Bird Tales

Bird Seeds: Rally Killer!

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This week’s BirdSeeds posted on Monday, after a week in which John Mozeliak called out the “culture” and “attitude” of his team. He, basically, blamed the players. I did not.

Today, the world was made aware of a now-public rift between Mike Matheny and Yadier Molina. It could be resolved quickly…it could be a sign of irreparable damage.

Either way, I think this subject matter is even more relevant now than it was four days ago.

St. Louis, we DEFINITELY have a problem.

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This week, Bird Seeds went on the road…via air…and took you with!

The 2nd half is upon us, so here are 5 things I’m looking forward to, win, lose, or draw.

 

What are YOU most reenergized for in phase two of this baseball summer?

**Subscribe, comment, like…all that jazz.**

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Is Tommy Pham the hero the Cardinals need?

 

Previous episodes of Bird Seeds HERE.

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You’ve heard the one about the little engine that could, right?

engine

It’s a story about an unlikely hero, and some extraordinary will power.

In case it’s been a while since you cracked open one of the all-time greatest children’s books, allow me to offer a quick recap:

A train, full of joy and happiness (by way of candy and toys) broke down. Everyone was very sad. And yet, help, they believed, was surely just around the corner.

But alas, the newest and shiniest, the biggest and strongest, the kindest and wisest all chugged on by, unable or unwilling to help get the little train full of merriment to the other side of the mountain.

When all seemed lost, the dejected train and its brokenhearted passengers were greeted by a tiny, naive little engine, cute as a button, and confident as a knight in shining armor.

This engine had never been to the other side of the mountain, and had never pulled so many cars, or been responsible for such precious cargo. But this engine had something the others had forgotten over time — an insatiable desire to succeed.

So, with modest expectation, the train gave the little engine a chance, grateful for the help. And wouldn’t you know it? That little engine chugged along, faster and faster, freer and freer, all the way up and over the mountain, saying, “I think I can. I think I can…” which soon became, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”

In case you haven’t quite drawn the comparison yet, the broken down train carrying joy and happiness to the anxious villagers? That’s the Cardinals. The spunky, little engine that could, when the newest and shiniest (Dexter Fowler), the biggest and strongest (Yadier Molina) and the kindest and wisest (Adam Wainwright) couldn’t?

That’d be Magneuris Sierra.

Standing just 5’11 (compared to Fowler’s 6’5), and as wide-eyed and innocent as a kid on Christmas morning, “Mags” made his Major League debut this weekend, fresh off of a week-long homestand at Class A Advanced Palm Beach, where he was hitting .272 with three doubles, four triples, and 16 runs scored on the year.

Talk about an unlikely hero, right?

Not entirely. Let’s not forget that this is a kid who, in Spring Training earlier this year, had opposing managers asking if he was going to make the Opening Day roster for the big club. Still, he wasn’t the guy the Cardinals had written into the 2017 story as the early-season hero.

I guess this is the part where someone stands up and yells, “PLOT TWIST!”

Sure, it’s only been four games. But, what a four games it has been!

One-for-six in Sunday’s 14-inning affair, and it just so happens he was the winning run (yes, on a two-run homer from another improbable hero, Tommy Pham). All he did in his second game was go 2-for-5, scoring the third and fourth runs, once scoring from 1st on a double by Carlos Martinez, then scoring from 2nd (after easily advancing on a wild pitch) on a base hit by the Cardinal pitcher.

And the little engine that could was just beginning to chug at full speed.

With Dexter Fowler still less than 100%, Mike Matheny (wisely) decided to jump on board the Sierra train, and let his spark continue to drive the Cardinals forward.

How did Mags respond to the vote of confidence?

Another two-hit night, where he scored both the tying run, and then later, the go-ahead run in one of the season’s most exciting moments to date.

“Sierra — His speed! — does it again!” Dan McLaughlin exclaimed, as if reading it right off the pages of Sierra’s very own fairy tale.

“I think I can. I think I can.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the kid from A-Ball was right back at it again the next night. A hit, a walk, two runs scored (including the go-ahead run, completing another Cardinals comeback).

And with that, Mags wrote himself into the history books.

Not bad for a little engine that’d never been outside the train yard… so to speak.

