ST. LOUIS - Randal Grichuk is no longer the future in left field for the St. Louis Cardinals. Neither is Tommy Pham for that matter, but with the Cardinals needing all the offense it can muster, practical thinking needs to be used in deciding who gets playing time in the outfield this week.
In case you missed it, the Cardinals swept the lowly Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend, gathering some dignity after a tumultuous seven game losing streak zapped their confidence. Now, the Milwaukee Brewers-4-6 in their last ten games yet leading the Central-ride into town for a four game set. If someone circled this series as the first must win series of 2017, buy that person a drink and listen to their instinct on their next prediction, because this June 13-16 series is carrying implications.
The aftermath of this series may point the beak of General Manager of John Mozeliak in a direction for his midseason buy/sell position, so getting the lineup right is a must, which falls on manager Mike Matheny, but will depend on what moves Mozeliak makes heading into Tuesday's doubleheader.
Allow me to be blunt on a hot afternoon: there's no logical reason for Grichuk to start over Pham right now. I don't care if Roy Hobbs and Obi Wan Kenobi helped Grichuk with his swing down in Palm Beach, or if the baseball gods touched the Texas native's bat with the faint touch of redemptive excellence. It doesn't matter. Statistics matter, and the recent stats are especially noteworthy.
Pham has refused to stop hitting since he arrived in Atlanta to help the hurting Cardinals on May 5. He collected six hits, three home runs, and drove in five runners during that three game set. His bat hasn't cooled off yet, with his batting average staying strong at .302 and his slugging percentage sitting at a robust .897.
Pham's .406 on base percentage is very impressive, given his ability to strike out, but this year the percentage of strikeouts is down to 28 percent from last year's horrible 44 percent. Pham's 18 walks represents a higher rate than the previous two seasons as well, adding another valve of assault to his weaponry. Pham leads the Cardinals with six stolen bases, and if he can stop getting picked off first base, the number could easily rise to ten before July hits.
The main issue with Pham has always been health; how much time he can spend on the field before getting hurt. He couldn't last two at bats in 2016 before getting hurt, and missed chunks of the previous seasons with hamstring injuries. Suffice to say, the man is hungry and not giving starts away. That is, unless Mozeliak treats Grichuk like Kolten Wong 2.0.
Via Rick Hummel on Friday, Mozeliak told a crowd of reporters that Grichuk would not only be back soon, but that his playing time would be higher than ever when he did return. "Sink or swim" were Mozeliak's words, and that should make Pham a very mad man.
Grichuk isn't officially returning, and there hasn't been a heavy indicator that it will happen this week, but this much is certain: if the Cards care about winning, they will start Pham until he stops hitting. And I am not talking a couple of games, but a sustained streak of missing baseballs. In other words, Grichuk's month of May, where the left fielder had as many total bases (28) as hits.
Like Wong, Grichuk has put together a couple fine seasons, but shouldn't be given anything. I mention Wong because I made the case last year and over the winter that he isn't entitled to starts simply because he holds promise and provided the team with a 2 WAR season. He has to earn it, and that was going up against Jedd Gyorko for starts.
Grichuk had an opportunity to run away with the left field starting job, and he fumbled it. He shouldn't come back, hand Matheny a get out of jail free card, and jump back in. He hasn't done anything to earn it. Grichuk's strikeout rate this year is hideous 33 percent, and his power numbers are down.
Sure, Pham can get hurt tomorrow or stop hitting, but Grichuk shouldn't get those starts until one of those things happens. At this point, Grichuk should be worrying about names like Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra more than Pham. He is getting pushed when it comes to depth on this team, and he's had the opportunity.
Pham is making plays in the field, at the plate, and doing enough on the bases to energize this team. If the Cards are going to make a comeback or merely stay relevant, they will need hitters like Pham; producers who are coming through in the clutch. There's no time for projects like Grichuk. Make him earn it.
Neither player is the long term option for the Cardinals, but right now, the choice for playing time should be an easy one.
If you had told me in January that Tommy Pham would be beating Randal Grichuk out for starts in June, I wouldn't have believed you, and asked for some of your whiskey. But that's how baseball goes sometimes. The "you never know" aspect prevails more often than expected.
Thanks for reading.
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