Welcome back to the Big 3, a weekly feature taking a look at the three biggest takeaways from the Cardinals’ last week. Whether it’s a particular player, a moment, or a trend, the Big 3 will have you ready to talk Cards all week long.
1. Dexter Fowler is having one rough year
If it wasn’t bad enough the 32-year-old Fowler is mired in an absolutely abysmal season at the plate, or that Cardinal fans harangued him so much on Twitter he deleted all his tweets, the club’s disappointment with his performance this season has now gone public.
During a podcast with Cardinals announcer Dan McLaughlin, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made pointed comments about the outfielder, drawing immediate attention from fans and media alike.
“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and question his effort and energy level. And those are things I can’t defend. What I can defend is trying to create opportunities for him, but not if it’s at the expense of other players who are hustling and playing hard,” Mozeliak said on the episode.
Fowler then liked a tweet promoting an article with a headline critical of Mozeliak for questioning his effort level.
Mozeliak later told the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold he spoke with Fowler and the veteran outfielder understood the comments were meant as a general call to action for the entire clubhouse, but that’s about as public as a critique from the front office can get.
In fairness, Fowler’s season is killing the Cards. A year after setting career highs in homers (18), RBIs (64) and OPS (.851), he’s hitting .171 with an OPS of .554. He also has the lowest fielding percentage of his career (.964).
But to see such a forthright criticism leveled outside the complex’s walls just as Fowler is heading to the paternity list is uncomfortable. Even more uncomfortable is the fact he still has three years and $49.5 million left on his deal after this season.
Things are not good for Dexter Fowler right now. -JJ
2. Are Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak watching the same team?
While it’s understandable that Fowler would take offense to public criticisms of his effort and performance from the guy that signed him to play in St. Louis, there was nothing dishonest about John Mozeliak's comments. Though he weirdly clarified that his words on Dan McLaughlin’s podcast weren’t meant to single out Fowler (even though they, uh, did), but were meant as a message to the whole team, Mozeliak was honest in measuring up a tough situation.
To find a rhythm, players need the chance to play. To play, Fowler’s performance needs to be better. If it’s not, the optics on any perceived lack of effort are going to be amplified. None of that is out of bounds.
And though it should be noted any criticisms lobbed toward the clubhouse by Mozeliak should be contextualized with the knowledge that Mozeliak is the person responsible for putting everyone in that room together in the first place, he’s right to say the Cardinals aren’t doing enough. He’s right to feel that dramatic change from this current status quo is necessary.
But don’t tell that to Mike Matheny, or you might get your hand bit off.
Where Mozeliak chose to challenge his team through the media, Matheny feels as though he is sworn to defend his team from the media. After the Braves swept the Cardinals at Busch Stadium Sunday, Matheny was so far locked into defense mode that he couldn’t even allow a reporter to finish his question while any allusion to his team’s lack of “life” hung in the air.
“There was life from the beginning,” Matheny interrupted when a reporter set up his question by mentioning that life only seemed to get breathed into the team later in Sunday’s game, when the Cardinals scored their five runs only after falling behind by six.
This wasn’t a one-time thing, either. The manager often goes on defense when a question focuses around a negative aspect of the team’s performance. When I asked him Friday what he makes of the Cardinals’ inability to sustain offense consistently this season, he spit out some generalizations about how baseball is hard.
Which it is. But if you’re the team you say you are, you should be able to beat the other teams at a higher rate than you’ve done so far. Instead of acknowledging that the current pace is not good enough, Matheny appears adversarial in fending off such questions.
It’s not exactly the kind of insight fans are looking for from the manager regarding the struggles of the team. Some candor in describing what he sees from his team when things aren’t going well would probably go a long way with the fan base, but Matheny doesn’t provide it.
That’s what makes Mozeliak’s comments so interesting, by contrast.
Hearing the truth about how the organization views certain things from Mozeliak makes it that much more difficult to put any stock into the nightly rhetoric that comes from Matheny. Sure, Mo’s comments and Dexter’s subsequent social media response offer a glimpse into the state of their specific relationship at present. But in the grander scheme, this situation serves to highlight the disconnect between how the field manager and president of baseball operations approach their respective discourse with the public.-Brenden
3. Home is where the hurt is
The Cardinals used to make coming to Busch Stadium a loathsome experience for opposing teams.
In 2015 they went 55-26 in St. Louis. In fact, from 2012-2015 they won at least 50 home games in every season.
In 2016 they had a losing record before going 44-37 at home last year.
This season they are 23-22 at Busch, and have lost eight of the 14 series played there. This weekend they surrendered their first sweep of the season, getting housed by the Braves (Sunday’s comeback notwithstanding).
They were outscored 22-10, out hit 31-20 and committed four errors to Atlanta’s one.
Atlanta is a first place team, and surprised many this year with how consistently they’ve played. However, giving up a home sweep is wounding to a team desperate for sustained momentum.
Home series are supposed to give a team a boost. Instead, the Cardinals have lost them to the Royals, Twins, Marlins, and Padres. Of the five series they’ve won, three have come against the Reds, Mets and White Sox.
If this team wants a prayer at a playoff berth, they need to turn home field advantage into an actual advantage. -JJ