The Cardinals have won 16 of 21. Sure, Sierra has only been part of the last four. However, they’ve been a pretty significant four games. Following a frustrating series with the Brewers at home, and losing three of four outfielders to injury, the string of success could have easily come off the tracks. Instead, the Cardinals did what the Cardinals do so often — they called on the next man up… and then, the next one after that.

Neither Tommy Pham nor Magneuris Sierra have a guaranteed roster spot moving forward. And honestly, that’s fair. But even if he finds himself on a plane back to Palm Beach before the next homestand concludes, Mags will have quite the tale to tell after this week – a tale about how he came across a Cardinals team on the brink of sputtering back to those 3-9 days, and how his speed, his exuberance, and his will power pulled them to the other side of the mountain.

“I thought I could! I thought I could!” he’ll say.

And he’ll be right.

Want to hear more great stories, straight from the writers and reporters who cover the Cardinals every day? Leave a comment below, telling me your all-time favorite baseball tale, and you’ll be entered to win a pair of tickets to Pitch Talks in St. Louis, on March 18th!

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Today’s tale starts with a confession: I haven’t always liked Lance Lynn.

Yes, I was dejected when he had to miss last season. Yes, I was delighted at the thought of adding him back into the starting mix for the 2017 Cardinals. And yes, I will stop whatever I’m doing to watch his postgame interviews, because I can’t get enough of his charmingly sarcastic wit. But, it hasn’t always been this way.

You see, once upon a time, there was a Lance who always had a Lynning. And after that Lynning, there were excuses. And after the excuses, there I was, making this face:

dog

See, the struggle was never because of the incessant talk of fastballs, or the general grouchiness. (I was, after all, a fan of the ultimate pitching grouch, Chris Carpenter.) It was always because of the potential that would draw me in, then rip my heart out, and try to sooth the wound by (seemingly) blaming something else.

I was simply not amused.

So, I friend-zoned him.

That’s right, I put Lance Lynn in that horrible little box that allowed me to acknowledge his moments of glory, without ever hoping for anything more substantial to appreciate. If he managed to keep the Cardinals in games, even if a five-run 5th was part of his final line, we were cool because that’s exactly what I expected. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I liked it that way.

For a guy who now speaks of his ability to pitch deep into games, he hasn’t always been the “innings eater” type. In both 2012 and 2013, he lasted five innings or less eight times. The 2014 season was a year of drastic improvement. There were significantly more good days than bad. Only five times did he pitch just five innings or less. And, that year gave us the first complete game shutout of the Lance Lynn era.

No runs on five hits, despite two errors behind him (a typical Lynning starter in the past), in a 6-0 win over the New York Yankees.

And like that, the walls that I’d built to keep any expectations of success at bay started to crumble.

So, the guy could pitch a little. I didn’t mind admitting it. And let’s not forget, the guy is hilarious. A sense of humor can be a priceless tool in winning someone over.

Therein lies the moral of this story:

Lance Lynn has done the impossible.

No, I don’t mean coming back from Tommy John surgery and looking like he hasn’t missed a beat. No, I don’t mean resisting the urge to stuff someone in a locker after the way the defense has played so far in 2017 (although, kudos for the self control on that one). I mean that he’s taken a skeptic — more than a skeptic, really… because I’d just decided not to care — and convinced me that he’s exactly the piece the Cardinals rotation was missing last year.

He escaped the friend zone.

Small Sample Size warning, but his 2017 numbers are trending quite similarly to those 2014 stats. His strikeout percentage is hovering just under 21%, and while the walk percentage of 8.3% is higher than I’d like for it to stay (the only starting pitcher with a higher rate is Carlos Martinez…who also has the best K%. So, that’s weird.), he’s getting more ground balls, fewer line drives or fly balls, and stranding 84.5% of the baserunners who do reach. His 2.45 ERA is second only to the inspired Mike Leake.

Sure, Lynn had a rough second start, giving up six runs (four earned) to the Washington Nationals. And, in the realm of small sample sizes, the three homers he allowed that day certainly skewed his early season numbers. But, he owned it. And he was better the next go ’round.

He’s given up just two runs in 19 innings since that frustrating day in the nation’s capital. The Cardinals went 3-0 in those starts.

