Cardinals shake things up

Returning home on a seven game losing streak, the St. Louis Cardinals announced changes to the coaching staff today.

First, third base coach Chris Maloney will be reassigned in the organization, replacing him will be Mike Shildt. Shildt has most recently been the Quality Control Coach with the big league squad. He joined the Cardinals’ organization in 2004 as an area scout and part-time coach. He managed Single-A Johnson City from 2007 to 2011, winning back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011, and Double-A Springfield from 2011 to 2016 before joining the big league coaching staff this season.

Second, assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller has been away from the club and will now formally be placed on a leave of absence. Replacing him will be Mark Budaska, who had been the hitting coach at Triple-A Memphis. He joined the Cardinals’ organization as a hitting coach at Memphis in 2008.

Third, Ron “Pop” Warner will also join the big league club as an additional infield coach, assisting Oliver Marmol in that role. Warner joined the Cardinals in 2000 throwing batting practice for the big league club before becoming a minor league coach in 2001. He got his first managerial job in 2004 and has managed at all levels of the minors in his career.

And fourth, in a roster move, the Cardinals have activated second baseman Kolten Wong from the disabled list and designed infielder Jhonny Peralta for assignment.

The moves may not represent the overhaul that many fans, including myself, have been clamoring for and hoping for when the press conference was announced, but it is a good first step.

“You cannot blow the whole thing up, but we had to do something different,” said Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak as he began explaining the changes.

The first move, relieving Chris Maloney of his third base coaching duties, was one that I felt needed to be made over the winter. Maloney was a quick promotion into the role when Jose Oquendo was unable to return to the job, but through the course of the season was sending too many players to outs. He had not adjusted through the course of the season as I expected him to.

And those problems continued into this season, exemplified on the losing streak by his sending Paul DeJong to get easily thrown out twice at home.

I’m hopeful that that will help cure some of the base running woes and giving outs away at the plate, but the Cardinals still have a problem with the offense.

They struggle to score runs and while the Cardinals have found some success offensively, most notably in 2013 and then again last year, the Cardinals finished 24th in runs scored in 2014 and 2015 and currently stand 24th again this year as well. However, John Mabry still has his job.

Having Budaska up as an additional, and perhaps different, voice could be beneficial to the club’s hitters. As Mozeliak said, “I don’t look at him as the bat whisperer or something, but I look at as someone that has a way of doing this that might not necessarily be identical to how John Mabry might.”

Time will tell, but one can imagine that if this move does help the offense, do you need to consider replacing Mabry over the offseason?

Mozeliak discussed during the press conference that his time frame for judging these changes will be four to six weeks, and at that point if the Cardinals are still floundering, further changes may be made to the team’s coaching staff. Perhaps the hitting coach? Perhaps a change atop the top step of the dugout?

For Matheny, the moves give him yet another experienced voice in the clubhouse with the addition of Pop Warner to the staff. He now has Warner, Shildt, Marmol, and Bell who all have minor league managerial experience that he could lean on for advice if he wants it. Inexperience should no longer be an excuse for him.

I’ve argued that his message is having trouble getting through to the players, which is the primary reason I feel like the organization should move on, but he will need to get everyone on board and pulling the same direction to turn this season around.

The Cardinals play the Phillies this weekend to put this new coaching staff to it’s first test, but their real first test will come on Tuesday as they face off against the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers.

Regardless of whether or not I feel like the moves were enough, I do hope that these are the moves that help the Cardinals turn their season around. But if not, it sounds like Mozeliak knows what his next steps are, because his seat may be getting hot as well.

Five things about the Reds Series

The St. Louis Cardinals return home this weekend having been swept on the road trip. An 0-4 showing against the Cincinnati Reds put them on a seven game losing streak and clamoring for changes to the team’s coaching staff has reached a fever pitch. Those changes may be coming at a 2 pm Central press conference that the Cardinals have called.

