What once seemed like a sure thing for the Cardinals — a division championship — now is in jeopardy after a horrid stretch of play. Following are five things we’d like to see in the Cardinals’ final 47 games that can help them regain first place and set them up for the playoffs.
1. Molina batting second more
When he returns from the disabled list — and that day can’t come soon enough — Yadier Molina should bat second. To the extent that batter order matters (and it’s not much), Mike Matheny can eke out some additional productivity by having his high-OBP backstop getting on base ahead of his sluggers. Matheny isn’t so hidebound as to eschew it; after all, he tried it earlier in the season, hitting Molina second 12 times, mostly in interleague matches. Molina’s lack of speed adversely affects the team more when he bats in the lower half of the lineup, where manufacturing runs is more obligatory. Better to have him on base ahead of the likes of Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, whose power can allow Molina to score more easily than small-balling with Pete Kozma.
2. Four-man rotation, with Wacha
The Cardinals have three of the best starters in the National League in Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. Unfortunately, after that trio, the next tier of starters is nearly an entire point worse in fielding-independent pitching. The team may be able to go with a three-man rotation in the playoffs, but until they get there — and to help ensure that they do — they still have to keep a somewhat-deep rotation. But it doesn’t have to be five-deep. Indeed, the more starts that they can give to their top three, the more chances for victories they’ll have. As for a fourth, Jake Westbrook, Tyler Lyons and Joe Kelly don’t give the team as good a chance as has Michael Wacha, starting tonight against the Cubs. Give Wacha a chance to show what he can do — he has only three starts, compared to 16, seven and six, respectively, for the others. Leave all others to the bullpen.
3. Jon Jay, every day
Well, surprise, surprise: After struggling through the first month of the season with a sub-.300 OBP, Jon Jay has regressed to his career average (.355) and is now at .343. Unfortunately, that early-season performance perhaps unduly influenced Mike Matheny’s opinion of his center fielder, and the Cardinal manager has all too often benched Jay for Shane Robinson, a likable but inferior player. And that’s not merely against righties: Jay also produces better than the righty Sugar Shane against left-handers:
|wOBA vs. LHP||wOBA vs. RHP|
We like platoons in general, but only when the players complement each other. As the club has seen with the difference between its first- and second-string catchers, the difference in center field is too pronounced to take anything near a platoon approach.
4. More Matt Adams
For being persona non grata in spring, Adams has quietly pumped up the offense this season with a .340 OBP/.489 SLG. With Carlos Beltran hurting the team in the field (not to mention at least one mental boner at the plate), Adams gives the team flexibility, rotating Craig to right field for Beltran, with little to no loss in productivity. If it helps Beltran to rest a bit more down the stretch (especially with an eye toward starting as much as possible in the playoffs), Mike Matheny should give as many starts to Adams as possible. The semi-regular work will likely only make him better, too.
5. Moratorium on non-pitcher bunts
Just to simplify it for Mike Matheny — as well as the players who are “rolling their own” — let’s have a policy by which no non-pitchers ever bunt. Take it off the table as an option for these final 47 games and focus on avoiding outs. We’re confident that the team will score more. If Matheny wants to tactically bring back the sac bunt in the playoffs, that’s fine. But give the team its best chance of getting there in the first place.