By: Jim Tsapelas
I have been following baseball in general, and the St Louis Cardinals in particular, since the mid-1950’s. It may be the crankiness of my status as a senior citizen, or as I prefer Elder Statesman, however, I am finding myself growing increasingly tired of the prophets of gloom and doom and their seemingly relentless condemnation of the St. Louis Cardinals. This morning I read a Cardinal writer, a self identified sabermetric guru, who prophesied the “Cardinals are projected to lose 142 games this season.”
Granted, the Cardinals have begun the 2017 season rather poorly and their record as of Thursday, April 13, 2017 is 3-6. Plus, they have yet to win one of the three series against the Cubs, Reds, or Nationals. However, what kind of nut could base a projection of one hundred forty-two losses on such a small sample? It is time for Cardinal Nation to suspend the rhetoric of Gloom and Doom and take a more realistic look at the 2017 season and the series which ended Wednesday with the Washington Nationals.
Wednesday’s 6 to 1 victory over the Nationals, followed a loss on Monday to the Nationals by the score of 14 to 6, and on Tuesday by a score 8 to 3. I, like any Cardinal fan, would like our record to be 9-0, or even 6-3, but it is also not realistic to expect the Redbirds to win one hundred sixty-two games a season either!
The Cardinals’ offense has been, at best, somewhat anemic. In the Cubs’ series, the Redbirds scored 9 runs on 22 hits, striking out 16 times, while leaving 63 runners on base. Against the Reds, St. Louis scored 12 runs, with 24 strikeouts, leaving 47 on base. Playing in our Nation’s Capitol, against the Nationals, the Birds on the Bat scored 15 runs, with 27 strikeouts, and abandoning 34 runners on the basepaths.
In the first 9 games, there has not been any semblance of consistent hitting, plate discipline, or effective base running. Thus far in 2017, the Cardinals have averaged 26 strike outs a series and have left an average of 48 men on base, for each series.
I have long held the belief that Manager Mike Matheny inherited a good team. There is no arguing the Cardinals’ success during his tenure. Since assuming the helm from Tony LaRussa, Matheny’s managerial record in St. Louis, in 819 games, is 464-355. Matheny is 5th in wins for Cardinals’ managers. As I stated, Matheny inherited well. This season Matheny has made some managerial decisions which would make the most casual and passive arm-chair fan take notice.
On Opening Day, Matheny brought in Seung Hwan Oh to attempt a five out save. As a manager, Matheny has a reputation in helping his players reach individual records or personal milestones. It make sense to bring in Oh, in the ninth, to get the save, however, he had 6 other relievers to secure the last two outs in the 8th inning of Game One. Cardinals’ starter, Carlos Martinez deserved the game’s victory. Martinez threw 7.1 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing 6 hits and striking out 10. In my opinion, Martinez was robbed.
I have been critical of Matheny’s handling and use of the bullpen for a majority of his managerial career. Some of my concerns include his stubborn slotting a reliever with a particular role, choosing to leave a reliever in a designated role, regardless of the pitcher’s effectiveness or outcome.
This season I question what I describe as Matt Adams “over use” in left-field. I am a fan of Matt Adams. I believe he has disciplined himself and has committed himself to getting into the best shape of his entire playing career. It is difficult to watch Matheny’s misuse of Adams in left. As a professional athlete, I am sure Adams can eventually learn and adapt to the nuances of left field. I question playing Adams in left when Jose Martinez, who has considerable experience in left, is on the team. In 8 plate appearances this season, involving 6 games, J. Martinez has 4 hits-including a double and a home run, with 3 RBI’s, while striking out just once, and is batting .500. Adams deserves better treatment.
A glaring weak spot on the 2017 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals thus far has been the bullpen. In addition to the arguable misuse of the relievers by Matheny, individual members of the pen have experience control and performance issue. In 2016, the bullpen was one of the bright spots for the Cardinals. So far in 2017, the bullpen has been somewhat of a liability. In the scheme of the Birds’ 3-6 record, the bullpen owns 2 of the 6 losses, has accounted for 2 blown saves, and stole a win from Carlos Martinez in the opener.
Defensively, the Cardinals committed 7 errors in the 9 games. As a point of reference, the 2007 season was the last Cardinal team to finish a season below .500; having amassed only seventy-eight wins.
The season is long with many winding and difficult turns. It is no secret that currently the Cardinals are in a slump. There are 153 games left. As the St. Louis native and HOF’er Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over”. I wish the Cardinals and their fans success and peace in the days ahead.
Poor play and execution? Yes. Multiple missed opportunities? Yes. An urgent need for Cardinal Nation to cry Gloom and Doom? No, not yet!
Thanks for reading!
Jim Tsapelas is a feature author for A View From the Bench and is an editor and contributor for NL Central Discussion.