Yesterday afternoon, we saw what was, in my ever so humble opinion, the best start so far this year from a Cardinal go to waste. Chris Carpenter deserves some apologies, and a better outcome next time out.
The question, of course, is how do you get him a better outcome next time?
Well, the answer is simple: get the man some fucking runs. The problem lies in executing that plan of action. Sadly, shouting about better run production, while useful for internet columnists, isn't all that helpful for an actual baseball team.
So how do we fix this thing? Well, first, it would be helpful to understand a little bit about what has gone wrong.
The first, and biggest, reason that the Cards are struggling so badly on offense is a pretty simple one: injuries. The injury bug has once again bitten the team this year, and hard. I am, however, going to say that Troy Glaus and Ryan Ludwick, the two injuries that are pointed to most often, actually aren't the real problems. The real problems with both of those guys going down is that the safety net for each, the depth that we thought was solid at the beginning of the year, is gone as well.
Going into the season, the Cardinals looked to be rock solid in both the outfield and at third base. Joe Mather was the primary backup in the outfield, and the dangerous right-handed bat that we all foresaw being needed somewhere along the line. At third, David Freese was supposed to take the job until Glaus got back, and there was thought to be enough depth with utility guys, with Brendan Ryan and the like, to make it work on days when Freese needed to sit.
Sadly, as we've seen, both Freese and Mather have been hurt this season, and therein is the real issue. There's a lot of complaining right now that the Cardinals didn't build in enough depth, but the truth is that there was plenty of depth on the roster; the depth guys just all got hurt.
Second, there's this thirteen member bullpen bullshit. This is the sort of thing that makes me believe that Tony La Russa may have finally gone completely off the deep end. The team is carrying all these extra relievers, supposedly to protect them from being overworked or overexposed, but the biggest reason the 'pen gets so overworked is because of the way La Russa utilizes what he has down there. Case in point is the long man situation; I know I've harped on this particular situation before, but I think it bears repeating. The Cards are carrying Brad Thompson as a long reliever; he's essentially insurance in case things go horribly, horribly awry. But the presence of Thompson only highlights the question of just what role Blaine Boyer occupies on the roster. Boyer isn't good enough (or at least not consistently good enough, and that's really the same thing), to pitch in late-inning, high leverage situations, yet the team is already carrying a long man, and it isn't Boyer. So where does he stand?
Of course, this whole thing is exacerbated by the fact that the young guns in the Cardinal bullpen, Chris Perez, Jason Motte, and Kyle McClellan, have begun to turn into that three-headed monster that I think many of us were hoping for. So here's the situation: you don't want to send down any of those guys, because they're all really good. Ryan Franklin is your closer, so he's not going anywhere. The two lefties are both safe, because, well, what would a Tony La Russa bullpen be without at least two left-handers? Which leaves Boyer and Thompson, right? Ah, but there's another problem! Neither of them can be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers, which means another team could claim them, and the Cards would then lose the player. Now, of course, just how big a deal that would be is open to debate, but the skipper seems loath to let go of either one, and so we come to our last issue with this roster.
The third and final problem with the Cards' roster this year is the lack of options on several of the biggest underperformers. I've already spoken of Thompson and Boyer, but the biggest offender in this particular arena is one Joseph "Thursty Joe" Thurston.
See, Thurston, as much fun as it is to watch him sprint down to first base after a walk, just isn't a very good baseball player. He's not much of a hitter, sporting a current batting average of .231. He doesn't have any kind of power, with a slugging percentage of .375. The one and only thing that he has done pretty well this season, so far at least, is take walks and run to first. To go along with that .231 BA, Thursty Joe is sporting a nifty .339 OBP, which, while not all that great in the grand scheme of things, is pretty good when you look at the rest of his line. Any time a player can draw a walk in 14 percent of his plate appearances, that's pretty good. When the player in question is such a black hole otherwise, it's damned impressive, as you would expect at some point opposing pitchers would simply say, "Fuck it," and throw the ball down the middle. Still, so far, he's done a nice job getting on base. The problem with that is that there is absolutely nothing in his minor league career to suggest that he's capable of keeping this up. He's never had a walk rate that even began to approach the number he's putting up this year. His BB percentage is going to come down, and it's going to be ugly when it does.
Bottom line, Thurston just flat-out isn't contributing much with the bat. His offensive contributions, though, are legion compared to what he's done with the glove. Joe Thurston is an awful, awful third baseman. From everything I've read, heard, or seen, he's not really capable of playing shortstop at any kind of acceptable level either. Thus, he is limited to second base, right? Ah, but wait! If he's limited to second defensively, then why is it he's seen the lion's share of playing time over at third base?
The answer, of course, is that Tony La Russa has made Thurston his new Aaron Miles, a player who is supposedly versatile because Tony lists him on the lineup card at a bunch of different spots. The problem with that is that just because a player is capable of physically standing at a position does not, in fact, make him competent at that position.
Even with the love of Tony, though, you have to think that, eventually, Thurston would have to get sent down, right? I mean, he certainly isn't hitting, and one of those throws of his is eventually going to get Albert taken out. So he goes down. The problem with that, and the reason I got on this Thurston tangent in the first place, is the lack of options.
You can't send Thurston down without exposing him to waivers, just the same as Brad Thompson or Blaine Boyer. It's the same reason Skip Schumaker has to learn to play second base in the major leagues. Would he benefit from learning in the minors? I would be willing to bet the answer is yes. But hey, no options. And since the Cardinals have decided these are players they simply can't live without, they're essentially guaranteed a spot on the roster.
It's the reason Tyler Greene, despite being outstanding at shortstop defensively, was sent back to the minors while we're forced to watch Thursty Joe barely get the ball across the diamond on a nightly basis. It's the same reason Josh Kinney is now essentially stuck in Memphis, and Jess Todd is probably looking at a September call-up at best. The Cardinals have too many players they're overly attached to and can't send down because of the risk of losing them.
Let's face facts, folks. The Cardinals' roster right now is constructed in an asinine, ridiculous, borderline-irresponsible way. Between the unforeseen injuries to the depth guys (which I'm not blaming anyone for, by the way; sometimes things just happen), La Russa's lunatic obsession with carrying more relievers than the team could ever possibly use (in a sane way, that is), and the dead weight the Cards are lugging around because they're convinced these guys really are useful for something more than ballast, you have a royal clusterfuck. And until some changes, real changes, are made to the way this team is composed, we're going to see the same issues crop up again and again.
So what changes need to be made? Well, you'll just have to check back tomorrow, when I attempt to back my rabid, venomous ravings with some actual solutions. Until then, consider this: The Cardinals' only right-handed outfielder right now is Nick Stavinoha, but they're carrying four middle infielders and a utility infielder. Oh, and Brad Thompson is so necessary that he hasn't pitched since the 17th of May. Just chew on that.
Meanwhile, I've enlisted the help of Peter Murphy and his Bauhaus compatriots to help me as I cry out to the Cardinals: Release the bats!