Regardless, the Cardinals have a good chance to sweep at home against the league worst Philadelphia Phillies this weekend.

A failure to hold leads

Much like the Cubs series, the Cardinals struck first on Monday an Wednesday for multiple runs and then failed to hold off their opponents.

On Monday, the Cardinals scored a pair of runs in the top of the 5th courtesy of a Paul DeJong double and a Carlos Martinez single. However, things would unravel in a hurry in the bottom of the 7th as Martinez allowed the first three batters in the inning to reach before the Reds put four runs on the board. That would be the final score.

On Wednesday, they put three runs on the board in the third on a Matt Carpenter home run, a Stephen Piscotty double and a Jedd Gyorko single. The Reds chipped back with one in the fifth before putting four runs on the board in the seventh.

Piscotty hitting well

Piscotty went 6-for-14 in the four game series as he has made his home in the third spot in the lineup with Matheny’s recent reshuffling.

Since his return from personal leave, Piscotty is hitting .351/.468/.595 with 3 doubles and 2 home runs in 12 games. He has hits in 10 of those 12 games.

Carpenter proves why he should and shouldn’t lead off

Mike Matheny finally made the move to return Matt Carpenter to the lead off spot on Wednesday and he responded by hitting home runs on both Wednesday and Thursday, proving why his bat is far more valuable to the Cardinals in the second or third spot in the lineup.

I’m not a believer in the idea that Carpenter cannot hit outside the lead off spot, but the numbers are hard to refute as sample sizes get larger. He is batting .296/.386/.488 in 492 games as the lead off hitter in the lineup and outside of the lead off spot he’s hitting .245/.346/.400 in 284 games.

Cecil shows off Mr. Hyde

Brett Cecil had entered Wednesday’s game with 7 consecutive appearances without allowing a run. Over those 7 appearances he had allowed just 2 hits and a walk over 6 innings of work. He had lowered his ERA from 5.79 to 4.05. And then he came in to pitch in the seventh.

A couple singles and a strikeout to open the inning set the stage for a Patrick Kivelahn home run. He would then go on to leave one runner on base that Trevor Rosenthal would inherit and allow to score on a Joey Votto home run. His ERA ballooned back up to 5.66.

Cecil had been a solid reliever in the month of May more often than not, but games like Wednesday night’s continue to make it difficult to rely on him in spots that his $30 million contract say he should be used in.

DeJong cooling off

After a hot start, Paul DeJong looks to be cooling off, going just 2-for-14 in the series. His batting average is down to .244 and he has yet to work any walks during his cup of coffee here in the big leagues. Beyond the walks, he struck out 6 times in those 14 plate appearances, a 42.9% K rate.

He is likely poised to be returned to Memphis when Kolten Wong returns.

Five things about the Cubs Series

Well that wasn’t supposed to happen. The St. Louis Cardinals headed to Wrigley Field for a three game weekend set against the Chicago Cubs and came up empty, swept in three games. Every game was close, every game was winnable, and the Cardinals led at points in each of those games and was unable to convert anything into a win.

The Cardinals are now 26-28 and 2.5 games behind Milwaukee for the lead in the NL Central. The scary part is that the Cubs are embarking on a stretch where they will play bad teams, so they may be poised to put together a run that will see them put a lead on the division.

As for the Cardinals, they now head to Cincinnati to begin a four game series against the Reds.

Lost leads

The Cardinals had a lead in each of the three games, but came up winless which just increased the frustration level with this series.

On Friday, Dexter Fowler received his World Series ring and led off the game with a solo shot. The Cardinals added another run courtesy of Magneuris Sierra in the top of the 2nd. After that, they stopped scoring as a struggling John Lackey would go on to pitch 7 innings. The Cubs tied up the game in the bottom of the 6th and then won it in the bottom of the 8th on a couple of poor defensive decisions by Magneuris Sierra and Jhonny Peralta.

