I'm not much of a 'party-er'. I don't enjoy the bar scene and I'm too much of a beer snob to get lit up with any degree of frequency. I do have friends, however, that enjoy their share of Franklins (or perhaps they should be called Batistas now). Last night's game, with its messy 6 run first inning, is like one of those night's when you're out with a friend and the first bar you go to they order, say, a Three Wise Men shot to start the night. They look around with a dumb grin on their face and there's little you can do but sigh and realize that you're in for a long, likely painful, night that you'll regret the next day.
That's what last night's game felt like.
With the advent of morning, I have to wonder if Tony La Russa regrets letting one of his best pitchers on staff pitch 105 tired, bone-weary pitches over just 3.1 innings. I understand that La Russa is trying to save his bullpen but they had an offday just two days prior. If there's an argument for both Miguel Batista and Ryan Franklin to be in the same bullpen (and let's be clear, there isn't a good argument for that) then it was yesterday's game and the argument is to save the bullpen and a young pitcher's arm from a bad outing.
Ryan Franklin did find his way into the game but make no mistake about it, Tony La Russa failed Jaime Garcia last night. Perhaps this amounts to nothing in the end but if Garcia starts experiencing arm problems this season, this is the game that people will point to. Garcia admitted to being 'gassed' after the game saying that he "wasn't sure he'd ever thrown that many pitches in (one) inning." For a pitcher who isn't far removed from Tommy John surgery to be put in that kind of a situation . . . that is poor managerial decision making.
Let's do one of those fun side by side anonymous player comparisons:
Please ignore the fact that I'm shading the metrics of choice to build my narrative but here it is any way. Daniel Descalso (Player B) looks a lot like the 3B equivalent of Brendan Ryan (Player A). They both are contact oriented hitters (Descalso has more power than Ryan though not much), playing elite defense and generally aren't very good at offense. I feel much more comfortable calling Brendan Ryan an elite defender than Daniel Descalso who we've seen much less of but has, thus far, been quite impressive.
He's also been mostly what you'd expect with the bat, which is to say, not much. Descalso had exactly one good year in the minors and that was at Springfield, which can be a launching pad for left-handed hitters (e.g. Tyler Henley, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter). That said, he clearly has value as a defensive player. He's got to hit better than Brendan Ryan to make up for the positional adjustment between being a shortstop and a third baseman.
What role does an elite defender have on the Cardinals' team? In my view, his pairing with Allen Craig at 2B makes a ton of sense. They're opposite handed hitters and while Craig would get the lion's share of starts at 2B, Descalso would be an ideal substitute against right handed pitchers with pronounced splits and late innings where the Cardinals are in the lead.
That tapers quite nicely into the last topic I wanted to cover today. The Cardinals have been hit by some bad injuries (Bryan Augenstein, Nick Punto, David Freese) that have allowed a variety of guys to come up from the minors for periods of time to fill in. The team is playing with lesser options because the player they started the season with is on the DL . . . or, in some cases, because they're making some bad roster decisions.
Leaving aside the Batista/Franklin debacle, the Cardinals are carrying some truly awful middle infield options. With Tyler Greene as your only real backup option to an out of position Ryan Theriot and Allen Craig as a legitimate 2B option, one has to wonder what kind of sense Skip Schumaker makes for this roster. Schumaker has played 156 games for the Cardinals since the start of 2010 with nearly a full season's equivalent number of PAs (603). During that time, he has a slash line that reads .259/.329/.338 while playing, arguably, the worst defense at second base in the majors.
There isn't a clear need for Skip Schumaker on a roster that also includes Tyler Greene, Nick Punto, Ryan Theriot, Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso. (Can we send Pete Kozma back to Memphis while we're at it? Talk about player's with no apparent use on the active roster . . . sheesh.) Even acknowledging the injuries to Punto, there still looks like four players for two positions to me. But wait, Robot, hath thou forgoteth about third base? (I imagine that you all speak in Shakespearian prose at me when disagreeing with my thoughts.)
The answer at third base is one that, not long ago, I was arguing against. Matt Carpenter is hitting .287/.410/.389 in Memphis after getting off to a slow start. The Cardinals have been fielding an infield, which at times, includes all four positions under .750 OPS and three of the four under a .700 OPS. MCarp is not a typical third baseman in terms of offensive output but he's something the Cardinals could use with Albert Pujols hitting like Nick Punto.
The question was posed to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writers not long ago but framed in a terrible way.
While 3B David Freese has been down, why hasn't Memphis 3B Matt Carpenter gotten a chance to fill in with the big club? Carpenter had a scorching spring training and is now batting .292 with a .414 on-base percentage. Couldn't he help more than, say, Tyler Greene?
The question to ask isn't about Tyler Greene who, for all his faults, is a legitimate shortstop. It's about Pete Kozma, who is not a major league caliber player, and Skip Schumaker, whose offense is no longer good enough to cover up his terrible defensive liabilities. It's about the roster construction that leaves the Cardinals with no clear option at third base on an everyday basis. It's about the fact that David Freese still projects to be out for a month and that David Freese has never made it back to the active roster when projected.
2011 started out with something close to an ideal roster. Slowly, but surely, that ideal is being chipped away at. Mitchell Boggs gets sent down to be stretched out for a nebulous future starting calamity. Miguel Batista continues to hang on two months in despite being a clearly below average reliever going forward. Pete Kozma gets added to the roster after hitting for a .568 OPS in Memphis. The team is good enough to weather some injuries. It's good enough to weather some bad managerial decisions. But, frankly, it shouldn't have to.
The Cardinals would do well to get past the antiquated sense of loyalty that foists players who can't contribute on the rest of an otherwise excellent squad. The club should be more loyal to the players it needs than the superfluous ones that it clings to. The roster decisions haven't been the undoing of the club but they don't help and in a year where the Cardinals need to stay abreast of two good NL competitors (Reds, Brewers) intentionally playing with a short stack is foolhardy.