I can respect that. No… I appreciate that.

He better be careful, though. I’m starting to expect him to always be great. Dangerous territory, I know.

 

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Can we talk about Carlos Martinez for a minute?

The 2017 Opening Night starter. The heir apparent to Adam Wainwright as the staff ace. The crazy kid whose home run celebrations are worthy of their own bobblehead night.

The young talent, whose potential stardom earned a five-year contract extension in the off season. The stud who, in a reverse-Samson move, sacrificed all his strength, all his might, and all his skill for a head full of hair (extensions).

…wait, that can’t be true. I must be thinking of that Twitter tale I read earlier:

Cmart Hair Tale

And then, to top it all off, a baseball legend, Frank Thomas, inserted himself into the story:

Amidst the laughter of his MLB Network cohorts, Thomas requests – no, begs – Carlos to save his career by “toning down” the hair.

“You’re an ace… You’re a winner… PLEASE. Tone down the hair… You’re special, young man. You don’t need that hair.”

What is happening here?

Why does anyone feel it’s within their purview to tell Carlos Martinez what to do with the hair on his own head?

I recall a situation last season where one Mr. Mozeliak (arguably the only person who would have some right to require a style change) reportedly requested a new ‘do for Martinez, and you’d have thought he’d asked the kid to cut off his own ear, by the way the baseball universe reacted. Yet, when it’s this particular hair style – one that undoubtedly took several hours to complete, which is apparently a big part of the perceived problem – and it’s this season – one in which Martinez has failed to match his Opening Night brilliance in the starts that followed – it’s no longer an affront to suggest that the young man acquiesce to the masses? Interesting.

It appears the point where the 2017 chapter of the Carlos Martinez Story diverges from the rest is at the precise moment where baseball superstition and personal preference collide.

What changed after the first, dazzling start? The hair.

Do people overwhelmingly like the style change? Nope.

THE HAIR MUST GO. WHAT GUY GETS EXTENSIONS? WHAT AN IMMATURE FOOL.

Look, I get it. I’m not particularly fond of the hair myself. I even joked that the hair was a jinx! And in the spirit of full disclosure, I even suggested that it would probably require some time to get used to the feel of pitching with all that extra hair.

There’s a limit, though, to the jokes and the opinions, even among friends.

Carlos has a job, the hours of which are unlike the hours most adults work. However, when he’s off the clock, it’s only fair to assume he uses his time as he pleases… like most adults do. He has teammates who used Monday’s off day to play golf. Many players spend time with their children. As for Carlos, if he chooses to spend a portion of those off hours in a salon, what difference does it make?

The assumption that he’s pitching poorly because he’s not spending every moment of his time off to “practice more,” ignores the reality that he’s just as human as the guy next door who works at a grocery store, or the woman across the street who is a college professor. Sometimes, you just need to leave work at work in order to maintain a sustainable life balance.

And, let’s be real: the hair took somewhere around five hours, in multiple sessions. 

If he can’t have five hours to himself, to do as he wants, over multiple days… isn’t that a problem?

Additionally, there’s this idea that his hair somehow defines him (or re-defines him, as those that played the masculinity card claimed). And this becomes another strange, disappointing piece of the narrative: a remarkable athlete, a superstar in the making, has been minimized by a hair style.

Hmmm…where have I seen that before? Ahhh, that’s right.

 

Jon’s right – this is a typical level of absurdity with female athletes. Surface-level judgements are made that become intrinsically tied to their success (or failure). A hair style, a body type, a skin tone, are all inexplicably correlated to skill, and indirectly linked to worth. Such cosmetic sentiment is not always so obviously directed toward male athletes, but here we are.

Suddenly, such shallow and overzealous conjecture constructs a plot twist that rewrites the middle of the Carlos Martinez Story as a tragedy, a tale of unrealized potential, all because a guy changed his hair.

Please tell me that’s not how this story ends…

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“We had a bad first week,” Adam Wainwright said after the Cardinals fell to 2-5 in spectacular fashion Monday night.

Before that, I broke down three takeaways from said “bad first week” that still hold true.

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Forget April Fool’s Day…Happy Opening Day Eve, Cardinals fans!

