The St. Louis Cardinals won both parts of a split squad day on Saturday, March 12. Since that nice two-win day, the club is 1-9-3, with the only win coming against a Miami Marlins team that, with their two wins against the Cards in that stretch, now has a better record than St. Louis. It’s only spring training, of course, but that mantra loses less and less weight with each passing day.
Mike Matheny has acknowledged he’d like to play .500 or right above it during the spring, but unless the Cards sweep their last four games in Florida, they aren’t going to even be that close to that number. Not counting the game against Florida Atlantic, the Redbirds have scored five or more runs only five times in 24 games. While I know the Grapefruit League doesn’t rival the Cactus League for inflated offensive stats, you’d still like to see a little more than that, a little over-the-top-ness in the numbers that lets you feel OK if they come back to earth when the season starts. Hopefully, that is, we aren’t actually seeing those inflated numbers, because otherwise this is going to be a rough year.
The problem in the last couple of weeks hasn’t been completely with the offense, of course. At least one of those ties came about after the Cards had taken a late lead, only to squander it. In the last two weeks, the pitching staff has allowed five or more runs seven times. The defense has been shaky at times, with five errors coming in one affair. No matter where you look, it’s starting to get a little hard to find optimism.
If you need some, though, maybe glance at how the NL Central would look if you used spring training records:
St. Louis 8-13
Basically, nobody’s playing well this spring. I don’t think anyone, including Brewers fans, really think that 2016 is the year of the Brew Crew. There’s only so much you can take from games where you are using players you normally wouldn’t use, when pitchers and hitters alike are worried more about practicing a certain skill rather than what needs to be done to win that day, and when certain relievers are used that day, no matter what the situation. The Cardinals are better than 8-13 and hopefully the regular season will prove that.
We’ve said all winter that the roster was pretty much set and it was, if you don’t take injuries into account. Already, of course, Jhonny Peralta is out, meaning Ruben Tejada will be in. Now Jordan Walden has had a setback and it’s fairly likely he’ll start on the DL, meaning that Matthew Bowman will probably get an extra couple of weeks to prove the Cards should keep him instead of returning him to the Mets as per the Rule 5 rules. That was highlighted somewhat by the cuts made yesterday, including Tim Cooney, Miguel Socolovich, and Sam Tuivailala.
Tara and I spoke about this last night on Gateway and, while we admit that we’ve not seen much of Bowman, it does seem a bit curious. Yes, Bowman can give them an “innings eater” from the right side, able to mop up messes and go multiple frames, but the Cards have had problems with using those kind of pitchers in the past–think Joe Kelly and the Ferrari in the garage–and now they’ll have two of them on staff, assuming that’s the way they’ll be using Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons. While I guess that frees up Lyons to be a mix between long man and lefty specialist, I’ve continued to argue using Lyons as a one-batter guy is not the best use of his abilities. So we’ll see. It’s possible that, especially in the early going, they’ll limit folks like Carlos Martinez to five innings and need someone to bridge the gap to those guys that usually pitch late innings, but it’s not been the case often with Matheny. Betting on him changing is not the best way to spend your money.
The injury bug has also apparently claimed the third base coach. Jose Oquendo had knee surgery during the winter, but he must have gone to the same guy that did Yadier Molina‘s thumb, because it didn’t take. He’s undergone another procedure and Matheny says Oquendo could be out all season, which seems overly dramatic. John Mozeliak didn’t seem to know how long he’d be gone, but it was long enough to shift some coaches around and bring up Derrick May to be the assistant hitting coach. There’s no doubt the Secret Weapon will be missed, but if he’s going to miss the entire season, something strange is going on. Knee procedures shouldn’t be that bad, even for someone middle aged like Oquendo and especially since Oquendo is in fairly good shape. Then again, it’s a Cardinal and it’s an injury……
Cardinals host the Mets today as they try to snap out of their slump. Martinez looked sharp last time out and hopefully will do so again. It’s on FSMW and MLB Network if you want to see for yourself. If the Cards could end the spring winning three out of four, I think there’d be a little more optimism going into the game on Sunday in Pittsburgh, but that ship may have already sailed.
Tampa Bay kicks off the last week of Playing Pepper this afternoon, so be sure to come back for that!