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What Were They Thinking?!

What Were They Thinking?!: “I wanna’ get lineup wasted!”

It’s time once again to kick back and take a listen to the UCB Radio Hour…and then, of course, read my inspired comments in response to the outlandish and dead-on analysis of the hosts in What Were They Thinking?!

Except…to be honest…it’s hard to be “inspired”  to do anything based on the Cardinals’ recent play on their infamous 1-5 road trip. Plus, if you listened to the podcast last night (if you haven’t, CLICK HERE), you know Tara and Matt did a pretty darn good job…which only makes my morning-after job that much harder.

It’s a lot easier to write a post about how outlandish and ridiculous the hosts’ comments were than it is to say…”uh…yeah, I agree.”

But enough of all that…let’s just get into it, eh?

Rafael Furcal looks tired. That dude is grinding. Someone on Twitter told me the other day that Carlos Beltran needed a couple days off ‘cause he just looked ragged and worn out. I responded by disputing the notion that a couple days off would solve anything (even though I agreed he looked worn down). The guy had just gotten at least a couple days off after his ASG duties were completed. Would a day or two off just a few days after that break really be effective? At the time, I questioned it…but now, I may have to admit I was wrong. Beltran could indeed benefit from getting a breather…and so could Furcal. He looked flat-out atrocious in the first inning yesterday. He’s always struggled with the exchange from his glove to his throwing hand – does he just have small hands or what?? – but the lazy throw that should have been the final out of the inning was a different story. And it’s not like he’s lighting it up from the leadoff spot in the order either. It’s time to give Raffi a break. Today is an off day…I say give him Friday and Saturday off as well. What could it hurt?

Speaking of players that aren’t quite right, Lance Berkman is defenseless at the plate. I know Berkman really wanted to come back and help this team ASAP, but refusing to go on a rehab assignment to get at-bats is proving to be a horrible decision. The guy needs at-bats to get his speed/timing/whatever back. Despite his desire to work back into it at this level, the reality is that this team can’t afford to let him do it. Every at-bat he takes up here is an at-bat taken away from Matt Carpenter or Allen Craig or some other pinch hitter. I know, I know…he’s Lance Berkman…except that right now, he’s not. He’s a slowed, struggling Berkman with a faulty weapon. You wouldn’t send your best soldier into battle with a faulty rifle just because he’s your best soldier, would you? If his bat isn’t ready, Berkman isn’t ready. He should’ve taken three games in Springfield while the STL club was in Cincy.

Berkman is taking a lot of flak for not going on a rehab assignment – even the word “arrogant” has been used – but let’s remember the context for his decision. Lance has said all along that the offense doesn’t exactly need him, and he didn’t expect to be an everyday player right off the DL…so why would he see value in rushing his return? Sure, a pinch-hit appearance here and there can be valuable, but we also have capable hitters on the bench who have been getting a lot more at-bats in the last 2 months than Berkman. So why the hurry back? I think the easy answer most are assuming is that he just felt like the minor leagues were beneath him somehow and that he was arrogant (there’s that word) enough to believe he could step in after 2 months of no baseball and contribute. But that doesn’t jive with the rest of what we know of Lance Berkman’s personality. So…what is it, then? Hmmm…how about this:

Remember how much emphasis the team placed on Berkman’s leadership abilities, even suggesting that his presence in the clubhouse during his rehab from knee surgery was beneficial? And remember how much the club stressed to Lance that just getting him back as a team leader would be HUGE to this team? I think Lance took the responsibility offered him and ran with it. I think he wanted so badly to be with this team on a road trip to Cincy and Milwaukee during a tight divisional race that he chose to forego the rehab just to be in the clubhouse. Think about it…since day one back in the locker room, it’s been Berkman comments that have garnered headlines and peppered game stories. Lance is stepping out front and addressing the media, perhaps A) so the rest of the team doesn’t have to shoulder the burden as much and B) to send blunt, candid, and relaxed/panic-free comments to the rest of the team via the media. In other words, Berkman may have taken on the difficult task of attempting to rehab at the MLB level JUST to be there for his team as a leader. He can’t do that from Springfield. But the bottom line to me…? Mozeliak and Matheny should have forced him to go on that assignment. They should have said, “It’s okay, Lance…we got this. The team knows you’re coming and that’s enough for now. Go get your at-bats.”

If that’s true – and I believe it is – then what does it say about the current mental state of the Cardinals’ clubhouse right now? They’re in such dire straits that a player out of baseball for 2 months felt the need to rush his return just to be part of the mix again. That’s bad, folks. But I’ll tell you this…changing that mix is going to be tough. Think about it…this team doesn’t really have any holes. They’re set in the outfield. They’re set at third base. Yadi ain’t goin’ anywhere, and Furcal, despite recent struggles, is a key part of this team. We have so many first basemen that we’re trying to turn two of them into outfielders and utility players, and the bench is stocked. Even upgrading at second base – the one place that could use a regular starter – would mean the permanent displacement of a team favorite in Skip Schumaker (not the best morale move). There’s really no opportunity to change the mix by adding a position player. There’s no room for turnover.  So what should be done? Something must happen to rescue this team from a perceived quagmire of despondency. When you can’t change the personnel without making things worse…what can you do? I’ll tell you what you can do…you can get a little crazy. You shake things up internally and you pull guys out of their normal drudgery to do something different and fun. What’s it gonna’ hurt?! It’s not like you’re winning ballgames now! Here…let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. It’s time to get LINEUP WASTED! Imagine the impact of the following lineup for Friday and Saturday against the Cubs:

