ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Cardinals aren't having a great week so far. To quote Crash Davis, they are dealing with a lot of stuff.
While the Birds managed to win five of seven against the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks last week, they have come under fire with their public relations department and in their front office. It's like a game of charades without end, and 2017 is a mixed bag of puzzle pieces that don't fit for an organization that doesn't usually experience this much turbulence in a season. Not that it's a completely new look for the team.
Two years ago, it was a hacking scandal with the Houston Astros and another player (Cody Stanley) in their organization going down with a PED suspension. Alex Reyes broke the drug policy and got a 50 game suspension in the early days of 2016, but the team regrouped and moved on.
This season, the Cardinals aren't just battling for a playoff spot against all odds, but are experiencing a tug of war with the .500 mark during a season fro the first time since 2007. Lineup certainties like Stephen Piscotty have not performed up to expectations and others like Dexter Fowler simply can't stay healthy long enough to make a dent. The pitching has been strong, but the bullpen has sprung a few leaks, and the lineup can go very quiet for days.
And then there are the personnel issues. Mike Matheny was quoted in the St. Louis Post Dispatch Monday complaining about bitter fans, even the ones who packed 48,000 strong into a July home game in the midst of a losing season. I don't care what Matheny thinks he knows or controls, but taking a shot at the fans who make your baseball team relevant isn't a good look even for a manager who is halfway liked.
Cardinals All Star catcher Yadier Molina has taken to social media twice this past week to voice displeasure and/or discord with the organization. In a couple of Instagram posts — which Molina has not taken down — he was unhappy with Matheny making excuses for his play in a quote to the Post, and then stated that he misses Jose Oquendo, who is training young Cardinals in Jupiter, Florida.
One would have to be blind to call this nothing, or perhaps a minimal matter that doesn't require introspection. Molina has sounded off in the past on Instagram or to the press, but quickly deleted his comments or reverted back to the status quo. This season, he is standing by his claims, and while it's not a good look for a team leader, it depends on the context for one to make a judgment.
I don't condone Molina's actions, but he is an authentic old school ballplayer who senses something with his manager and team that he doesn't like. Maybe it's the fact that young Carson Kelly has arrived from Memphis, but it isn't like the youngster is getting many starts. Molina is still the man and is paid like it, but it's a bad look for a team to have your most valuable player taking shots at a manager that mentored him for many years.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. didn't care for Molina's comments, stating there was a better way to handle it.
The front office promised change if the team didn't improve during a coaching shuffle back on June 8, but did nothing yesterday at the trade deadline. The Cardinals went 14-12 in July, making little improvement, but John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch did little to change the team's makeup.
No one wants their front office to make a move just to say they shopped at the grocery store on a particular day, but action proves that a plan is in place. At the moment, I am not sure the Cards know what their plan is, other than pay the guys who make the most money or find a way to trade them. The whipping boys in Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams and Jaime Garcia are long gone.
Here's the thing: if the Cards believed they could contend this season, they would have found a trade partner to help bolster their pen or a bat to improve their lineup. Something to shake up a misguided team.
If they wanted to focus on 2018 and beyond, they would have traded Lance Lynn, Trevor Rosenthal, and an outfielder, so younger pieces could play full time. Instead, they did nothing, promising a wholesale change in November. Yawn.
Then, Ken Rosenthal reported last night that the Oakland A's and Cardinals were talking about Stephen Piscotty and Sonny Gray, but the American League club chose the Yankees batch of prospects instead. The Cardinals invested six years in Piscotty earlier this year but were ready to trade him yesterday.
The Cardinals invested five years in Kolten Wong but struggled to find a spot for him once Jedd Gyorko showed up last season. Randal Grichuk is the streakiest of hitters on this team, but he will stay and get starts while Harrison Bader will go down to Memphis. Or is it Piscotty taking Bader's time? This team has me confused yet alert.
Sunday, after the team held Christian Day at the ballpark, reports came out that Outsports writer Erik Hall was denied a press credential. Hall is a gay reporter who simply wanted to cover the event for his LGBT Publication, but was denied a pass. All of this is a story because of former Cardinal Lance Berkman — a well-known anti-LGBT campaigner — was the lead speaker.
Now, it's important to point out that the Cardinals have tightened up their press credential distribution this season. The team does not credential local sports bloggers or even part-time writers from local news stations like KSDK and KMOV, if the writers lack a BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) card. However, the aftermath of the situation and its following logic doesn't really matter. The stink of the situation will exist for another week.
The Outsports incident isn't helped by the fact that the team completely mishandled Tyler Dunnington, a gay pitcher who left the organization after one season due to gay slurs and abuse from his teammates for his off-the-field preferences. History has a way of coming back around when you least expect it, and the Cardinals are suddenly not being defended by every fan in the 314. People want answers.
Most of the issues surround the product on the field. If the team wanted to aim for the future, they'd play Bader every day, Luke Weaver every fifth and Kelly twice a week. Instead, the veterans or high paid players will see the field. Too bad the Chicago Cubs have started their run-away-with-the-division routine.
2017 has shown a Cardinals team lost in translation or even worse, hibernating near transition. The team made zero upgrades to an average team, but won't make the bold play of inserting the rookies into the fray. What's the plan?
They have star players taking shots at their manager, and the labels in the front office have shifted. Mozeliak created a new role for himself just in case things got too hairy down below. Or in case his prodigy manager gets the boot.
"Independent Contractors" was a term thrown around the St. Louis Blues last season, but I think it applies more to this 2017 Cardinals team. They look like a group of guys unsure of themselves playing under a management team that has little idea what to do with the upstart and defending champion Cubs. Did that last part sting? That was the intent.
Does Matheny have any clue how to get the most out of his team? Will Mozeliak make the necessary changes to give this team new life? Will Molina post on Instagram tonight that he misses Tony La Russa's ability to manage under chaotic conditions?
The good news is baseball happens tonight. The Brewers await the Cardinals, and one thing could silence some of the issues surrounding this team: winning.
The final two months of the 2017 season will be a bumpy ride full of social media fire, inconsistent play, fifth place hitter letdowns, and perhaps more mixed message distribution.
Buy more bourbon, ladies and gentlemen.
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