By Dan Buffa
Setting-Fifth inning. Pitching duel in place. Oscar Taveras comes to the plate. He hits a majestic blast into the bullpen to give the Cards and Michael Wacha all the support they will need.
Mark the date. May 31, 2014. Oscar Taveras has arrived. Forget the Super 2 nonsense(whatever floating date that is) and get ready for a boost of fresh organic energy to Busch Stadium this weekend. This is good news for a slumping team and a stressed out fan base. Taveras has arrived, will wear #18 and is ready to take over an outfield spot for the team. Matt Adams has been placed on the disabled list with that troublesome calf and Taveras finally gets a shot to show the fans, media and baseball world what the fuss is all about. I believe Oscar can help the Cardinals and make an immediate impact. However, those fans hoping for a Willie Mays/Albert Pujols like contribution would be best suited to temper their expectations. Oscar is going to be adjusting to the fast and brutal game of Major League action, and that will take awhile. I have a feeling if the kid goes 0-4 and strikes out twice while making an error in the field, the fans will shake their heads and wonder what the hype was all about. Since St. Louis has some of the best fans in baseball though, Oscar should get time to settle in. As long as Mike Matheny commits to playing him every day and a fair chance is given, Taveras can make an impact.
Here are 5 ways Oscar helps the Cardinals.
1. His Arrival will Energize The Fanbase. The Cardinals are off to a sluggish, inconsistent and disappointing start. For a team that tasted World Series action last October, this team isn't playing well. Oscar can change that with one extra base hit. The minute Oscar cranks one into the gap and runs the bases or simply catches a flyball in right field, the fans will fall in love with this kid. He is fresh blood on a team that looks old and tired through a third of the season. He is a new player with big expectations and a man who wants to contribute. Oscar has told everyone in Memphis and Jupiter that all he wants to do is play and get a chance. That is an energy this team needs right now and something the fan base can get fired up about. Young players are the future of this game and Oscar leads that charge of young fury.
2. Oscar makes an ideal #2 hitter in the order. Kolten Wong has done a very good job using his speed and ability to get on base, but Oscar Taveras is a perfect #2 guy with his ability to hit the ball to the gaps and for power. Once Oscar gets his feet wet and settles in, Mike Matheny needs to inject him into the top of the lineup. Taveras was hitting in the #3 hole in Memphis and would be best suited to keep towards the top of the order. Wong will do just fine hitting in the lower part of the order to get on base for the changeover to Carpenter and Oscar. The benefit will be having a lineup that features three guys at the top who can get on base for the middle part of the lineup. With Adams out, Taveras will slip into the #6 hole. For now, that makes sense. Eventually, Oscar needs to hit higher in the order.
3. The Kid can flat out hit. Throughout his minor league adventures, Oscar Taveras has hit everywhere. If there is one thing that isn't in question, it's Taveras' bat. With time, it can be lethal and be a lineup force. With Matt Holliday's drop in slugging percentage, Oscar Taveras can provide a little pop this lineup needs. The Pacific Coast League is known for being hitter friendly, but what Oscar was doing in 2013 before his injury and this year as of Friday was freakish. Since the middle of May, Oscar was tearing up pitching and spitting it out hungry for a MLB invite. Oscar is going to smash the ball to all fields and run around mad on the bases. While his outfield range and baseball IQ will need time to grow and mature, Oscar's bat is legit.
4. He is not Yasiel Puig, at least in the head. Oscar is a good kid and was taken under the wing of Holliday and Trevor Rosenthal in the offseason while he was healing from his ankle injury. Having spent time with the kid at the Winter Warmup and hearing him answer questions, he is simply hungry to play and learn. There isn't a sense of cockiness about his personality and he isn't trying to step on people's toes at Busch. The best thing about Oscar is that he has experienced two spring training's with the Cards team and gotten proper tutelage from the coaches and manager. While Puig has an electric talent, his head and personality need work and have put some off. Taveras is a good kid, and is desperate to become entrenched in this game. His attitude isn't going to be a problem as he grows into a major league baseball player.
5. His young legs and ability will have an impact on his teammates. If you look at what Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong have been able to do when given the playing time and opportunity, that is only a hint of what Taveras could do for the team. Young players kickstart older players and create this competition on the team that leads to a new style of play. Taveras won't steal at bats from the veterans but he will put everyone on watch. His presence will push others like Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos to be at the top of their game while giving Holliday and Craig a gentle nudge. It would be illogical to think Oscar could come right into this lineup and launch the teams average with runners in scoring position. Here's the thing. Pitcher's don't know him. He has a big bat. The odds, at least right now, are in Oscar and the Cardinals favor.
Just remember folks. Temper the excitement this week. The hardest part for fans(and local scribes like myself) is understanding how long it takes for young players to adjust to this level. So I say this with a tap on my own shoulder. Let Oscar uncoil and slowly soak up the way this game is played on the highest level. Getting used to traveling and the rigors of expectation and media attention. Instead of 2-3 cameras at his locker after a game, there will be about 15-20. How does he handle that? Does he collapse under the bright lights of a big city and an even bigger game? I am excited for Oscar and I think he is exactly what the Cardinals need. His fresh legs and bat will be like a 5 hour energy drink that keeps on going. A red bull for a team looking pretty decaffeinated at the moment. He isn't Albert Pujols. He isn't Puig. He isn't Mickey Mantle. The one thing I hate in sports, movies and pretty much anywhere is comparison. Why do we have to compare players all the time? It's a useless activity that ends up drowning people in disappointment. So I tell you today, forget the comparisons. Let Oscar Taveras be his own player.
If the patience is there, Oscar may give Cardinal Nation the exact kind of boost it needs. Look at today's game as a direct example.
Dan Buffa is an sports writer for Sports Rants. He is also a contributor to KSDK.com and Arch City Sports while writing for his own website, Dose Of Buffa. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @buffa82.