A Few Suggestions To Help Save The 2012 Cardinals
We’ve all been nauseated and confounded by what we’ve seen so far in a truly bizarre 2012 season. The best team in the National League (on paper) with the best offense (statistically) and one of the best rotations (over the last two months) continues to meander aimlessly in the standings, never gaining any traction in either the division race or any of the 15 wild cards spots.
The Cardinals passed up the trade deadline opportunity to radically alter the team for the stretch, most likely because most of the pieces are already in place. What needs to happen – and what hasn’t happened yet – is a radical and fundamental change in how this team is managed. Here are a few thoughts.
1. PUT FURCAL ON THE DISABLED LIST. Rafael Furcal has been playing in pain for at least a month with a back problem. That’s admirable, of course, and Furcal is as important to this team as anyone – when he’s healthy. However, he’s not healthy. Because of this, Furcal is batting .138 in August. After posting a slugging percentages over .400 for April and May, Furcal is now slugging a miserable .138 this month after slugging a Theriot-like .270 last month. It’s getting worse, not better. The injury has also affected his defense: Furcal has a fielding percentage of .974, 19 points lower than his career average. He’s five runs below the average shortstop in baseball.
Having Furcal out there in this condition is (a) making the injury worse, and (b) creating a non-productive spot in the lineup. We have Ryan Jackson (potentially our future shortstop) on the team now – USE HIM. And by that, I DON’T mean play Jackson at second base as Matheny stupidly did a few days ago. Furcal needs to get some rest for the possibility of a playoff run, and Jackson should be given a chance to stretch out in his natural position.
2. BRING UP Oscar Taveras. I’m not sure if the team can (or will) bring up the hellfire bat of Taveras now or in September (I’m guessing September), but it needs to happen this year. While the offense has been statistically good, it hasn’t been electrifying since April. There are far too many terrible at-bats with RISP, and a fair amount of lethargy in general throughout the lineup. There is no urgency. Taveras – who is already being referred to as “Ted Williams” on Twitter – will bring tons of urgency and enthusiasm to a team that feels beaten down with injuries. Besides, the outfield (particularly center) needs a strong (edit) bat.
3. REST BELTRAN AND HOLLIDAY NOW. I realize that, given the desperate times the current Cardinals face, it might seem like a bad idea to start giving Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday extra time off. But these two have been in the lineup almost every day for two months; how long will that last before disaster strikes? In particular, Beltran (and his balky knees) needs extra time off right now in order to be ready for a potential playoff run.
We have an exciting option to make that possible: Matt Carpenter. The rookie utility player is currently batting .312 with a shocking .505 slugging percentage. Yeah, he looks like a somewhat-beefier, pot-smoking version of Shane Robinson, but Carpenter can flat-out hit (or, at least, he is right now). Get him in the lineup in the outfield to spot Beltran and Holliday, or move Allen Craig out there and let Carpenter play first base. Either way, we need to keep our big horses ready for the big games (hopefully) to come.
4. KEEP KELLY, LOSE BROWNING. The Cardinals are faced with a decision when Jaime Garcia returns this weekend for one last shot before inevitable shoulder surgery (I’m predicting by the end of the year). Obviously young Joe Kelly (who has pitched tough and received little run support) will be moved, but hopefully he goes to the bullpen and not Memphis. Kelly should replace either Fernando Salas or Barret Browning. I’m guessing that Browning would be moved based on his seniority, although it’s mostly a toss-up in terms of effectiveness.
Losing Browning would give us just one lefthander (Marc Rzepczynski) as Brian Fuentes has been moved to the restricted list due to personal issues. I have this idea that Garcia could slip into a relief role for a while (filling our need for a lefty) and maintain this solid rotation. However, that’s unlikely given that (a) Garcia has the emotional consistency of warm pudding, and (b) Garcia makes too much money to pitch every so often from the pen.
5. SCHUMAKER IS THE SECOND BASEMAN UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Skip Schumaker has the same fielding percentage at second as Daniel Descalso (although D-Money has had more chances at the position). However, Schumaker is batting over .300, while Descalso has an average of .233. Easy choice. Schumaker at second for every game, and Descalso becomes Schumaker’s defensive replacement in the seventh inning of every game we lead. There should be no other configuration until we actually find and value a real second base man.
6. STOP THE LA RUSSIAN TINKERING. I think Matheny feels the pressure of following up Tony La Russa’s reign of championship terror here in St. Louis. How else to explain the desperate third-inning bunts or the random misuse of the bullpen?
Although I think Matheny has done a credible job given the devastating injuries to most of the team, I also feel like Matheny’s bungling has led to unnecessary losses and some amount of demoralization. Why does a left-handed relief specialist like Marc Rzepczynski have nearly as many appearances against right-handed batters as left-handers? Why would left-handed Browning face multiple righties in an extra-inning game like Sunday? Why would you EVER have a .300 hitter bunt in the third inning of a 1-0 game? Or bunt with runners at second and third and no outs in the fifth inning of a game?
There are teams and times when a manager can help shake something loose with a little tinkering. This is not the team, and this is not the time. The 2012 Cardinals are a better overall team (on paper) than last year’s championship version – at least to this point in the season. By my calculations, Matheny has cost us somewhere around five games due to ridiculous management – that’s a manager getting in the way of a team. LaRussa’s tinkering hurt us last year as well, although the 2011 team was largely a mess until the end of August anyway.
I think the net result of Matheny making so many rookie-ish mistakes is a flatness of play. I remember feeling the air go out of the team after the June 17th game this year when Matheny pulled his infamous bunt/squeeze. These players aren’t dumb, and seeing a game pissed away because the manager is basically guessing at plays demoralizes the entire group.
Matheny has all of the tools in place. He needs to get out of the way and let it run itself. If he must learn on the job, then let the rest of the year serve as a crash course in the proper use of a bullpen.
Overall, I believe that the 2012 Cardinals have everything in place to repeat as world champions. Our current rotation has been one of the best in baseball, we have a more balanced lineup than last year, and (with the addition of Edward Mujica) a legitimate 7-8-9 bullpen combination. With these simple suggestions, a bit more confidence, and another touch of magic, October could once again be drenched in Cardinal red.