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What’s Wrong with the St. Louis Cardinals…?

As Bernie wrote this morning for the Post Dispatch…don’t panic. We pushed and pulled our way into first place in the NL Central by positively shining through the month of April…but now the reality of a 162 game season has set in and the Cards are dragging multiple casualties through the injury-littered battlefield of May. I won’t rehash the stats of a 4-9 run, but I think it is important to review the list of key players on the recent disabled list:  Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, Troy Glaus, and Chris Carpenter have all fallen ill to the various physical maladies of professional baseball. That’s 3 All-Stars and one power-hitting Center Fielder.

Others, although not physically afflicted, have found themselves exposed to mental lapses and cognitive vacations (e.g. Joe Thurston, Todd Wellemeyer, Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro, and even the great Tony La Russa).

Take all of that, sprinkle in a lineup composed of up to 6 “more or less” rookies on any given day, and you have the makings of a lengthy slump.

It happens, guys. It’s okay. It’s only May.

But May is more than half over…at some point, the team needs to pick up their jocks and salvage their record for the month if they hope to properly position themselves for a stretch run. A bad month in this division is an uncommon luxury for an over-achieving team like the Cardinals. If we hope to seriously contend, we need to make changes now. But where? What changes need to be made?

That’s where your friendly neighborhood Cards ‘N Stuff comes in! I’ve spent the last several minutes (hey…I’ve got a busy schedule…you want more…YOU write it!) compiling a short list of key changes. I’ve covered most (if not all) of them before, but apparently Tony didn’t get a chance to check ’em out…so we’ll go over them again. Enjoy!

Problem:  Todd Wellemeyer      Solution:  Mitchell Boggs
I like Todd. He’s accessible, funny, unique, and he has a great arm…but he’s just not getting it done. The guy has almost no command of his pitches (literally…nearly none) and now resembles his wild and wacky 2007 days when he lasted barely 5 innings, walked the planet, and benefited from unusual run support. His 2008 days of sharp, plate-painting fastballs appear over, and his bat-missing slider seems to be running for the hills. Put him out of his misery. Remove him from the rotation ASAP. Of course, ASAP may not be quite fast enough. We optioned Boggs to AAA on the 15th. As far as I know, he has to stay there for 10 days before being eligible for a recall. That means Wellemeyer’s turn in the rotation must be addressed at least one more time before he can be yanked and replaced. That last turn just happens to be against his old team – the Kansas City Royals – this Friday night in Busch.

Here’s what needs to happen:  Wellemeyer starts the game in lieu of another viable option…but he pitches on a VERY short leash. We cannot afford to lose another game in the first inning. Get Brad Thompson ready and waiting to step in from the start, and hope to God we don’t need him. With Carp on a limited pitch count, we need our long man well-rested. Once Todd’s start is over, re-evaluate. If he pitches well…fine…give him another go at it. But if he pitches anything at all like he did against the Brewers Sunday…yank him from the rotation and call up Boggs to cover at least the next two starts while Wellemeyer attempts to reboot and figure his sh** out on the sidelines. I’m sick of watching him shoot himself (and us) in the foot simply because La Russa thinks 2/3’s of a season makes him yank proof. Enough is enough. Make the change.

Problem:  Joe Thurston      Solution:  Brian Barden
Super Joe ain’t lookin’ so Super after all. You know the thing about 4A players? There’s usually a reason they’re 4A players…and it’s rarely because they “never got a shot.” Thurston is a talented guy with a bit too much aggression…but he’s handicapping this team. Tony has consistently started Joe over Barden game after game, despite his blatant lack of production. I can only assume Tony sees something in the match-ups (especially the righty/lefty thing) that makes him keep writing his name on the lineup card over Barden…but I can certainly guess that Thurston is simply the latest in a long line of TLR love affairs that is further complicated by Jose’s affinity for the player. It’s infuriating. Barden finally started yesterday’s game and went 1 for 3 with a walk. To me, that’s a remarkable performance considering he’s been stuck in bench-player purgatory for nearly a month. Brian Barden is just not a “pinch-hit here and there” type of guy. He needs consistency and at-bats. Thurston, on the other hand, has the type of dynamic bat and consistent aggression that can be well-used in a late-inning switch and/or pinch-hit situation. The two roles need to be swapped. Start Barden. Sit Thurston. Enough already with the Super Joe love affair. Make the change.

Problem:  No OF Depth in AAA      Solution:  Daryl Jones
When Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick went down with injury, the Cardinals turned to their AAA club in Memphis for a solution. That solution? Nick “The Stick” Stavinoha. Seriously? A limited defender hitting .264 in the minors? Come on. The Cardinals, thinking their 4 outfielders at the major league level would allow them to be patient with slow-starting outfielders in AAA, sat on their hands and left themselves vulnerable. After all…what are the chances 2 of the 4 in St. Louis would go on the DL at the same time? Turns out…pretty good.

When the Cards needed to take advantage of their organization-wide OF depth, it wasn’t available to them. Because of Joe Mather’s abysmal start to the season and Shane Robinson’s “already present and accounted for” status, Nick Stavinoha got the call. It should have been Daryl Jones. Jones is hitting .308 with 8 doubles and 20 RBIs for the Springfield AA squad. His sweet stroke, electric speed, and raw talent are clear. He needs to be promoted…now. I don’t care if they have no room for him at the AAA level. Make room. Outfielders in the AA leagues can afford to flirt with the Mendoza line – as a group – but AAA outfielders cannot. As they say in football, those guys are only one play away from getting on the Big League field. We need them ready and able. Mark Shorey or Jon Jay not getting it done? Fine. Send them down and call up Jones. Hell…to be honest…considering the job Pop Warner has done with Joe Mather in the past, I don’t think it would be such a bad idea to send Joey Bombs himself down to work with Pop again for a few weeks. He’s sure as hell not gonna’ get a call up hitting .129 in AAA. Sometimes you have to step back to go forward.

At any rate, the Memphis outfield must be addressed. As it stands, the St. Louis club has no protection at the outfield position. They thought they were fine with 4 stellar outfield bats…but they forgot one thing…we usually play with 5. Enough already with the overly-patient AAA club. Make the change.

A Few Positives…

Okay…enough with the negatives. There are, believe it or not, a few positives to note. For one, Adam Wainwright appears to have figured something out and righted himself. Would’ve been nice to have that during Carp’s absence…but whatever. Speaking of Carp, it looks like he’ll make his tentative return Wednesday against the Cubs (I say “tentative” because, really, isn’t everything tentative with Carp these days?). Cause for celebration right there. Third, Rasmus seems to be getting locked in. If there is a silver lining to losing 2 of 4 outfielders in the same time period, it has to be Rasmus’ opportunity to play everyday and figure a few things out at this level. It’s exciting to watch. Finally, the unsung hero of the month, the St. Louis bullpen. Cardinals relievers are just flat-out gettin’ it done (Boyer’s “oopsie” to Prince aside). What was once a frighteningly unstable bunch has turned into a nice, solid, dependable staff – due in large part to Frankie’s Izzinator impression.

Yessiree…throw all that in a pot and stir it all up and you’ve got one dandy lookin’ June on your hands. Of course, we have to survive May first…but things can’t get much worse…can they? Ugh.

GO CARDS!!!

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