Here’s a little story to aid in the celebrations.

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Watch the debut episode of the 2017 season of Bird Seeds, featuring topics such as the fate of the future Hall of Fame catcher, and worries about everyone’s favorite brainiac, Stephen Piscotty.

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Every year, the UCB gang gets together to solve all the world’s problems in one fell swoop. …well, sort of. This year, I kicked off the discussion with the only question I could think to ask: What to do with Kolten Wong?

If you weren’t part of the debate, here’s what you missed…

Hello, all

Seems strange to be kicking this off with the postseason still in very early stages, but …it happens to the best of ’em, right?
So, let’s jump right in.
It seems the list of ways to improve the team for the 2017 season is long – and a bit overwhelming! But in my mind, before John Mozeliak and Company go making major changes, they need to settle into plans and roles for a number of current players whose jobs this season didn’t always make sense – Randal Grichuk, Jedd Gyorko, Jhonny Peralta, and Kolten Wong…to name a few. (This is the part where I ask a very predictable question, considering my rousing support for this particular individual…)
In that light, what is the best course of action for Kolten Wong and the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals? He’s never really settled into the “second baseman of the future” job (likely because they won’t let him have it long enough to get used to the idea!). When he’s good, he’s VERY good, but when he’s bad…well, you watched it. Mo has already implied there will be an emphasis on athleticism, defense, and stability, which could play right into the hands of a gifted athlete like Wong. And yet, Gyorko is lurking, without a steady position to play himself.
So, does Kolten Wong remain with the Cardinals for 2017? And if so, how should the Cardinals define his role going forward?
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Great question, and one of my favorites all season — What in the world do we do with Kolten Wong, especially with the arrival and power of Jedd Gyorko? I think there’s room for both, now and in the future. In fact, the possible future role and destination for Wong could very well inform the 2017 plan for both him and Gyorko.
First off, Wong needs to get the Randal Grichuk treatment — second half Randal, not first half Randal. Stick the kid at second base and let him play everyday. Make the job his for 2017, a “make or break, do or don’t” year of sorts, as John Mozeliak is fond of saying. I think the team learned a lot about their own approach and what changes need to happen within that approach with their treatment of Grichuk in 2016. Up and down (AAA to MLB and back) doesn’t work for a player who has nothing more to learn in the minors and only lacks a firm footing in the majors. Sure, you can get Wong a mental break and a few consistent at-bats in a low-pressure environment, but if he never adjusts to the high-scrutiny atmosphere of a major-league job, what’s the point in holding onto him?
If Wong is going to be a future core player for this team, as the Cardinals have always envisioned and intended, he needs to be turned loose to play Wong-like baseball at his natural position. Tell him to focus on defense and let the offense find it’s groove along the way. And then stick to your word, so to speak, and leave him there, with that message, at least through mid to late August. He just needs reps and time, and at some point, he needs to be seen as one of the guys the club refuses to part with when things get rough. He can’t be the offensive scapegoat every year. There’s just too many ways he can contribute to this club.
Of course, Wong entrenched at second base leaves Gyorko again without a home. But that only needs to be temporary.
The Cardinals have already suggested Jedd is going to be the “man behind the scenes,” in a way, again in 2017. He’ll float around behind guys like Wong, Carpenter, Diaz, and Peralta. He’s the utility man that can play everywhere…but in Gyorko’s case, he should be eying third base. Peralta isn’t going to play every day. We’ve seen that before with him, and the break down of his body became predictable. He needs breaks, and unless the Cards sign a corner infielder over the offseason, St. Louis needs a third baseman with power after 2017. Gyorko may well be that guy.
Get Gyorko a ton of reps over the offseason and spring training at third, then turn him loose on a year-long audition for the full-time job post-Peralta. If he shows that 2016 power is likely to continue consistently, then you look to field an infield of Gyorko 3B, Diaz SS, Wong 2B, and Carpenter at 1B going forward. If he falters, however, then you make other plans, all the while sleeping soundlessly because you didn’t sacrifice Kolten Wong’s much-needed development and future at second base by splitting time on a player that may not be able to stick consistently (and you improve performance around the infield by stopping the position merry-go-round).
Because Gyorko, unlike Wong, is a one-trick pony. If he can’t hit for power every year, he won’t earn a long-time spot on the Cardinals’ roster. Wong, on the other hand, is a multi-tool, broad-impact player that’s worth investing in long-term.
Of course, the opposite could happen…Wong could sink and Gyorko could power his way to the top. In that case, 2018 needs to be the year Gyorko takes the job and Wong is moved to another team. And that makes it doubly important for the Cardinals to identify stability on the rest of the squad, effectively allowing them to let second base continue to be the only variable for much of the season.
Thanks,
Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)
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This is why I wait for Kevin, because I’m pretty sure he’s going to cover the issue quite throughly!
I agree, especially in the light of Mozeliak’s comments about defense being a priority, the most logical thing is to let Wong play every day, which is why you signed him to a five-year deal in the first place.  Wong has been supplanted a lot already in his career, whether it was Mark Ellis or Jedd Gyorko, but it’s about time the Cards just put him out there and see what they have.
The offense is going to slip back next year, that is pretty much a guarantee, but Wong could offset some of that if he gets into a groove playing every day.  Of course, we also said the same thing about Tyler Greene and we see how that turned out.  Still, 2017 is the time to see if Wong really has what we think he has.  If not, then maybe you do something else in 2018, as Kevin mentioned.
Daniel Shoptaw
Author, C70 At The Bat  Twitter: @C70
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How appropriate that you should post this question on Kolten Wong’s 26th birthday. It’s a reminder that the time is now for him to show whether he is a productive big-leaguer or a bust.

I believe 2015 – when Wong produced 146 hits in 150 games with 28 doubles, 15 stolen bases and 61 RBI – is more indicative of his talent than was 2016.

So I see the Cardinals keeping him heading into spring training in 2017, but they will make him compete for the starting second base job. If he rises to the challenge and wins the job, they keep him. If he is erratic and cannot win the job outright, I see them trading him during spring training or early in the regular season.

I believe he will win the job in a highly competitive spring training test. I see him as the second baseman who fits into the 7th or 8th spot in the batting order.

Mark Tomasik
www.retrosimba.com

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Spring training will be paramount for Kolten.  As I have written, I believe the coaching staff in Memphis far out-shines the MLB staff.  That said, I feel that the coaching Kolten can receive in Spring will help him in 2017.  We watched him return from Memphis in 2016 and somewhat shine and I anticipate this will continue in 2017.

I do completely agree that he needs to play each and every day or not at all.  I also believe this will be forced since the focus this offseason will likely be on the outfield first.  In short, put Kolten there every single day and give him rest by using Gyorko.

Dr. Michael D. Miles
Redbird Rants

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Man, if you don’t get to these questions quickly, the bone is picked pretty clean. Let’s see if I can go one step further…

Kolten Wong needs to play everyday. More importantly, for me, is that Wong needs a defined role. Any time that Wong has struggled, it has eventually come out that he was approaching things incorrectly and trying to press himself. He came into Spring last year wanting to be a lead off hitter. When he started hitting after a long struggle, he revealed that he had been trying to prove that he was a fit as a lead off hitter and not approaching at bats for the position he was in.

I think it is important for the team to tell Wong he is the everyday second baseman and that he will hit in a specific position. Let him know what his role is with the team and let him prove he deserves it.

