This increasingly strange Cardinals season took another weird twist Wednesday when the team recalled rookie second baseman Kolten Wong from the minors. But Wong was sick, and the team sent him home to recuperate. The home team would be one man short for Wednesday night’s scheduled game against the Cubs.
Then the rain came. Game postponed.
Disarray is apparently the new Cardinal Way.
Now that we’ve gotten the snark out of the way, let’s talk about something constructive. It’s a good way to spend the time when it’s raining. Through Tuesday the Cardinals ranked 26th among 30 MLB teams in runs per game, were 28th in slugging percentage and 29th in homers.
It’s been a big comedown from last season’s league-leading splurge of offense. It’s the middle of May, too soon to panic. But it’s never too early to search for solutions.
With that in mind, we’ll propose several corrections.
Some will be outlandish. Other fixes are a matter of common sense. Other suggestions may seem contradictory, but that isn’t the case because we’re giving the Cardinals multiple options.
Possible solution: Fire manager Mike Matheny.
Is it fair? Absolutely not. It’s crazy. In his first two seasons Matheny has led the Cardinals to the seventh game of the NL championship series and taken them to the World Series.
Chance of it happening: NONE.
But that doesn’t mean Matheny should escape accountability. The team has been flat offensively. Matheny prematurely benched center fielder Peter Bourjos and Wong. He’s overworked some key relievers. His constant shuffling led to 33 lineups in the first 40 games. But Matheny built enough equity in 2012 and 2013 to survive his early-season missteps in ’14. He isn’t going anywhere. But I’ve been surprised by the number of fans who have written to me about sacking Matheny.
Possible solution: Replace hitting coach John Mabry.
Is it fair? No. Mabry was the hitting instructor when the Cardinals led the league in runs last season.
Chance of it happening: NOT MUCH.
Mabry is close friends with Matheny and won’t be scapegoated.
That doesn’t mean we should gloss over the issues. The Cardinals’ .330 average with runners in scoring position in 2013 was an obvious historical outlier. And unsustainable. Despite what he says now, Mabry resisted that notion last year.
Under Mabry’s supervision only the Marlins and Royals have hit fewer homers than the Cardinals since the start of last season. Wildly swinging for the fences is a bad idea. But having an offense that has produced more singles than all but three teams since the start of last season isn’t the way to go, either. And turning big Matt Adams into a singles hitter makes no sense.
Possible solution: Bundle prospects, acquire a third baseman and move Matt Carpenter back to second base.
Even though it’s his natural position, Carpenter doesn’t look smooth at third, and it may be a reason why he’s pressing as a hitter. Carpenter’s strikeout rate (20 percent) is up from last year, and his 2013 slugging percentage of .481 has plummeted 167 points to .314 this year.
Is it fair? Well, it wouldn’t be unfair — except to Wong. But it’s not as if the organization is unwavering in its commitment to Wong.
Chance of it happening: SLIM.
It’s easy to make fantasy GM trades. Dealing in reality is a lot more difficult.
Possible solution: Acquire a shortstop, move Jhonny Peralta to third base and relocate Carpenter to second.
Is it fair? Yes … unless the Cardinals are completely onboard with Wong. And even then, should they automatically decline an attractive opportunity to upgrade?
Chance of it happening: SLIM.
Possible solution: Put Peralta in the No. 2 hole and leave him there.
Seven Cardinals have started games in the second spot. This is a speck of a sample size, but in 46 plate appearances at No. 2 this year, Peralta has a .457 onbase percentage and .611 slugging percentage.
Is it fair? Obviously, yes.
Chance of it happening: GOOD — if Matheny can resist the urge to keep shuffling the lineup.
Possible solution: Move Carpenter to the No. 2 spot and use Bourjos or Wong as the leadoff man.
Speed at the top would be welcome, but I’m not a fan of this move. Carpenter’s leadoff OBP this year is .357 and will probably climb. Bourjos has a career OBP of .306, and Wong isn’t ready to produce an inflated onbase percentage at the No. 1 spot.
Is it fair? Yes. But it isn’t smart.
Chance of it happening: SLIM.
Possible solution: Use Matt Adams (LH bat) and Allen Craig (RH bat) in an informal platoon at first base.
Yes, just like last season. But this would also mean promoting rookie Oscar Taveras and starting him in right field.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Adams doesn’t hit lefthanded pitchers; he’s five for 34 against them. Craig has been overpowered by fastballs from righthanded pitchers, batting .184 against them and .164 against their fastballs.
Adams is crushing righthanded pitching — with a .353 batting average and .509 slugging percentage. Craig has been great against lefthanded pitchers, with a .343 average and .657 slugging percentage. Small samples, yes, but an obvious trend is forming.
As for Taveras, he’s batting .307 with a .359 OBP and a .507 slugging percentage at Class AAA Memphis. He’s a natural-born hitter who can energize this tired attack. The Cardinals are hesitant to play Taveras in center field, but if the Cardnals are set with playing Craig in right and Adams at first, then where does Taveras fit in? Well, we just explained how to get it done.
Is it fair? Yes. The Craig-Adams tandem gave the Cardinals outstanding production at first base last season, and there’s plenty of at-bats to go around and do it again. We know this because last year the Cards worked the same system with Carlos Beltran (600 plate appearances) Craig (563 PA) and Adams (319 PA.) The only difference would be Taveras in RF instead of Beltran.
Chance of it happening: I’d have to say STRONG — if the goal is to increase run production and win more often. But the Cardinals gave Craig a $31 million contract extension, and don’t dismiss payroll politics as a factor. Pride can get in the way of pragmatism and progress.
That’s all I’ve got. Feel free to submit your dreams of Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton.