“When You’re Underperforming, People Have to Make Changes”

The Cardinals snapped their seven-game losing streak last night with a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.  While welcome, that’s not really what everyone is talking about the day after.  No, that goes to an unprecedented press conference by John Mozeliak, which announced more staff changes than the Cardinals have done in-season in a long time, maybe forever.

You know all this by now, but to recap:

  • Third base coach Chris Maloney was “reassigned in the organization”.
  • Quality control coach Mike Shildt will take over Maloney’s work at third base and with the outfielders, “pumping the breaks” on his QC work.
  • Assistant hitting coach Bill Mueller is taking a personal leave of absence.
  • Memphis hitting coach Mark Budaska will fill in for Mueller.
  • Ron “Pop” Warner, another minor league instructor, joins the staff in a nebulous role.
  • And, as expected, Jhonny Peralta was designated for assignment as Kolten Wong comes off the disabled list.

Allen and I got together on Meet Me at Musial last night and talked about all this, but the title of the episode is the real focal point.  From the outside looking in, none of these changes seem like they’ll do a lot to correct the problems the Cardinals are having.  Yes, maybe they’ll lose a few less runners at home plate without Maloney sending them, but we’ll see.  (It’s funny, one of the earliest complaints of the season was Maloney NOT sending Randal Grichuk in the game against the Yankees.  Ah, memories.)  This might play as a jolt to the players, but how much is it really going to accomplish?

Given the offensive struggles (something that did not stop last night, even if there was a win attached), it may be interesting to see how Budaska and John Mabry work together.  Mozeliak noted that Budaska has a “different voice” than Mabry, which could be a good thing, probably is a good thing.  But how do you reconcile the two voices?  If a player is getting these notes from Mabry and those notes from Budaska, who do they go with?  Are they just going to get more confused?  I assume that their general philosophies are the same and there won’t be too much discord, but it will be something to watch.  Because if there’s dissonance, who gets to win out?  And if there isn’t, if the Cardinals start hitting now, how much is going to be associated with Budaska?  In other words, this is pretty close to a no-win situation for Mabry, in my book.  An offensive surge might get him saved until the end of the year, but if he can’t tie some change of his to that push, it is hard to bring him back for 2018.

While Warner is there to “help in whatever role is necessary”, you have to look at the fact that there are a lot of former managers on this team now, folks that could step in should there, say, become an opening at the top of the Cardinals’ organizational chart.  Shildt, Warner, even Oliver Marmol have more experience than Mike Matheny did when he took over for Tony La Russa.  For the first time, Mozeliak indicated that no one, not even himself, is really safe here if things don’t turn around.  It’s still difficult to imagine the Cardinals firing Matheny before his three-year extension even kicks in, but it’s hard to imagine a team that’s looked this bad and had results like this as well.

In a quick search to see if the financial details of that extension were publicized (and I didn’t find that they were), I found this quote from Mozeliak at the time of the extension last November.

“With Mike, whether you agree with how he calls a game or not, he certainly has the respect of his players and he gets the most out of them.”

Is that true anymore?  You have to wonder how true it was then, given the comments Wong had made last September.  Obviously most of the players are fans of the manager, but how many aren’t?  How much dissention is actually in that clubhouse?  Tommy Pham, speaking about the loss of Peralta, a loss that apparently really hit him hard, said (and I can’t find the direct quote at the moment) that Peralta was a true professional, a guy that wasn’t part of the “ping-pong club, the chess club, the video game club” but just came to play baseball.  How much of that sentiment floats throughout the dugout?  Maybe not much.  Maybe it’s just Pham, which might find Pham traded because dealing with one players is easier than dealing with an entire situation.  (It would also somewhat make the idea that Randal Grichuk is coming up soon to “sink or swim” more believable, because there is no reason to see Grichuk play regularly over Pham given how Tommy’s hitting.)

