What’s Wrong With The Bats?

imageedit_1_6786761481Another lackluster night in Miami ended in a 3-0 shutout last night folks. The bats went silent. Without a two hit outburst from bench rat Mark Ellis, the line score would have extremely depressing. Kolten Wong singled in the 9th and Jon Jay skipped one off Garrett Jones glove, and that was it. Four hits. Harry Doyle screaming from the fictional Indians booth, “Four Hits!” It’s hard out there for a St. Louis Cardinals fan. This team takes more twists and turns than a M. Night Shyamalan screenwriting workshop. The Cards take a series against the Brewers and the Red Sox before escaping a sweep in Baltimore. Then, they waltz into Miami and get beat in the first two games. It doesn’t matter if you lose 6-5 on Monday either. At this point in the season, The Cardinals have to be able to walk into Miami and beat them down. They are starting a stretch of games against bad to average teams. The Marlins, Padres, Reds and Phillies. Now is the time to strike or forever seal yourself away in underachievement.

Sure, one can say the Cards STILL stand just 3 games out of first with 44 games left. That’s slightly encouraging, kind of like a bad cup of coffee would be sitting in a break room for 5 minutes untouched around people you don’t trust. The Cards are in third place, a game and a half behind Pittsburgh. The division has gone nowhere in the past 2 weeks. The Brewers are giving teams a chance a catch them. The Pirates aren’t taking advantage. The Cards are not taking advantage. What if the Brewers figure it out and go on a run? The division is right there and this team can’t hit for any kind of consistency. The Cards have scored 4 runs or more in 5 games in August while scoring less than 4 runs in 6 of them. The Cardinals haven’t scored 4 runs or more in three consecutive games since late May. This is a season long condition so let’s look at it.

Currently, the offensive rankings for the Cardinals look like this. 

Runs scored-29th in baseball

Home Runs-29th in baseball(79)

Walks-17th 

Batting Average-16th

Slugging Percentage-25th

Stolen Bases-25th

Our run differential for the season is -11. The Cards don’t hit for power or collect a lot of extra base hits, but they also can’t draw walks or steal bases. They are a singles machine. They’re hitting .243 with runners in scoring position, which is better that it was in June. Still, that’s a far far cry from their .330 posting with RISP last year. What does that mean? The Cardinal hitters are being exposed in 2014 due to player deficiencies. Certain positions aren’t providing the proper protection. Exposure that didn’t come in 2013 due to an extremely lucky and legendary performance in the clutch. When that performance came back to earth this season, a harsh reality is settling in. This team lacks an identity on offense.

What plagues this team in particular on offense? I asked this question last night on Twitter and got a wide range of  responses.

 

All of those are credible. The blame is falling on John Mabry for failing to install a good approach for the hitters is also a legit theory. He can’t seem to reach the guys or they are simply not putting it to work on the field. My fellow Cards scribe Corey Rudd (@CoreyRudd) thinks the issue is bigger and has to do with the team’s overall leadership and focus. Art Lippo (@ArtLippo) thinks the Cards are putting the emphasis on working the pitch count and not swinging at the right one.

I am seeing an offense that is having trouble adjusting to the loss of certain players productions and the exposure of others. Let’s take a look.

*Matt Holliday is having a down season when it comes to slugging and run production. He may not finish with 100 RBI and his slugging percentage is decreasing. Holliday has never had to be the MAN here. Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltran were always here to do that. Holliday has simply needed to get on base, crank doubles, hit .300 and drive in 90-100 runs. This year, he is being counted on more with the loss of other player’s production. He is failing to this point.

*Allen Craig‘s production went missing. That’s a proven RISP monster from the past two season suddenly gone missing. Before the trade, Craig was more efficient at hitting a grounder to third base than driving in a runner. Whether it’s related to his Lisfranc foot injury or not, Craig’s bat didn’t show up and created a deficiency in right field. Oscar Taveras wasn’t the savior people wanted him to be. He has 2 home runs and 12 RBI and is hitting .212. He has 7 extra base hits in 137 at bats. Taveras is 22 and has many years ahead of him, but a rookie can’t save this team.

*Matt Adams has gotten 90 more at bats this year than he did in 2013 and is getting exposed. Whether it’s a righthanded pitcher or lefty on the mound, a decent slider or breaking ball outside will get Adams. In both losses to the Marlins this week, Adams has struck out representing the tying or go ahead run. He has done that on sliders away. He told the media in January that the slider and offspeed pitch away was his biggest weakness. So far, with 386 at bats, he hasn’t mastered it. His bat has gone cold. He has 3 RBI in his last 11 games. That’s production lost at first base, where the team got enormously in 2013.

*Jhonny Peralta has improved the production at shortstop, but not enough to cover left field, right field and first base.

Center field hasn’t been a power position since Colby Rasmus and Jim Edmonds were out there. It’s a base hit machine with Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. Nothing to write home about, even with Jay’s two home runs this week.

*Yadi Molina’s injury created a gaping hole at catcher that Tony Cruz failed to seal and inbound bat A.J. Pierzynski has only added a bunch of singles to the cause.

*Matt Carpenter moves his all around goodness to third base, while Wong has shown spurts of offensive firepower. Wong has 9 home runs and 32 RBI, but that has come in short bunches. His overall stats are okay. In 296 at bats, he has an on base percentage of .292 and a batting average of .252. He doesn’t walk a lot but he does have 17 steals. Wong has potential that may flourish in 2015.

