Friday, May 16, 2014

Cardinals Yet to Hit Their Stride

About a quarter of the way through the season, the Cardinals stand at 21-20 and at second place. They haven't been terrible, but have yet to play consistently. The offense has had trouble scoring runs, starters haven't been going deep into games, the bullpen has been shaky at times, and the defense has had some rough moments. This probably isn't how John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny envisioned the start of this season.

Still, this team is only five games behind the division leading Brewers. If the Redbirds were to get on a hot streak, that lead could evaporate. This year's edition of the Cardinals is a team that should and can contend. Their is a lot of talent on this team, especially on the pitching side. Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Matt Carpenter lead a offense that led the National League in runs scored. The offseason moves to bring in Mark Ellis, Jhonny Peralta, and Peter Bourjos were supposed to shore up weaknesses on the club.

Besides Adam Wainwright, the other starters have had some hiccups. Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn have both racked up big pitch counts and haven't pitched as deep into games as Matheny would like. Miller's strikeouts have been down, walks up, and even worse has allowed a team high 8 home runs. Michael Wacha has fallen into some of the trouble that Miller and Lynn have, but to an lesser extent.

Joe Kelly has been out for a month with a hamstring issue. His replacement, Tyler Lyons was rocked against the Cubs earlier in the week and put on the disabled list himself. Oft-injured Jaime Garcia will make his season debut this Sunday vs. the Braves. The Cardinals are hoping that Garcia is finally healthy, but still have some minor league depth if he isn't.

The bullpen has had some problems as well. Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Kevin Siegrist got some much-deserved hype after what they did in the stretch run last season. This season, they've all had some rough games. Non-roster spring invitee Pat Neshek has actually been the team's most reliable reliever so far. Jason Motte is close to making a comeback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals have a luxury of many talented young pitchers who throw gas. I think they will get it turned around soon.

With the David Freese trade, the Cardinals intended to open a spot up for Kolten Wong by sliding Carpenter to third base. Bourjos was acquired in the Freese deal to play center field, but got off to a slow start and lost time to Jon Jay. Wong lost time to Ellis and was sent down in late April to work on his swing. Bourjos has been playing better and more often as of late, showing off his speed and defensive skills. Wong has recently been recalled to the big leagues after hitting .344 with 2 homers and 5 steals in 15 games with Memphis.

Mozeliak seems to be committed to the Cardinals playing Bourjos and Wong everyday, but is Matheny? Matheny has shown a preference for playing Jay and Ellis(and Daniel Descalso to a lesser extent). However, Matheny rode Jay during his April hot streak and has been playing Bourjos more often of late. If Bourjos and/or Wong can be productive starters, it would add a element of speed to a otherwise slow club.

The Cardinals lack of power has been discussed frequently this year. The Cardinals rank dead last in the National League with 23 home runs. Peralta leads the team with 8 home runs, and has been on fire after a very slow start. Matt Adams was expected to be one of the team's power hitters, but only has 2 homers so far(but has 12 doubles and a .299 average). Allen Craig has been off to a very slow start, and hasn't been getting the timely hits he did last year. Craig's struggles isn't the only reason the Cardinals are 11th in the National League in runs scored. Even All Stars like Holliday and Carpenter haven't hit as well as they did last year.

If the Cardinals offense continues to struggle, the calls to promote top prospect Oscar Taveras will get louder and louder. Then the question would be, who would lose playing time because of Taveras? Mozeliak isn't going to promote Taveras to see him ride the bench like Randal Grichuk did(or Wong to a point). Taveras is primarily a right fielder, but can play center field. An Taveras promotion would likely cut into the playing time of Jay, Bourjos, Adams, and even Craig. Taveras will be a big leaguer before long, so it's up to those players listed to play better to stay in the lineup.

In the past, the Cardinals have been able to flip the switch midway through the season. There is no reason to panic. I would expect this team to not only contend for the division title, but make another run at a World Series championship this year.

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