If it’s more than just a player or two, though, you have to wonder about Matheny because that’s what he was supposed to be good at. He wasn’t hired because of his theories on the double-switch or the bunt or bullpen usage.  He was hired to be a great clubhouse guy who kept everyone on the same page and on task.  If he’s failing at that–and I say if, because there’s rarely been any talk against him or the clubhouse culture in the media, so we have to at least give the assumption that everything is fairly well–then you have to think that, extension or no, Matheny might be gone.

However, to the disappointment of many a Matheny critic, I don’t really believe it’ll be in 2017.  Mozeliak said that he’d take 4-6 weeks (basically up to the All-Star Break) to evaluate this team and see what they need to do from here.  If the club doesn’t respond, if they are so far out of it that they need to start moving pieces, does it really make any sense to fire Matheny then instead of at the end of the year?  You aren’t going anywhere in 2018.  You’d probably just get an interim guy (one of those mentioned above, probably) which I guess could be an extended tryout for the job but you probably aren’t going to make a permanent decision until you can open up the field in the offseason.  It would seem just as easy to let Matheny manage the rest of the year and then let him go on October 2.

A lot of this, as I’ve said before and Benjamin Hochman reiterated in his column, relies on guys they are expecting to hit actually hitting.  You can’t do anything about Dexter Fowler–he’s got to get back to what he normally can do.  It’s unlikely you are going to do anything about Matt Carpenter–he’s just got to hit like he can.  Aledmys Diaz is going to play shortstop.  Stephen Piscotty is going to be in the outfield (though, to be fair, Piscotty does seem to have picked it up some lately).  There’s only so much this club can do.  The players that are there–Brett Cecil on the pitching side–are just going to have to approach their career averages.  We’re not asking for All-Star seasons, just their normal level of competence.  If the club gets that, they’ll go on a run.  If they don’t, mid-July might be interesting for different reasons.

Then the Cardinals played a ball game.  It would have been pretty stunning if these changes made an impact right away, so it’s probably not a big surprise that things looked a lot like they had the last seven games, just that they were playing a team that was as bad in those areas as they are in the Phillies.  Michael Wacha pitched well enough, but again the Phillies have a worse offense than the Cardinals do.  I can’t get terribly excited about two runs over six innings here.  It’s much better than what he’s been doing, don’t get me wrong, but let’s see how he does against the Brewers his next turn out before we even think about being optimistic.

The offense did get baserunners on, at least against Jeremy Hellickson, but couldn’t get many of them in.  We’ll give our Hero tag to Aledmys Diaz, who hit the tie-breaking home run, because that was a huge shot in the arm to this team. And it was good to see so many folks get multiple hits after a string of games with one, maybe two players with that stat.  If only some people had had multiple RBI…..  The Goat will go to Eric Fryer, who was one of the few that didn’t get any hits, plus he struck out twice and left four on.  Fryer was a late sub for Yadier Molina, whose back issues hopefully will be cleared up by today.

It’s Carlos Martinez versus Nick Pivetta today.  Even though Martinez lost last time out, he still looked pretty good until his last inning.  Given the state of the Phillies right now, you like his chances to at least do his part to a win. Interestingly enough, he’s not seen many of these hitters from Philadelphia much.

vs. Batters Table
Freddy Galvis 3 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333 .667 0 0 0 0 0
Odubel Herrera 3 3 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .667 .667 .667 1.333 0 0 0 0 0
Howie Kendrick 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Daniel Nava 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 1.000 1.500 0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Rupp 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Total 13 13 4 1 0 0 1 0 3 .308 .308 .385 .692 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/10/2017.

As for Pivetta, well, he’s a rookie so the Cards haven’t faced him.  He is a right-hander, which is good, and he’s got a 5.18 ERA on the season.  It’s a player you’d like to think the Cards could really beat up on, but in the past they haven’t.  Should be interesting to see which kind of result we see today.

Now I’ve got to finish getting ready and head up the hill to St. Louis.  Looking forward to meeting with a lot of the Cardinal bloggers and podcasters tonight before our event at the stadium on Sunday.  If you are out around Creve Coeur Lakehouse at 6:30 tonight, stop by and say hi to us!

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