On Saturday, Jose Martinez plated Fowler and Tommy Pham with his first at bat in the top of the first. They would add another with Yadier Molina‘s sixth home run of the season in the sixth inning. But the Cubs would score four runs in the bottom of the 7th as Mike Leake ran into trouble and allowed a grand slam to Kyle Schwarber.

On Sunday, the Cubs struck first with a run in the bottom of the third, but the Cardinals came back in the top of the fourth to take a lead. Stephen Piscotty hit a three run home run and Paul DeJong drove in Jedd Gyorko as the Cardinals sent all 9 batters to the plate. But that 4-1 lead wouldn’t hold for long as Michael Wacha turned around and allowed five runs in the bottom of the fourth. The Cardinals tied it in the sixth, but the Cubs would beat Matthew Bowman for the winning run in the 7th on three unlikely singles by left handed hitters (Bowman had allowed just a .167 batting average to LHBs entering the game).

Missing Gyorko

With Jedd Gyorko staying behind in St. Louis for a couple days with his family following the birth of his daughter last week, the Cardinals lineup looked completely different. Gone was Gyorko’s .323 average in the #4 spot, which stacks up 7th in Major League Baseball among cleanup hitters.

Gyorko has 60% of the Cardinals’ at bats in the cleanup spot this weekend and anyone else has hit .265 with 18 RBI in 23 games.

On Friday afternoon, Yadier Molina was in the cleanup spot and went 0-for-3 and left four runners on base. Three of those game while striking out with the bases loaded in the top of the 8th of a 2-2 game. The Cubs took the lead in the bottom and never looked back.

On Saturday, Jose Martinez got a crach at it and drove in a pair of runs in the first inning, but never came to the plate again with a runner on base.

Nice to have Piscotty back

Since returning from his personal leave to spend some time with his mother following her ALS diagnosis, Piscotty has gone 5-for-14 with a home run and five walks, reaching base in all five games since his return, for a line of .357/.526/.643. He also seems to have found a home in the #3 spot in the Cardinals lineup with the move of Matt Carpenter to the #2 spot. Seeing him put some good games together has been nice to see. This team needs him hitting again.

Carpenter goes hitless

Matt Carpenter went hitless in the series against the Cubs. That’s the first time this season he’s gone hitless since the middle of last September when he went 0-for-10 in a series also against the Cubs. Something he only did three times last season.

In 29 games since May 1st, Carpenter is hitting .192/.331/.404. He does still have 6 home runs, but he doesn’t have a home run or an RBI since May 21st against the Giants.

I’m not one of these guys who believes that Carpenter can only lead off, but it isn’t like Dexter Fowler has been killing it in the leadoff role either. Perhaps it would be worth swapping them up for a week and see what happens. If you insist on batting two most struggling batters 1-2, what difference does their order make? If Carpenter says he’s more comfortable leading off, put him there and see what happens. It’s not like you have anything to lose.

Is it time to scratch Wacha?

Michael Wacha started the season on an excellent streak. In his first 7 starts, he had a 2.74 ERA and pitched at least 6 innings in each start. Since then, it’s been some very opposite results. In his last three starts, Wacha has a 11.91 ERA and hasn’t even made it into the sixth inning.

In his first 7 starts last year, Wacha had a 3.12 ERA. Over his next three he had a 12.00 ERA. Before settling in with a 3.75 ERA over his next 10 starts.

But with Tyler Lyons and John Gant now up on the big league roster and capable of acting as both starter and reliever and Marco Gonzales now four starts into his return at Memphis with a 2.81 ERA, does the team look at giving Wacha a brief rest? With the fear of his shoulder issues returning, the team looks to be taking a cautious approach to him.

Sierra returns as Gyorko goes on paternity leave

The St. Louis Cardinals called up outfielder Magneuris Sierra today before their game against the Chicago Cubs. Third baseman Jedd Gyorko remained in St. Louis with his family after his wife had a baby earlier in the week. He is planning to return to the team on Sunday.

