It's hard to say, from this instant, whether it had more to do with the Cardinals' faith in David Freese or Kolten Wong's slow start. Regardless, it's happened: Wong has made three starts since August 25, while Freese has made three in the last four days. Through August they were determined to out-not-do each other, with Freese closing out the time since Wong's promotion at .211/.211/.237 and Wong getting off to a .182/.206/.212 start.
After that—well, Freese is 6-19 with a double and two home runs, and Wong is 1-11 with 11 at-bats, six of them coming in 16 contiguous innings in Cincinnati.
It's not quite Pete Kozma, but Wong is now two for his last 26. (Granted: Before that he was five for his last 10.) Meanwhile, the end of Freese's home run drought was cause on Sunday for a strategy update from Mike Matheny. Chad Thornburg at MLB.com has the money quote:
"This isn't about exposure [for Wong], taking a test drive here. This is about what's going to give us the best chance to win today," Matheny said. "David is going to be in there and a big part of our lineup."
This is self-evidently true, of course—the Cardinals are going to play whoever will help them get into the postseason—but Matheny's willingness to say it is probably bad news for people looking for more starts for Kolten Wong. Even with Allen Craig hurt he's at the wrong end of the platoon to benefit.
Memphis's season is over now, anyway, so I'm even more skeptical than usual about the fear that this could hinder Wong's development. The Cardinals' calculus is easy: If he's an average defensive third baseman, they'd rather have Freese's bat (ZiPS says .269/.340/.408 the rest of the way) than Wong's (.272/.321/.378.)
Of course, there's been little reason this year to guess Freese is an average third baseman this year, which is why the Cardinals' willingness to corroborate his terrible defensive metrics is also important. Baseball Reference's DRS has him at -13; Fangraphs has him at -15. The Cardinals have him at—this is Joe Strauss's column, now—
"It had gotten to the point where David looked a step slow in the field. His reactions seemed different to me," Matheny said.
So slow, in fact, that the trainers gave him a look, finding nothing. But if the threat of Kolten Wong or the time off from Kolten Wong was enough to make him good-enough in the field, even a weakened Freese is a hitter worth keeping around.
So now Wong is just—well, he's a little-used September call-up. Having seen him in August, when the Cardinals seemed legitimately interested in benching Freese, it looks like a step back, a surprising change of plans. Having watched his numbers go from slow start to bad start, it looks like a really nasty rookie card.
But if Freese had managed to keep it together enough to stave him off in August, this is about what we might have expected for Kolten Wong in September: Taking just as much playing time as he can in a playoff race, making an occasional start and coming in on the back-end of double switches whenever possible.
It's not an indictment of Wong—it's a return to what we thought the status quo was going to be.