And now, 5-9. Not hitting, not pitching, not doing much of anything—we are, hopefully, at this season's horse latitudes, where the order of the day is stagnation and the kind of hopeless losses that manifest themselves as shutdown performances from Jeff Suppan.
As mentioned last night, the current offensive shutdown is broad-based, with nobody but Skip Schumaker avoiding a share of the blame. Even El Hombre is down, all the way down, in May, to .289/.353/.644—Sammy Sosa instead of Ted Williams, I guess. That's why it's so unbearable; there's no one who you just know is about to start a rally, nobody who's not implicated.
But the worst of it has been parceled out to—or from—Khalil Greene, whose encouraging signs have evaporated so fast that the clouds, the silver linings, the cloudy silver-lining linings have all been left hanging in mid-air. Once upon a time I was concerned that Khalil's new on-base tendencies—nine walks in April after 22 in 100 games last season—were not silver lining his rough start but the beginning of one of those late-career collapses that befalls players who have stopped swinging because they can't hit.
But now, in May, I don't have to worry about that anymore, because he's stopped walking, too. From the heady days of his .677 April OPS we're below .500 in May, an utterly empty .200 average. (It's not just the overly positive stories of April that get buried underneath an enlarged sample size as the season goes on, it's the bad ones, too, reshaped and forgotten about.)
What I'm relatively sure this isn't is a lack of effort. Either the guy "wants it", in the generally understood sportswriter sense, or he had a different reason for punching a crate in the Padres dugout and breaking his hand to end his 2008 season. Some people are difficult to read, and I'm willing to bet that Khalil Greene is one of those people. When he's hitting well it's shyness and selflessness that makes him a quiet performer on the field, a result of his adherence to the Baha'i faith.
After Greene made his big-league debut, a sports writer observed how the shortstop celebrated by heading to the training room after the game. "Grounded," is how one scout described him. Greene calls it a matter of staying centered...
When he's not hitting it's a distance, a look in his eyes that says he'd rather be someplace else, like Ridgemont High. These are the same mannerisms; either they're easy to misinterpret, or the interpretation is informed primarily by the success he has—that any player has—on the field. Joe Thurston hits .330 and sprints to first base on a walk, and it's endearing; he hits .245 and he sprints to first, and it's irritating.
Optimism watch: Greene's PrOPS—his predicted OPS, based on the kind of balls he puts in play and the kinds he doesn't—is still .801, which would be well above our community projection from January. His BABIP might stay low—it's been pretty low for most of his career—but it won't remain at .220. It's an awful start, but so long as he avoids breaking his hand during this slow start he remains, if nothing else, the Cardinals' best shot at the replacement level from today forward.
As for Wellemeyer—well, what could anybody possibly say about Wellemeyer at this point? If it's possible, in that first inning he looked even worse than he pitched.
Oddly enough, his problems seemed to fit right into the Todd Wellemeyer/Dave Duncan narrative. In the first inning he got his fastball up to 93 mph with startling consistency, and he had no idea where it was going. Then Duncan came a-visiting. After striking out Manny Parra on a bunch of I'm-throwing-to-a-pitcher fastballs, he came into the second inning and only brushed 93 two or three times, sitting at 91, and "settled in."
The narrative fits perfectly—and it almost never does. But if overthrowing is the real problem (and he does indeed miss in a way that suggests that, up and away for fastballs, in the dirt for off-speed stuff), why is it the matter now, after he's supposed to have figured things out?
Whatever the problem is, Wellemeyer can't be allowed to make it forever. It was a nice year, an occasionally dominant one, but it was just a year, and the Cardinals have other options if his command and effectiveness continue to falter so fundamentally.