VOL. 132 | NO. 142 | Wednesday, July 19, 2017
The Redbirds’ Dream Season is Not Being Duplicated in St. Louis
By Don Wade
Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler signs autographs before the March 2017 exhibition game against the Redbirds. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
On Monday, July 17, in Oklahoma City, the Memphis Redbirds pulled off their third win in their last at-bat as Patrick Wisdom hit a ninth-inning home run in a 5-3 victory. It was their seventh straight win and their 15th in their last 17 games.
Of such a streak, their parent St. Louis Cardinals can only dream.
The Redbirds entered play Tuesday with a 61-33 record – the best mark in Triple-A. Meantime, while the Cardinals managed to hang on for a 6-3 victory over the Mets in New York on Monday, it only raised their record to 45-47.
They sit in third-place in the National League Central, 5.5 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and two games back of the puzzling and reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
So they’re not out of the race, they just have been unable to make clear they are in the race.
Which gave a sports writer in St. Louis an idea: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeff Gordon figured if the Cardinals can’t truly contend with the roster they have, they could at least “double-down on mediocrity.”
Gordon suggested the Cardinals use the farm system to help them field two teams – both mediocre. He points out that such an arrangement would allow the franchise to keep playing star catcher Yadier Molina every day while also permitting the promotion of highly coveted prospect Carson Kelly, who seems ready for a test drive in the big leagues. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, Gordon said, could take Kelly under his wing while Molina could continue to refine starter Carlos Martinez.
“These split squads could bring 162 home games to Busch Stadium and allow Fredbird to collect some serious overtime,” Gordon wrote.
Yeah, well, that’s not gonna fly in Memphis and fans enjoying the summer at AutoZone Park, where playoff baseball is certain this year. Not to mention what this would do to the new incarnation of mascot Rockey. A dirty bird’s gotta eat, right?
More seriously, though, the July 31 trade deadline looms and the Cardinals have to decide whether they push for now or to try and take advantage of their unintended situation to acquire assets that will help next year and beyond. Or, yes, hedge and do a little bit of both.
John Mozeliak, who was recently promoted from general manager to president of baseball operations, tried to explain the Cardinals’ position to another Post-Dispatch reporter.
“The nuances of trying to determine how we think about improvement between now and July 31st still seems a bit unclear because of our inconsistencies,” Mozeliak said, sounding rather like a nervous political candidate.
“On any given night you could argue something and it would probably make perfect sense,” he continued. “In other words, let’s go out and add an eighth- or ninth-inning pitcher. Is that going to change our trajectory by the end of September? It could. But it could arguably not.”
And he’s right. Because while several Redbirds have come up and provided a boost at times – who saw shortstop Paul DeJong’s power surge coming? – the established players who were supposed to carry the team this season mostly have failed.
Free agent Dexter Fowler wasn’t just supposed to be a defensive upgrade in center field but the ideal leadoff man. He hasn’t clicked there and out of desperation manager Mike Matheny has hit him third; he’s never been a legitimate No. 3 hitter.
Jedd Gyorko continues to hit cleanup because he’s the best option there, but he started the season with a. 238 career batting average. On a good team, he provides thunder lower in the order. On a – here’s that word again – mediocre team he has to hit in the middle of the order. His current .293 batting average is a pleasant surprise, but don’t expect it to hold.
Outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk have been disappointments instead of emerging mainstays, and infielder Matt Carpenter is with Fowler hitting below .250.
The bright spot: Former Redbirds outfielder Tommy Pham, who should be playing every day but sometimes has had to sit to allow Fowler in the lineup. Big contract and all that.
Matheny is likely to turn to former closer Trevor Rosenthal, who has looked very good of late, to reassume that role but he has had enough struggles in recent times for that move to feel like wishful thinking as much as evidence-based thinking.
Truth is, addressing the bullpen won’t matter unless the Cardinals get a true middle-of-the-order threat in the lineup and play better defense and fundamental baseball than they have to this point in the season. If Mozeliak elects to swing big in a deal for a bat, then Kelly, Redbirds outfielder Harrison Bader, Diaz or DeJong and multiple pitching prospects could all be leaving to make it happen.
So, just how much have things changed since right before the season when the Cardinals came to AutoZone Park to play the exhibition game with the Redbirds?
Fowler was in the leadoff spot, Carpenter was hitting third and Jhonny Peralta, since discarded, was batting fourth, and Aledmys Diaz was coming off an All-Star rookie year at shortstop; he got sent back to Memphis this summer.
Almost four months ago as Mozeliak sat in the first-base dugout and addressed the media in Memphis pre-game, he looked around and said, “Beautiful ballpark. Perfect night for baseball.”
In the months that have followed, there have been many more perfect nights just like that at AutoZone Park.
At Busch Stadium, not so much.