Sierra returns for his second cup of coffee with the club, having hit .367/.406/.367 over 7 games with the Cardinals in his first cup. When he went back down, he was promoted to Springfield where he has played 10 games and hit .263/.268/.368.

He joins the Cardinals with a 7 game hitting streak to open up his Major League career, which is tied for a franchise record. A hit on Friday will set the record and he is in the lineup, batting 8th and playing left field.

I don’t see a scenario where he sticks around after these two games, but it’s obvious that he made an impression while he was up before and gets another opportunity. I’m sure he doesn’t mind the nice bump in paycheck for a few days either.

As far as the Gyorkos, welcome to the world, Brooklyn!

Cardinals release Broxton, call up John Gant

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have given RHP Jonathan Broxton his unconditional release and called up RHP John Gant from Memphis.

The Cardinals acquired Gant, not to be confused with John Gast, from the Atlanta Braves in the offseason deal that sent Jaime Garcia to Atlanta. After starting the season on the disabled list with a groin strain, Gant returned to the mound in mid-May and in three starts for the Redbirds has a 2.19 ERA over 12.1 innings of work.

He will join a bullpen in St. Louis that is slowly being remodeled, adding Gant and John Brebbia over the past few days.

Gant spent time in the Majors with Atlanta last season and posted a 4.95 ERA in 20 innings of relief work over 13 appearances.

After coming to St. Louis by trade in 2015, Broxton posted a 2.66 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 23.2 innings of work to finish up the season. The Cardinals declined his option, but would later sign him to a 2 year, $7.5 million deal in free agency. He posted a 4.30 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 60.2 innings of work last season and had stretches where he was one of the most reliable relievers out of the bullpen. Unfortunately, he also had bouts of being the opposite.

So far this season Broxton has struggled, posting a 6.89 ERA and 2.17 WHIP over 15.2 innings. With Miguel Socolovich gone in the move for Brebbia, that left Broxton as clearly the worst pitcher in the Cardinals’ bullpen and John Mozeliak pulled the trigger today to make the move.

Cardinals option Grichuk to minors, activate Martinez

The St. Louis Cardinals optioned outfielder Randal Grichuk to Single-A Palm Beach in a corresponding move to activating Jose Martinez off the disabled list. Martinez played three games in a rehab stint in Palm Beach, hitting .333 with a home run and 4 RBI.

Martinez was hitting .313/.353/.458 with a home run and 4 RBI over 20 games for the Cardinals before the groin injury sent him to the disabled list.

Grichuk has been mired in a slump, batting .205/.244/.356 with just one home run over the team’s past 20 games, so perhaps a change was coming, especially with Martinez back and Tommy Pham hitting well.

The move is notable because the club isn’t just demoting Grichuk a level to Memphis like they did last summer, but all the way down to Class A Palm Beach. Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak mentioned it was to let him work with another hitting coach, get him into a lower stress environment and that they have already seen him hit in Memphis so they wanted to try something new.

Which is great, but the trip to Memphis worked for him last year.

After the June demotion, Grichuk returned in July to hit .269/.300/.544 with 16 home runs over the team’s final 80 games.

But with this demotion, I can’t help but wonder where his head is at right now. In the past six months he went from starting center fielder to the team signing his replacement and moving him to left field. Then giving the other outfielder a six year extension on a team with a glut of quality outfield talent on it’s way. And then he found himself in an early season time share in left field with a career first baseman. If he wasn’t already spinning, now he’ll be playing in A ball, a level he hasn’t seen since 2012.

The move is particularly frustrating as Stephen Piscotty is away from the team for personal reasons and rather than make a roster move to play with a full 25 man roster, the team is willingly playing short, while already playing with a short squad of position players. They could have promoted Martinez, moved Piscotty to the Inactive list and waited until Piscotty was ready to return to send Grichuk out.

