A few notes before today’s game in Washington:
It’s a good thing September call-ups are upon us, because this team is in desperate need of reinforcements. The offense is grinding…sort of…the pitching is putrid, and the look on the faces of the reeling Redbirds is downright depressing. A little infusion of Adron Chambers and Shelby Miller (?) is just what we need to inject some life into this squad. I know it’s a long season, and I know the clubhouse must be beaten down by the loss of Furcal as much as the recent losses in general, but the games must go on. This team has to find a way and a reason to respond.
I could be wrong, but isn’t this exactly why John Mozeliak brought Mike Matheny on board? To be the solid, stable, inspirational leader of men a down-trodden team needs to get them through adversity? By all accounts, this is exactly the kind of challenge Matheny is crafted for. So…ya’ know…feel free to show up anytime, Mike. Shake things up, light a fire, slap guys on the back and pick ’em up, etc. We were prepared for a learning curve when it comes to bullpen management and roster mix-and-match, but isn’t this supposed to be where Matheny bridges the gap between rookie manager and experienced manager? I’m just sayin’…now would be a good time.
I kept trying to compare this recent stretch of bad baseball to the infamous Dodgers series in August of 2011…but it just doesn’t match up. Sure, the hopeless, depressing feeling from that series is similar – that sinking sense of a season circling the drain – but not much else is comparable. While it may not of felt like it, the Cardinals actually scored in that 2011 series. The offense hit and the team was competitive. They just didn’t win. But when you look at the numbers from this recent stretch of horrendous baseball – OBP, batting average, etc. – the league’s so-called “best offense” seems to have gotten stuck in traffic on the way to the stadium. Bottom line…I can’t remember a more depressing, pitiful stretch of Cardinal baseball…but it is oddly coincidental that both the 2011 and 2012 team hit a significant turning point or “speed bump” at about the same time (end of August). Just in time for a resurgent September…?
The loss of Furcal is bad – no question – but to say this team is right back where it was before the Furcal trade last season is not quite the case. In 2011, prior to the Rafi deal, the offense struggled to identify a spark in the lead-off hole. They grew more and more frustrated with the lack of consistent, quality defense up the middle at SS. And they failed to produce a major-league-ready option to handle either. This season, however, Jon Jay has gradually become a real threat at the top of the order. His walks are up, his average is up, and his base-running has improved. At SS, Descalso has much more experience at the position and at this level if need be, but more importantly, Ryan Jackson is ready. While making a brief appearance at the MLB level, he showed a smooth glove and excellent at-bats, even if many balls he put in play didn’t quite fall in for hits. After being sent down so the club could protect itself at catcher following Yadi’s collision, Jackson has gone 7 for 10 in Memphis. Matheny should immediately plug him in as the everyday SS and watch what he can do. If that line-drive swing can plug the gap from the seven or eight spot in the order, he could surprise many with his ability to contribute.
Of course, even if the offense does improve, the starting pitching has to regain some composure. Yesterday, we saw Wainwright succumb to the Nationals’ offense. Before that, Garcia and Kelly struggled to keep the Nats and Pirates at bay, and Lynn was so awful recently that he was yanked from the rotation. Considering Shelby Miller’s recent recovery in the AAA rotation, it may just be time to see what he can do for the Cardinals. After all, what’s the risk? No one else seems capable of getting it done up here. Honestly, the toughest question may simply be who to rest. Is Waino feeling the effect of that post-TJ surgery innings load? Will Garcia figure out his emotional struggles on the mound? Can Joe Kelly’s fastball continue to overcome hitters, or will his last start against the Pirates be a sign of things to come?
Speaking of starters, how amazing would it be to see Chris Carpenter pitch this season? Recent reports suggest the big right-hander is attempting to return to the mound this September. It may or may not work out, and it might not be a good idea…but I would still love to see it happen. Although, I’m reading that Carp, even if he could pitch this season, wouldn’t be considered for a playoff rotation spot by the Cardinals. Sure, I get it…but if Carp is 100%, who do we have that’s better? Kelly? Lynn? Westbrook? Garcia? In a 4-man playoff rotation, you already have to throw one of those guys. Can you really afford to throw two of them? Wouldn’t you rather throw Chris Carpenter for at least one game in a best of seven series? Also, consider this…if the Cards make the Wild Card game and win it, that best of five divisional series to come won’t exactly play out like normal from a rotation perspective. If Waino throws the WC game, he won’t be ready for Game 1 of the divisional series. That combined with the condensed schedule for the divisional series means he can’t throw two games in that best of five. Would you give one of those starts to Carpenter? Of course, all of this is speculation, but supposedly the only reason he couldn’t return to form was solved by his surgery. Hope is alive! (oh, and I know getting him a rehab start somewhere wouldn’t exactly be possible because all minor league seasons would be over…but I wonder if rules would allow him to make one of those starts for Springfield in the AA playoffs next weekend…? probably not, but wouldn’t that be something?!)
Alright, that’ll do it. Let’s hope Lohse can get things back on track for the Cardinals today.