It’s time again for the weekly Baseball STL mailbag, found each Friday at KMOV.com and on the Baseball STL app. Got questions about the Cardinals (or anything else, really) that you’d like to see answered by KMOV’s baseball writers, JJ Bailey and Brenden Schaeffer? Send a tweet with #BaseballSTLmailbag and your question could be featured in a future edition of the mailbag!
What will it take to see the Cardinals get a new hitting coach? -@RuralMissionary
The headline of this week’s mailbag is the question on many minds in Cardinal Nation as the team slogs through yet another season at a pace only slightly better than .500. That question: what would Mike Matheny have to do to actually lose his job as the St. Louis manager? And this wasn’t a clickbait tactic—we’re getting to that next. But before we do, it’s important to contextualize that answer by first discussing the only remaining domino that could fall before Matheny does.
His hitting coach and right-hand man, John Mabry.
Mabry has drawn the ire of frustrated fans the last couple seasons as the Cardinals seem to consistently perform below expectations offensively. Though the lineup was widely considered a strength of the club entering 2018, this summer has been underwhelming for a group expected to thrive.
The Cardinals rank 9th in the NL and 18th in the majors in runs scored. A team that added slugger Marcell Ozuna and has received surprising contributions from a veteran Yadier Molina (leads NL catchers in home runs despite spending a month on the DL) has still failed to accomplish the level of consistency the on-paper version of its lineup would suggest.
A major issue has been the club’s tendency to suddenly disappear for several games at a time. Hit parades materialize sparingly, and instead of building upon them, the Cardinals tend to follow those occasional efforts by seemingly rolling over to the opposition, regardless of who’s on the mound.
One night it might be Shane Bieber. The next it’s Julio Teheran. Regardless, the constant during these lulls is a collective approach that seems to lack discipline and consistent execution of a communal game plan.
While I’ve always been of the mind that hitters should be held responsible for hitting, this kind of concern related to approach falls to the hitting coach to address. So far, it hasn’t happened over sustained stretches this season.
It’s never been John Mozeliak’s style to enact mid-season coaching firings—even last year’s changes necessitated by lackluster play were termed a ‘reshuffling’ of roles on Mike Matheny’s staff, and none of the primary assistants were affected at the time. Even in another disappointing campaign, it would be a mild surprise to see such a move arrive before the offseason does.
That said, the manager is nearing the end of his rope. A move on his chief confidant would be an unambiguous sign that the turbulence in the franchise’s performance could soon lay claim to the man in charge of the clubhouse. -Brenden
Now, what might that look like?
What will it take for this team to make a change at manager? Missing the playoffs? Finishing below .500? Attendance under 3 million? I’m suffering over here. -Jay Buerck (@jaybuerck)
Ah, the question everyone has been wondering. Depends on when you’re talking about. If you’re talking in-season, I don’t think it happens.
A move like that signals either a complete lack of faith in the manager (bad for the front office of a supposed perennial contender) or an acceptance that the season is lost and there’s no point proceeding with the current regime because it’s going to be overthrown at year’s end anyway (worse for the front office of a supposed perennial contender).
The Cardinals still fancy themselves a regal fixture in baseball’s social hierarchy, and an in-season manager firing is “conduct unbecoming of nobility.”
If the team was in free-fall and they were 15 games back in August, maybe it’s on the table. But this current iteration of the franchise wins just enough to never be all the way out of it and they defeat opponents just respectable enough to lend themselves respectability.
Firing a manager in-season is a HEADLINE, especially if it’s St. Louis. So long as the team itself isn’t a laughing stock, I have a hard time seeing Bill DeWitt Jr. intentionally drawing that level of negative attention, regardless of whether or not he should.
Now if you’re talking at the end of the season, I think the threshold is much lower. In fact, I think if this team fails to make the playoffs, Mike Matheny is in real trouble.
The front office has said repeatedly missing the playoffs because of poor play is “unacceptable.” Were they to do it for a third straight year, it’s fairly clear they’ve set up the expectation of a change at manager.
More importantly, that’s pretty much the last card in the deck. Matheny’s coaching staff is darn full of Mozeliak’s guys (Mike Shildt, Oliver Marmol) and the re-addition of Jose Oquendo was more than just a happy return. It was a message that the play in his absence had fallen below acceptable standards. Matheny and John Mabry are the last of the original regime from 2013. If there’s another missed October, it’s pretty clear the only move left for the front office is to clear out the final remnants and start anew. -JJ
What’s your favorite Fourth of July tradition that’s not fireworks? -Casey Chenoweth (@chacenca)
So, my answer to this question is admittedly pretty dumb. I could dive into the details of the annual wiffle ball game that takes place in the backyard at my grandma’s house (we played again this year, and not only did I hit a home run over a centerfield wall that somehow seems to creep nearer to home plate with each passing summer, but so too did my non-sports balling wife—I’ve never been prouder), but instead, I’m going to discuss a tradition that was born and died before smartphones were ever a thing.
I’m going to tell you a story about the influence former St. Louis Cardinal Eli Marrero had on my childhood. And if you’re already confused, I assure you, it only gets weirder from here.
