonight,’ (to Matheny’s credit, I don’t recall hearing that this week, but he’s done it in the past for pitchers who haven’t really deserved it). When those are the pitchers the opposition throws at you, and you score a collective nine runs in four games at the Great American Small Park, it can only be a striking indictment of your offense. Nothing else.
So in that regard, Mozeliak’s take on the Cardinals’ postseason potential was answered appropriately. Mere lineup tweaking was not enough to turn around the sluggish swinging for St. Louis, so the Cardinals took Friday as an opportunity for more pronounced changes to their personnel.
In a move that had been anticipated all week–and for some, longer than that–Jhonny Peralta was designated for assignment Friday upon Kolten Wong’s return from the disabled list. Though Peralta is another veteran presence departed, the Cardinals have to be honest in their evaluations at this point: does whatever intangible leadership value Provides provides outweigh his lack of production on the field? For a team losing this many games, there’s just no way it does.
After the team planned for Peralta as the starting third baseman all winter, he’s off the roster in early June. But don’t place all the blame for the Cardinals’ shortcomings on his shoulders–this team isn’t magically better just because he’s not on it. Peralta isn’t the only Cardinal hitter underperforming.
Matt Carpenter. Dexter Fowler. Aledmys Diaz. Randal Grichuk. Up until recently, Stephen Piscotty. Each of these players have fallen short of the expectations Mozeliak had for their roles and performances coming into the season. The lineup was designed to get on base up top, with Fowler, Diaz and Carpenter flexing their prowess in that area. Viewed as a dynamic threat offensively, Carpenter was also prescribed the freedom to transition into more of a run-producing role in the three-hole of the lineup, with Piscotty, Grichuk, and Peralta disposing of his leftovers on the bases.
The Cardinals are 18th in OBP, and 25th in SLG, combining to produce an offense ranked 27th in runs scored in MLB. To put it bluntly, Mozeliak’s blueprint is failing him.
“When you look at how we were thinking about this offense to work, it hasn’t done so,” Mozeliak said. “We can start at the top. We envisioned this as: As Dex and Carp went, we would go. It’s been a situation where we just haven’t been able to do that. Clearly, we’ve got to do a better job at finding ways to score runs, being more productive.”
Of course, the offense is not the lone concern for the Cardinals–the bullpen has been a disaster, while the rotation has shown cracks in recent weeks. But with an offense this anemic, the Cardinals aren’t getting away with anything in other areas–their margin for error is gone.
“Any time you have a deficiency, everything else stands out more,” Mozeliak said. “When you talk about the inability to score runs, when all of a sudden you’re down two, it just magnifies the pressure of those hitters.”
So the Cardinals move Peralta out, make a few coaching changes. Perhaps Mark Budaska, previously the hitting coach at Class-AAA Memphis, will provide a fresh perspective that helps the Cardinals pull out of this offensive drought. These guys have been good hitters before–will a shakeup of the roster and coaching staff trigger the change that turns them into good hitters again?
If not, Friday’s day of reckoning for the St. Louis Cardinals won’t be the last.