1.     Lance Berkman at 1B and leadoff. CRAZY, right?! But that’s the name of the game, kids. Think    of it this way…Berkman’s bat speed isn’t there, which means he’s having difficulty generating power, but there’s nothing wrong with his batting eye. The guy can still work a walk and pick his pitch to slap, bloop, or drop in for a single. Once on base, he can run well enough to get the job done, bad knee and all. Ultimately, until his bat speed returns, he’s not a power threat…but he is one of the best OBP threats on the team. Of course, this would mean a tough conversation with Furcal. I think the gist of it goes like this: “Raffi, you’re critical to this team as our SS and leadoff hitter…but you’re hurtin’ and we can all see it. You need a couple days. Take ‘em. When you come back, both spots are yours. Now, go get some sleep.” (plus, this kind of creates an on-the-fly rehab assignment for Berkman…get a bunch ABs and don’t worry about power. Just work the counts and stroke the ball.)

2.     Matt Carpenter in RF and hitting second. Not quite so crazy, but the key here is that Carpenter can both get on base and drive the ball in the gap regardless of lefty/righty match-ups. The primary issue, though…Beltran. Look, Carlos is going to be absolutely essential to an August/September run…but only if he can stand up straight and remember the correct number of outs on the field. He needs time to recharge. Give it to him. When he comes back Sunday or Monday, he should be refreshed and ready to go. Plus…talk about a badass pinch-hitter off the bench for two days!

3.     Allen Craig in LF and hitting third. I don’t like Carpenter in left, and Craig has experience in LF, so let’s keep it that way. But what about Holliday? The guy has a bruise that needs time to heal. Let him have it. Plus, Craig seems to be one of the few hitters in the lineup that can still keep his head on straight with RISP. His approach appears to be largely unchanged. But Holliday? He’s expanding his zone and swinging out of his shoes on pitches my sister could take. He swung at a 57 footer yesterday for strike 3!!! Give him a day or two off to heal and relax.

4.     David Freese at 3B and hitting clean-up. The Iceman is on the mend and returning to his reliable self. His average is climbing and he looks much more comfortable at the plate. On this team, lately, that practically makes him Dimaggio. Slot him into the clean-up spot and take advantage of that calm approach in the box. (FYI – if we just have to, Holliday could hit here and change things up a bit…but I don’t like the unintended message that sends, and it doesn’t give Matt a day or two to heal).

5.     Yadier Molina at C and hitting fifth. I know, I know…I’ve always said keep him below the fifth spot…but circumstances being what they are, we need him here right now – at least, we do if we roll this lineup out there. He also appears to be able to largely stay within himself with RISP. That earns him a promotion.

6.     Skip Schumaker at 2B and hitting sixth. When healthy, Schu has been a consistent contributor all season long. He’s worked tough at-bats and maintained a line-drive swing. Sure, he got fooled by that ball in the dirt yesterday, but unlike the other Cardinals hitters, that’s just par for the course for Skippy. His approach is unchanged. In other words, he always falls for that pitch (more or less). His approach is still sound.

7.     Daniel Descalso at SS and hitting seventh. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but DD should get the time at SS with Furcal off for a couple days. His glove is more reliable than Greene’s, and he consistently takes better at-bats. Plug him in during Raffi’s down time.

8.     Pitcher hitting eighth. AH!!!! It’s back! The pitcher hitting in the eighth spot! Yeah, I know…it may not make a huge difference, but here’s why I like it. A) It sends that all-too-familiar signal to this team that things are changing…the manager is getting involved and trying to help them out. B) If Berkman is hitting in the number one spot, then it provides that “second leadoff” hitter at the ninth spot. It gives him someone to drive in or move over with that excellent batting eye of his.

9.     Jon Jay in CF and hitting ninth (second leadoff). Jay hasn’t exactly been consistent at the plate lately. He’s shown signs of life here and there, but he’s been a far cry from the consistent .300+ hitter he was early in the season. So let’s take some of the pressure off him. Move him down in the order and let him try to get on base in subsequent innings for hitters like Berkman and Carpenter. But mainly…just move him down for a while.

I know, I know…it seems nutty – hitting Berkman leadoff, taking Furcal, Holliday, and Beltran all out of the lineup for a couple days, and hitting the pitcher 8th – but really, nothing else is working anyway. What do we have to lose? But primarily, this team needs something different. They need some movement and something to shake them up a bit. Otherwise, that clubhouse is going to continue to feel stagnant and sink deeper into despair. And it won’t exactly hurt us to let our 3 best lineup pieces rest and heal against the Cubs for a few days before plugging them in for a stretch run.

Wrap-Up!

Okay…that’s going to do it for this week. On a few side notes, it sure would be nice if Chris Carpenter was able to get past his uncomfortable position of leading when he’s not pitching on the field. I get where he’s coming from, but without Pujols, TLR, or Carp, this team is missing a hard-nosed, granite-like edge it used to have. They need it back. I think Carp has earned enough street-cred to be able to address this team even when he’s not able to pitch.

Oh, and the Pirates and Reds? Think of it this way…if the Reds are able to manage without Votto in the lineup, getting him back next month is only going to further bolster and encourage them. And let’s not pretend the Pirates are the same team they were last season. This is a team that believes in itself and has the energy and drive to push this division well into September. If the Cardinals don’t get their collective butts in gear, THEY will be the team that won’t be relevant in September.

Andone more note…Casey Rasmus sure seems better positioned than his brother to deal with difficulty (more open to fans, into social media, etc.), but I wonder if he feels a drag on his career because of his name and the drama that came before him between his father and the organization?

GO CARDS!!!

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