When I was a kid, my grandma would take the hose and fill those small plastic kiddie pools for us youngins to splash around in on the Fourth of July. You know the type. Being the ravenous baseball fan I was at that age, I always had to turn any activity into an endeavor related to the ball diamond.
Though this kiddie pool wasn’t a large space, I made it my own personal ball field. I would lay flat in the water against the outside wall, sink beneath the surface, and propel myself forward by walking my hands along the bottom of the pool. Around and around in circles I went, pretending as though I was gearing up for a head-first dive, attempting to steal bases as a pinch-runner for the Cardinals.
Who did I consistently emulate during these bizarre sessions? The fastest bench player my young mind could envision: Eli Marrero, for some reason.
Gliding through the water until my hand tagged the nearest turtle on the pool’s side wall, I stole countless bases that summer. A quick glance at Baseball Reference indicates Marrero stole double-digit bases twice during his Cardinal career—he had 11 steals in 1999 and swiped 14 bags in 2002.
Assuming I chose to model my aquatic base-stealing after a prodigious maestro of the art, in keeping with that timeline, the events of this story had to have taken place during one of those two Fourth of Julys, making me either 5 or 8 years old when it happened.
I don’t think either outcome makes me look normal. If nothing else, I feel confident JJ’s tradition can’t be any dumber than this one. -Brenden
So this involves fireworks, but it really isn’t ABOUT fireworks, so I’m going to use it. My three best friends and I used to turn the Fourth of July into a strange, Lord of the Flies-esque test of our masculine resolve using bottle rockets.
We would stand in a circle, snap the wooden shaft off the explosive, then light the bottle rocket and drop it in the middle of us. Without the guidance of the wood, it would spin around like a whirling dervish, then shoot off in a random direction. First person to flinch or break the circle… lost, I guess? It was a stupid game.
But it wasn’t about the payoff of the bottle rocket at all. It was just the most intense way we could test our mettle, and we never came up with anything better at any other point in the year.
But one time the bottle rocket escaped our circle and shot directly into the side door of my mother’s van. She was obviously not a fan of this game, and her personal property being involved in the consequences of said game was absolutely a terrible outcome for me.
*A note about my mother: She’s 5’4 and one of the most terrifying people I’ve ever met. She grew up on a farm with four brothers, and even with me being 31 and her being 64, I’m still like 70/30 that I would lose a fight with her. In this story, I’m around 12 years old.
So it hits the van, she DEFINITELY sees it hit the van, and I have a decision to make. Of all the possibilities I could choose, I landed on “flee!” and took off running toward a park near our house.
Now, I’m not sure I ever had a plan, but I definitely didn’t have one when I reached the park and realized I was all alone. I just sort of stood there panting for like 10 minutes hoping an asteroid would hit me. Eventually, I just walked back to my house and hoped 10 years had passed in my absence.
Keep in mind the point of this game was to prove how courageous you were. I did SO poorly. It was like getting your first career at bat and using it to club the umpire to death. My friends were gone when I got back, and my mom was on the porch, wearing the kind of expression parents make when they’re mentally counting the years until you leave for college. I was grounded before I reached my yard.
We played that game for like 5 more years, just nowhere near my house. -JJ
Okay, never mind, his was definitely dumber. -Brenden
Favorite #BB20 house guest? -Thomas Welch (@twelcher15)
Well Sam was spared Thursday, which is strange since she has personality of a dishwasher. But our eventual winner will likely be Brett Robinson. Look at that chin, man. That’s a chin the world can get behind.
He looks like he was born directly into a Goldman Sachs employment brochure. Is he too much? Absolutely. But he’s great TV and just palatable enough to hang around until the end.
My favorite, however, is Chris “Swaggy C” Williams. Every show needs a good heel and there’s no better choice for that role than a guy who gave HIMSELF a nickname. Not only that, he clearly swaggerjacked that nickname from Swaggy P, which makes him not only a narcissist, but a wholly unoriginal one. I love it. It’s WWE-level heel work.
Add to that his genuine shock at being clowned during the “BB App Store” segment and you’ve got a storyline so rich, it’ll give you gout.
"I don't know what America was thinking, but clearly they messed up. Clearly they're against me. But it's cool."
*1,000 Italian chefs kiss their fingers in unison* -JJ
Poor Steve, man. It’s always the token old guy that bites the dust first, yuh know?
Kaitlyn’s Miss Cleo vibe is rubbing me the wrong way, so I’m not looking forward to the spirit ritual weirdness she’ll probably enact on the house this week as HOH, but I’m keeping my eye on Tyler. While I’m never a fan of the perennial excuse that nobody wants to get blood on their hands in these early weeks, I feel Tyler at least used sound strategy within the confines of that behavior during his HOH reign last week. The quintessential buff, blonde lifeguard is feigning a lack of intelligence, but he flashed a glimpse of street smarts in keeping the revelation of Sam’s secret App Store power to himself, potentially to leverage it later on when the moment suits him.
I never make up my mind about the houseguests until a few weeks have elapsed and their emotional cracks and strategic flaws have had a chance to reveal themselves, but for now, I have a sneaky good feeling about Tyler’s ability to fall into a strong alliance and lie low for a bit. -Brenden