Five things about the Rockies Series

The Cardinals dropped two out of three to the Rockies as they fall to 24-23 and 1.5 games back in the NL Central. They head home to face the Dodgers who took two out of three in LA last week. The Cardinals generally have felt listless this season with a losing record at home.

Pham continues to ride hot streak

Tommy Pham continues to ride his hot streak. He entered the Rockies series batting .309/.385/.545 with 3 home runs in 16 games for the Cardinals. He exits it hitting .333/.410/.621 with 5 home runs in 19 games since his May 5th call up.

Those numbers are so good that he is currently ranked in the top-26 in baseball in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+ since his arrival in the Majors this season.

Here’s hoping that he can continue to see and continue his strong hitting performance. The team needs it as he has clearly been by far the Cardinals’ best hitter in May.

Fowler starting to turn the corner?

In the three game series with the Rockies, Dexter Fowler went 6-for-12 in the series and even led off two games with hits, getting a single on Friday night and a double on Sunday to open up the game. That brings his batting average leading off a game up to .216.

The .500 series brought his season average up to .228, but he is still pretty push to where he began the month. He hit .234/.305/.415 in April and is hitting .219/.338/.453 in May. A little more power, a little better on base, but still struggling to find any consistency at the plate.

Hopefully this series is a sign of things to come. The team could use him to start putting it together.

Rocky Mountain high?

On Saturday Mike Matheny gave Matt Carpenter a day off and decided to stick Yadier Molina in the third spot because, what’s the worst that could happen?

I get changing up the system a bit, by Molina is by no means anything close to a #3 hitter anymore. I get that you don’t have a ton of options when Carpenter isn’t going to play and it makes for an incredibly thin lineup, but really?

The best worst part might be that the team won. On an RBI single by Molina. Which is pretty much how Matheny’s craziest ideas work out. Twitter gets lathered up and it works. Unfortunately, that typically empowers Matheny to keep doing it even when it fails the next 9 times.

“DeJong ball”… get it, like “the long ball?”

The Cardinals promoted infielder Paul DeJong to the Majors on Sunday and Mike Matheny wasted no time in getting him into the action as he would pinch hit in the 9th inning. He would go deep for his first Major League home run in his first Major League at bat. Welcome to the Show.

DeJong is in an interesting position. I think that if he can hit and prove he belongs in the big leagues, he’ll make a play to stay after Kolten Wong returns which most likely means the exit of Jhonny Peralta. Over the offseason, I figured that if Peralta failed to hit this year that DeJong was the guy who dictated his future this season.

They were adding positional flexibility late last season for him so that he could find more at bats in the big leagues when he finally made it. Now we’re getting the opportunity to see that.

Cardinals put Wong on DL, call up DeJong

The St. Louis Cardinals announced before today’s game that they have placed second baseman Kolten Wong on the 10-day disabled list with a left elbow strain, retroactive to May 27th. In his place, the team has called up infielder Paul DeJong from Memphis. He will be assigned #11.

Wong, who had been lifted from the game against the Giants on May 20th with the injury, had been limited by it over the past games before it flared up again before the game yesterday. Wong is hitting .278/.378/.414 this season, including .299/.392/.373 in May.  With Jedd Gyorko solidifying his hold on the third base job, Wong has been left to control second base and has responded.

DeJong, 23, was drafted in the 4th round by the Cardinals in the 2015 draft out of Illinois State University. He hit .260/.324/.460 with 22 home runs in a full season last year in Springfield and has hit .294/.331/.541 with 11 home runs over 46 games so far this season in Memphis.

Drafted as a third baseman, he has played primarily shortstop this season at Memphis while also getting limited reps at second base.

Their desire to add positional flexibility for him around the infield clearly indicated to me that the organization was looking for a way to get him onto the Major League roster at some point this season if Jhonny Peralta was not able to carve out a role with the club.

This might not be the exact scenario envisioned, but if DeJong can establish that he belongs, he could give the club a difficult decision to make when Wong is ready to come back.