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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: It Doesn’t Help to Say It, But the Cardinals are a Bad Team…

By Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)

Continuously beating up on the Cardinals doesn’t help much. Actually, it probably doesn’t help at all, aside from making sure the front office continues to hear the fan angst beating on the office windows. Believe me, they know.

Mozeliak and Company are not deaf to the moaning and wailing in St. Louis. And they certainly aren’t blind to the piss poor play on the field by the team they assembled and stamped with the Redbird seal of approval. But there may not be much they can do about it.

Through June 6th, St. Louis executives perusing their roster see the following:

  • 1 player (Gyorko) hitting .300 or better (.316)
  • 9 position players hitting under .260
  • 5 position players hitting under .230
  • 1 $82.5 million dollar leadoff hitter slashing .222/.317/.423
  • 1 feature hitter slotted for third in the lineup slashing .209/.341/.396

And then, while enjoying their morning coffee, they flip over to their favorite stats site and scratch their heads over conundrums like:

  • A starting rotation that could, statistically, be called one of the best in the National League (3rd in ERA, 2nd in WHIP and Runs Scored Against, and 1st in Average Against) but has managed to collect just 21 wins (7th).
  • A lineup constructed around on-base percentage – one that sports two of the best in the business in Dexter Fowler and Matt Carpenter – is tied for 10th/11th in OBP out of 15 NL teams.

Of course, that coffee soon ends up all over the office walls as thrown cups and cursed croissants fly through the air when those same stat sheets reveal:

  • A bullpen that could, statistically, be called one of the worst out of 15 NL teams (10th in Runs Scored Against, 11th in Losses, 13th in ERA and Average Against, tied for 13th/14th in WHIP, and 15th in Wins), despite carrying 13 pitchers, two elite level closers in Rosenthal and Oh, and a $30 million dollar left-handed free agent acquisition in Brett Cecil.
  • A home batting average that ranks 9th out of 15 NL teams – and just .003 points away from 12th – and the worst record at home (14-15) in the NL Central, a place the Cardinals Marketing department calls Baseball Heaven.

But not to worry. While looking at the standings, those same tantrum-throwing teetotalers break out their yoga mats and chill to the repeating sounds of soothing mantras, refrains chock full of the following convenient, alternative facts:

  • 3.5 games out of first (a smaller deficit than the Cardinals’ current number of games under .500)
  • 4 months left in the season
  • 3.4 million fans

Oooohhmmmmm….

I said before that there may be nothing the front office can do to help turn this team around. The options are limited.

Sure, they could turn over the roster and promote a slew of slugging Redbirds from Memphis, but that model, even if initially successful, is unsustainable. Rookies inevitably face a steep learning curve when they make the jump to the major leagues. It’s what MLB pitchers do best – adjust to hitters.

And yes, they could fire the manager, but even that unlikely move won’t turn the team around now. The most impact a major-league manager can have on the troubles that plague this team – consistency, clean play, mistakes, etc. – are most successfully addressed in spring training and the offseason. That time has come and gone. Mozeliak may be able to send a message by ditching Matheny, but it won’t make the roster better. At this point, they are what they are.

Even trade acquisitions will have to wait until late July. What team in their right mind would trade a piece now when they could wait just 30 days and leverage multiple desperate contenders against each other to up the price? Without a willing trade partner, St. Louis must wait and see if this team has what it takes to justify a trade when the time comes.

Like it or not, this team is on its own. They’ve dug their graves, and now it’s up to them to decide if they want to climb out of them or lay down and slowly fade away.

All of that said, there are still a few interesting things to note as this team attempts to scratch and claw their way to relevancy…

Is Aledmys Diaz physically incapable of making an adjustment? Low and away. Slider, low and away. Low and away and out of the zone. Low and away and in the dirt. Low and away, low and away, low and away, great god almighty, low and away. When Diaz swings and misses at a pitch low and away, who can honestly sit and watch it happen and say, “Wow…Didn’t see that pitch coming”?

While Diaz’s general numbers are respectable on a team rife with problems, there is one number that stands out: 1. That’s the number of RBIs Diaz has in his last 77 at-bats. Yes, the Cardinals’ maddening inability to get on base ahead of him plays a role, but let’s also remember that Diaz is hitting .225 with men in scoring position (compared to .261 with the bases empty). That stat doesn’t stand out on a roster full of incapable hitters – Molina, Garcia, Carpenter, Fryer, Pham, Peralta, and Jose Martinez all rank lower – but it does stand out when you consider the fact that only Martinez has a higher overall batting average than Diaz.

In other words, one of the team’s best hitters this season is blowing it when it counts most, and it seems the most obvious culprit is that low and away pitch and his inability to adjust to it.

We saw Matt Holliday struggle with a similar pitch during his time here, but we also saw him make at least a partial adjustment, teaching himself to lay off that pitch. Diaz has so far been unable or unwilling to do the same. That is inexcusable. It’s one thing when the pitch is unexpected, but when Diaz gets two strikes in an at-bat with a chance to do damage, he would have to be an idiot – or unbelievably stubborn – to think he’s not going to see that pitch at least once and probably twice.

When there are no runners on, pitchers are more likely to challenge the young shortstop with a pitch in the zone, but when he has a shot to drive in runs, Diaz has to do better. He has to lay off that pitch, and that starts with learning to anticipate it.

Matt Carpenter is redefining bad. In his last 111 plate appearances since May 7th – a month – Carpenter is slashing .156/.261/.281 with 24 strikeouts. And it’s getting worse. Since May 12th, he’s hitting .136. Since May 17th, .132. And since May 27th – 38 plate appearances – .114 with zero extra base hits. Something has to give. Playing him every day is not helping. It’s only making things worse. He needs a chance to reset.

Hitting Carpenter third was a bad idea born of necessity. The Cardinals failed to acquire the bat they needed over the last couple years, and so they were forced to get a replacement option at leadoff (Fowler) and drop Carpenter to third. He responded to the change by changing his approaching and getting out of his natural tendencies as a hitter. Now that he’s finally in his ideal spot in the order – second – he’s battling bad habits and struggling to find his old form. It’s time for Mozeliak to call up a hitter like Luke Voit to spell Carpenter at first base and let Matt take a week or two to simply refocus and get back to basics. If not, the Cardinals risk sacrificing his entire season and possibly causing lasting damage.

It’s time to move Jhonny Peralta. I don’t care if they trade him or release him, but they cannot allow him to hang around this team any longer. He’s a sign of the past, the poster child of bad decisions for a bad team. It’s time to move on, now, and clear up the roster spot for a hitter like Voit who can actually offer some level of production. With at least five players capable of playing third base currently on the roster, three potential shortstops, and multiple first base options, a non-hitting albatross is only an obstacle to getting better. Time to cut bait and end the Peralta era in St. Louis. If Mozeliak enters Friday’s game with Jhonny Peralta in a Cardinals uniform, he’s made a mistake.

Kevin Reynolds has covered the Cardinals for About.com, Yahoo! Sports, and various other entitiesHe’s been writing and podcasting about the Cardinals since 2004 at Stl Cards ‘N Stuff. Follow him and chat baseball on Twitter (@deckacards), and check him out on Facebook.

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