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First off, I think Wong deserves to be treated like Jason Heyward was by Joe Maddon this season. Heyward played every day, even though he was putting up some of the worst offensive metrics of his career. Toward the end of the year, particularly the month of September, Heyward’s bat began to look up, and it’s silly to think that his hitting would have improved if he were riding the bench. What I’m trying to imply is that Wong, though he suffered significant offensive regression, needs to play every day in order to offensively evolve and establish consistency. And, like Heyward, Wong is a great defender, and I think Wong should have a spot in the lineup just because of that.
Given the team’s collective defensive struggles that I’d rather not relive, Wong, a, in my opinion, Gold Glove-caliber defender, should probably be playing at his natural position of second base and not, literally, way out in left field. We have seen Wong really struggle with the glove at times, but that can partially be linked to his lack of stability, especially in 2016.
I think that if Wong plays every day at second base in 2017, we’ll see an improved bat and even more polished defense.
Josey Curtis
The Redbird Retreat
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Those are great points. The Heyward comparison works specifically for 2017 because the Cardinals were so painfully bad in 2016. I’m not sure any other year in the last five years yields a greater opportunity for Kolten to impact the team with his defense than the upcoming season. Like Heyward, his glove should be given the chance to change a game regardless of his bat.
And I like the specific role in the lineup talk too, Bill. I’ll say this…to extend my “Randal Grichuk” treatment a step further into your arena, I could see Kolten cemented in the lineup around seventh or eighth. Such a low spot in the order almost removes expectations of any such “role” and allows him to just swing…like Grichuk. Wong is so tied up in knots from trying to change and mold and follow a blueprint at the plate that he needs time to swing himself back into…well…himself. And that type of dynamic bat with hungry speed is exactly what the Cardinals need. Give Wong time to emerge again, then give him time to establish himself as the hitter he always was…and then, right when he’s ready to maintain his own identity at the plate regardless of role, slide him back up in the order again.
Kevin Reynolds (…again)
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Kolten Wong, oh yes. Didn’t take long to get to his status.

I would like to find a permanent spot for Matt Carpenter. With that said, Carp, Diaz and Peralta on the infield with Gyorko backing all of them up. Put Wong in a package for someone that is a real difference maker.
FYI- If and when someone has a Jhonny question I may go to a different approach to this. Depends on who gets dealt first.
Tom
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I will eagerly jump on the band wagon to keep Kolten in the starting lineup every day. I don’t think it matters whether you’re a Tony Cruz or a Matt Holliday. Any player who doesn’t receive consistent playing time is going to struggle on some level with just that: consistency. Besides, here is a kid who will bleed himself out for this team. He takes things to heart more than most players in the game today, in my opinion. And that translates to the level of intensity he exhibits on the field. As my sister and co-host, Holly, has described him in the past – this guy is a cobra ready to strike at the plate. That being said, there can be a negative flipside here for Kolten, when he puts too much pressure on his shoulders, whether it’s warranted or not. And that’s when he usually starts to slide. Those gold glove caliber plays at 2nd suddenly disappear, and he stops raking out the hits. I think this is a year, and an opportunity, for Kolten to grow. He’s no longer the baby just sent up from the farm. He’s been here long enough now to accept the responsibility of a “make or break” situation and learn how to handle the stress of that position. It may not be easy for him, but I believe he has the confidence and determination to make it work, just by sheer will power alone.

Laura, for the STLCardGals

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The problem I see with Kolten that is really where he needs to improve is that he is one of those players who carries his emotions on his sleeve.
The biggest hurdle for Kolten is that he is one of those guys that carries his emotions on his sleeve. He lives and dies with each play and each at bat. And over the course of a 162 game season, that’s difficult to do day in and day out. You get spent early on. Fans experience the same too, as I think we saw a lot of that on Twitter.
But I think that’s also the reason that Matheny is reluctant to use Wong regularly. Matheny is one of those managers who preaches grinding it out, I feel like more than most. Don’t let the successes get you too far up, and don’t let the failures get you too far down.
So for Wong, that emotion and intensity is great when things are going well and disastrous when things are going wrong. He has to figure out a way to better channel that emotion and intensity so that it doesn’t have as drastically negative effects when things go wrong.
I thought I saw better maturity in this regard from Wong in the second half last year. He deserves the commitment as the Cardinals’ regular starting baseman, but I also believe he will always be a player that needs regular off days to keep him from getting emotionally spent. He is by far the team’s best defensive option at second base. There is no reason he shouldn’t end up around 500 plate appearances next season.
I also believe that getting work in the outfield will be important for him too. When they sent him down last year, I talked about him needing to add versatility to help keep him on the roster and give him more opportunities to play because the Cardinals had about six ways to configure the infield without him.
He only needs to look at the guy he displaced from second base to see why. Matt Carpenter is one guy who realized that he needed versatility and put in the work to make it happen and added first and the corner outfield spots to stick on the big league roster and then became a second baseman. It’d been 8 years since he’d played outfield and many times it showed. But getting some practice and getting back some of those instincts would be valuable, both for him and the team.
Jon Doble
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And yes, I answered my own question, too:

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