Overall The Cards rank near the bottom of the league in production at second base and right field while ranking middle of the pack at first base. Rightfielders for the Cards have hit 7 home runs(SEVEN) in 2014. Second basemen aren’t getting on base. First basemen aren’t driving in runs. Notice something. 2014 is showing a lack of production that was there in 2013.

That’s huge for a team that doesn’t hit a ton of home runs, steal bases, draw walks or have one monstrous stomper like Giancarlo Stanton. The 2014 Cards aren’t getting the production they need in left field, right field, second base and first base. It’s just not there.

You can talk about plate discipline or a lack of aggression or focus. I see the effort and the focus. I see the same leadership as last year. I just don’t see the results. You can fire Mabry but I am not sure that will bring instant results.

John Mozeliak didn’t make a deadline move for a bat because he had faith in his guys. Two weeks later, the offense is still stuck in neutral. They can produce 8 runs here and 5 runs there, but there is no consistency.

Mo can go out and grab Alfonso Soriano, who was having a tough year with the Yankees before being released. I don’t think it could hurt to bring on a guy for league minimum who has 412 career homers and collected 34 of those along with 101 RBI in 2013. Soriano could come in here and give the team a boost. The pressure could fall off Taveras and Holliday, and the team could respond. Soriano wouldn’t feel the pressure to produce but could make his 2015 prospects look a lot better and maybe, reach for another ring. At this point, Mo wouldn’t be dumb to try an outside source.

If nothing is done, I don’t think this Cardinals team will catch the Brewers or make it anywhere. Unless their pitching holds up and their bullpen doesn’t explode, I think the Cards 2014 season hinges on what the bats can provide. It’s a lot more than RISP that is lacking. It’s more just one position. It’s a problem without a solution.

Tomorrow, the Cards try to avoid a sweep in Miami before coming home for 7 games. I am sure if they score 5 or 6 runs, people will think writers like me putting out cautionary tales are crazy. That’s fine. At this point, on August 13th, you have to think ahead and look at the big picture.

This team simply isn’t looking good enough to do anything right now. Any remedy(or idea) would help. What is yours?

Thanks for reading and reach me on Twitter(@buffa82) or by email, buffa82@gmail.com.

 

  • famousmortimer

    Really good article. It’s been a really weird season to be a Cardinals fan, with tiny flashes of greatness making everyone dream it was 2013 again, then huge slabs of just the worst baseball you can imagine.

    The worst thing is, there’s no obvious villain. You can say Mabry, but no-one really knows what he’s saying to the team; you can say Matheny, and even point to the game he’s lost by playing Rosenthal for the thousandth time; but he’s the guy who took the Cardinals to the WS last year.

    If we had a crappy team like the Marlins or the Cubs, then I could understand all our stats being in the toilet, but I just can’t. There’s no reason why this group of players is still performing this badly. I can’t believe they’re doing it out of petulance, because the only people they’re hurting are themselves and their future employment chances. I really, really hope it’s just one of the strangest blips in baseball history, because this team should not be this boring.

  • Mose

    Seems Matheny is more interested in keeping the bench players sharp than putting the best team on the field. Mabry may be dropping the ball but how do we know it isnt the players themselves. Mo cant get it through his head that too help the hitting we dont need more pitching.
    They are sitting there with bourjos, ellis, descalso, traveras, Cruz, living around the Mendoza line and they really were not all that good last year after the 3rd inning.
    I think we have a guy at the helm who is a business man and has ice running through his veins when it comes to karma. Look who has passed by here in the last few years; Rasmus, Puljos, Freeze, Beltran, Carp. Now look at what has replaced them on the field and in the clubhouse. Best I can tell, Bourjos. When are they going to give up on him?

  • Ziggy11

    I think the single critical factor has been the absence of a productive bat at cleanup. When protected, Holliday is a force. When not, he’s as vulnerable as anybody.

    Craig’s unexpected drop off has been perhaps the most critical factor this year. Adams has had his moments but has yet to proven to be a classic 4-hole threat, or approximate the remarkable productivity of Craig the past couple of years.

    Without a cleanup bat, everyone else becomes vulnerable.

    This is who we are – Deadbirds (nada hits) and / or Redpeckers (who peck away and win with a barrage of singles, walks and errors).

  • Ziggy11

    Just to add… I’m not complaining. This is a team that should not be competing for a playoff spot, let alone a winning record. They are scrappy and resilient thus far, and in my mind potentially quite special. Very different from what Cardinals Nation fans are used to. Get used it and enjoy the stretch run.

    There is prospective drama aplenty – who among the newbies and / or newly acquired vets will stand up and be the hero? How will the guys who’ve been in war almost daily – Holliday, Carpenter, Rosie, Jhonny – stand up down the stretch? Will the “Waino / Lynn, then pray for a win” combo find support from their rotation comrades?

    Things could much different and and even better by Sep 14. It will be fun to watch.

    It’s surprising to me that the Post guys have not defined a similar narrative. Maybe they’re too locked into previous team performances. This team is very, very different – but still compelling.

    Hang on to yer hats…

  • Dan Buffa

    Your concerns with Oscar are warranted. He simply came here with the mantle of the savior and is disappointing. I need to see him get 500 at bats. Get a fair shake. Still 22 year sold. Soriano could help the whole team and Taveras as well.

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