After beginning the season with lofty expectations the Cardinals have struggled in their first month with 13 wins and 12 losses. The main culprit, as outlined in an earlier article, is the lack of hitting and more specifically a lack of power throughout the lineup. However, the bullpen has also struggled at times which is causing Manager Mike Matheny to rely too much on some pitchers. So here are five ways the club could improve, incorporating statistics accumulated through yesterday's Major League and minor league games.
#1 - Call up Randal Grichuk and send down Shane Robinson
The popular names mentioned for a possible call up from Memphis are Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty. However, Grichuk is the man who could help the most right away.
The number one thing missing in the Cardinal's lineup right now is power, and Grichuk's best tool is his power. Throughout his minor league Grichuk has hit for power, and this year he has a .542 SLUG over his first 90 plate appearances in Memphis. Oscar Taveras (.474 SLUG) and Stephen Piscotty (.457 SLUG) have had good starts to the season but not shown the same amount of power as Grichuk.
Most importantly, Grichuk is the most competent centerfielder of the Memphis trio, playing 15 games at that position this year. Taveras can play in center, but Taveras has struggled with injuries early this year and the wear and tear of centerfield may only make him more injury prone. Grichuk could take Shane Robinson's spot on the bench and get playing time in centerfield and right field while Peter Bourjos and Allen Craig work out of their slumps. As a pinch hitter Grichuk would also offer much more power than Robinson or anyone else currently on the roster.
#2 - Call up Greg Garcia and send down Daniel Descalso
So far this year Daniel Descalso has hit .111 wiht a .172 OBP and a .185 SLUG percentage over 30 plate appearance. As a backup at second base and shortstop, Descalso has somehow managed to produce worst lines than Kolten Wong (.258 AVG, .276 OBP, .268 SLUG) and Johnny Peralta (.175 AVG, .267 OBP, .388 SLUG).
It is time for some infusion of talent at the middle infield spot, and the Greg Garcia in Memphis just happens to play second base and shortstop. Last year Garcia put up a respectable .271 AVG, .377 OBP, .384 SLUG in Memphis. This year Garcia is playing even better with a .277 AVG, .362 OBP, .554 SLUG line including 5 home runs.
Garcia bats left, so he can spell Johnny Peralta against righthanded pitchers from time to time while also providing some relief to the so-far disastrous Wong-Ellis combination at second base.
#3 - Stop dumb baserunning mistakes
For a team that is struggling to get hits the Cardinals have been giving away outs like yard signs in an election. Baserunning is measured somewhat subjectively, but the folks at Fangraphs have tried to make it more scientific with the Ultimate Base Running measure. That measure gives players a positive rating for a taking an extra base when they can and should, and a negative rating for getting out on the bases when they should not. The Cardinals UBR in 2014 is -2.1, which ranks 27th in the Major Leagues.
The Cardinals were suppose to be more lethal on the base paths with the additoin of Wong and Bourjos, but instead both players have struggled to get on base and the players who have gotten on base have often got themselves out by trying to advance when they should not. The blame can sometimes be placed on management who puts on a steal, hit and run, or go sign when they should not. The most recent example was when third base coach Jose Oquendo sent Matt Carpenter home on a close play with just one out and the Cardinals trailing by one run late against the Mets. Carpenter was thrown out at home, and the team went on to lose the game by one.
The most precious commodity in baseball is an out, and it is therefore an unforgivable sin when the Cardinals give away outs while simultaneously struggling to score runs.