The St. Louis Cardinals fell 3-0 today to the Chicago Cubs. They have now found themselves losers in 10 of their last 16 games and won just one series over that time. While the pitching staff ranks as the fourth best in baseball, the offense has struggled to find its footing this year, enduring a major inability to consistently score runs, stacking up 24th.
At the core, the only problem that the Cardinals face is that there are a number of players on the offense who are in severe droughts at the plate. Everything else stems from that because those droughts have been allowed to become deeper because the manager is unwilling to give them the requisite playing time to let themselves work their way out of it. Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos are just two specific instances. The organization ultimately sent Wong to Memphis so he could play to get his swing back (though seeing that he’s hitting .286, it seems it never really left it was just sitting on the bench).
Peter Bourjos is really the poster boy of the problem. Starting just a single game in the last week, yielding playing time to Jon Jay and Randal Grichuk, Bourjos doesn’t seem to be getting any opportunity to work through his funk. And after today, when Matheny shut down the potential of sending Bourjos to Memphis to get at bats to sort himself out, that doesn’t appear to be an option either. So it seems that, for the time being, the Cardinals will opt to play with a 24 man roster.
The argument against giving Bourjos the playing time is that its his job to be prepared to contribute whenever his name is called whether it is for a start tomorrow or a pinch hit opportunity a week from now. I can’t argue with that because it’s absolutely true. But here’s what I do know, it’s a lot easy to contribute when you’re right at the plate and I also know that a million swings in the batting cages can’t replicate a game at bat.
Usually supporters of that argument will point to Tony Cruz and his .333 (5-for-15) average over his limited playing time so far this season. I’d hate to be the one to point to last season and his .203 average in limited playing time. So call me in September to see where Cruz is because we’re talking about an extreme limited sample size.
And that’s what we’re talking about with a guy like Bourjos too. It’s a small sample size. If he hits .300 for the month of April and then goes 8-for-51 (which he is right now), nobody bats an eye. Instead we all say he’s just had a rough couple of weeks and that he’ll turn it around. He has to get opportunities to get right. For all we know, he could be the savior of the season poised to have a breakout year if only he could get an opportunity to play. The answer isn’t to let him languish at the end of the 25 man roster and electing to play with just 24. Either play him, demote him, or release him so he can go get those at bats with another team.
The problem isn’t solved by freeing Oscar either. Despite his hot start in Memphis, the Cardinals top prospect may provide a nice sugar rush to the offense, but will he get an opportunity to play through his first slump or will Matheny bury him at the end of the bench? He pretty much did the same with Wong who was a first round draft pick just a few seasons ago. And when asked about why you play Ellis instead of letting Wong work it out, Matheny said you start Ellis because he’s the veteran and they know what they can expect out of him. Hence why Jay is getting a bulk of starts in CF too.
Matheny and the Cardinals coaching staff find themselves in a Catch-22 scenario. Either Matheny plays the guys who are struggling to hit in the hopes they get right and they lose while they do it. Or he plays the best of the worst and still loses. Matheny has managed thus far this season out of desperation and the results have shown it.
I can’t really blame Matheny too much for it because it’s the easiest answer to the problem. It’s also the easiest to explain to management, the media, and the fans. The other option is a big risk. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, maybe it blows up in your face. Can’t know until you try.
If you only had one or two players who were struggling, you could mix them in effectively because the rest of the offense would likely pick up the slack. Instead we have multiple players struggling and not enough at bats to rotate between them without exposing ourselves. So while we continue to play the best of the worst we continue to lose games.
The most obvious way to change the result is to change what we’re doing. Try playing Bourjos for a few games in a row and see if he starts to turn the corner. I’d also play Garcia because he’s outhitting any other second base option on the roster, and in his limited playing time is the fourth best hitter on the team by OPS+. It may not work, but we’ll have an answer instead of a question.
But I can say one thing with absolute certainty: What we’re doing isn’t working. It’s time to try something new.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein