Cardinals face a serious pickle

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. [click to continue…]

Shaking up the bag

Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak made a move last night, shaking up the bag in the hopes of generating some more offense following a rough 10 days where the offense scored very little. Outfielder Shane Robinson was optioned to Memphis in the predictable move for Randal Grichuk. The surprising move, however, was optioning Kolten Wong in favor of his former college teammate Greg Garcia.

Wong, who was the Cardinals’ starting second baseman and the future at the position just a month ago, now finds himself on a plane back to Memphis for another stint in Triple-A. Wong appeared to be turning a slow start around right before the return of Mark Ellis, his highly paid backup, off the disabled list. Ellis began getting more and more of the playing time after his arrival.

Wong is even the best hitter thus far among potential second baseman on the St. Louis roster with his .225 average. Even his last 10-day average of .167 is better than Ellis’ season .111 average and Daniel Descalso‘s .100 average. Wong also owns the last two hits by any of the three. [click to continue…]

Michael Pineda and the mystery of the shiny dark spot

Last night Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was tossed from a game against the Boston Red Sox after a sticky substance was found on his neck. In his previous start against the Red Sox, Pineda had caught some attention for a similar patch on his palm. After the last start, Major League Baseball even warned the Yankees who then in turn warned Pineda. Apparently it didn’t work. Perhaps surprising everyone was when Boston manager John Farrell actually requested the umpire check him, unlike last time.

Now media members and baseball writers will tell us all that breaking the rules and cheating are two different things, he’s just getting more grip and it’s not an advantage, and that everyone applies something and Pineda’s only crime is doing it blatantly. Pineda says he used it because he couldn’t feel the ball and didn’t want to hit anyone. Many will hold him up as a hero, protecting his fellow players.

But more grip is an advantage for a pitcher. More grip equals more spin. More spin equals a later and tighter breaking pitch. A later breaking pitch equals a harder to hit ball. A harder to hit ball means more strikeouts and more ground balls. More strikeouts and more ground balls mean more outs, which are what the pitcher is trying to get.

I find it funny that as more information comes out about this over the last year, I now watch pitchers perform their routine ticks on the mound to see if I can spot which trick they’re using and where they’re hiding the good stuff. On most pitchers you can spot it if you’re paying attention. And if you get caught, you deserve everything that you get (and probably more).

That does not mean what you think it means

“It’s never a game we’re doing this with anybody — not with the players, not with the fans, not with the media,” Matheny said. “The potential negatives (of confirming the start) outweigh the positive. It’s just the less information is more for our guys. I didn’t want their initial trip to the big leagues (to be) where everyday there was some rumor going on.” Source

Well, if Mike Matheny‘s plan was to eliminate the rumors circling the bullpen and starter choice for today and to avoid making Jorge Rondon and Eric Fornataro feel like they had a future demotion hanging over their head, I’m pretty sure it has been a complete failure. In fact, since the call up, all I’ve seen is one of those guys is probably going to be demoted for Lyons on Monday. And guess what happened today.

To explain your decision that way you are basically telling Rondon and Fornataro that they aren’t smart enough to figure out what’s going on.  If they didn’t have it figured out on the plane ride to Washington to catch up with the team, I’m sure they figured it out as they sat in the bullpen and went unused this weekend.

Generally, your players are smart enough to figure these things out on their own. The fact that the team feels like they can, or should, hide this information from their players doesn’t seem to be a smart decision to me. Let the players know what’s going on, be honest with them about what their roles are, and let them be in a position to buy in to the plan. Players are usually intelligent individuals who can figure out if you’re BSing them. And if they don’t, you risk alienating them when the truth does finally come out.

I’d love to know what the negatives of confirming that Tyler Lyons would be starting Monday were. Leaving things vague, like what Matheny and the Cardinals did, is what creates rumors. Only the truth dispels them, like it did today. There are no rumors about who is being demoted or getting the start today.

Getaway Days

Perusing around Cardinals related sites tonight looking for something to write about today and I saw someone asking essentially this question on the STLtoday.com forums. I think it’s a very valid question. Does the team using a “Getaway Day” lineup after clinching a series win during the series, hurt the team during the postseason?

Already a couple times this season, satisfied with winning the first two games of a three game series, manager Mike Matheny has employed a “Getaway Day” lineup where you rest a couple of your starting players and let your bench players get some playing time. The logic being, if you win enough series’ every year, then the standings will take care of themselves.

I’ve long believed that this kind of mentality makes it difficult for a team to win the final game of a series to close out the sweep because the manager is subconsciously saying the game isn’t important enough.  So taking it a step further, just how easy is it for players and teams just flip that switch and go from that mode to the killer instinct to close out a playoff series when they’ve been conditioned to relax that killer instinct over a 162 game season?

The commenters so far don’t think there’s anything to it. I’m not sure myself, team psychology is a very fragile thing and it’s hard to break habits. Maybe it’s just some food for though.