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A hitter short?

Before we go any further, the big news: Troy Glaus's conference call re: his upcoming magical mystery rehab tour went about as well as could have been expected, and that still means that the Cardinals will be lucky to see him back before the first of August. Or after the first of August. The pertinent information from Mozeliak: 

"When I say the words ‘encouragement, good news,' that means he's taken the next step to get back," said Mozeliak. "I don't think there's any guarantees he's going to play."

I'd accuse Moz of attempting to redefine "encouragement" and "good news", which already have perfectly good meanings, but it's honestly a fair way of characterizing things. As strange as the injuries on this team have played out, from Carpenter's return and strange interlude to the Khalil Greene situation and the late-breaking, shadowy injuries to the Cardinals' top two options at third base, any news at all is good news; any hopeful thought that Glaus might play a meaningful game in 2009 is encouragement. 

Until he swings a bat while other people are watching, Glaus has earned himself a place atop the Carpenter Throne for now—if he does anything, it'll be a wonderful surprise; in the meantime, I'm thinking about this team as if he doesn't exist.


Some games are tough to write about because the take-home from them is so obvious as to sound condescending: well, in games in which the starter defers to a Pretty Good bullpen after one inning, the Cardinals as currently constructed should score more than three runs—especially when the other team has put itself in the unenviable position of having just twelve pitchers available to cover any nine innings. Obviously. These are the ones that count, and you only get 162 of them. 

Joe Thurston, at this point the team's de facto plexiglaus, got on base four times and hit two doubles, so he did his best, but getting put down by the likes of Mike Lincoln and an honest-to-God left-handed screwball specialist is going to raise questions about the positional reason that Jason LaRue hit sixth yesterday no matter how well its incumbent performs.

The presence of LaRue and even Molina in the spots immediately following Pujols is maybe the most obvious tribute to the idea that the Cardinals are a hitter short, and third base is the one historically hitter-filled position that they do not fill, every day, with someone they are at least hoping and praying will hit soon. 

But being a hitter short isn't about the one you don't have—we've filled that slot with just about every prospective third baseman already—it's about the ones who don't perform, and the safety net that doesn't exist when the fifth "RBI" option is a guy who runs to first base when he's walked.

May was the worst-case scenario of this idea brought to life. The Cardinals lost options two (Ludwick), three-four-five (Duncan/Rasmus/Ankiel), and seven (Molina) to a combination of injuries and straight ineffectiveness for a better part of the month, and the predictable result was a cumulative line that looked like a bad year from Jeromy Burnitz—.230/.299/.389, with just 3.5 runs a game over the duration. The Cardinals could have used... well, they could have used six more guys to rotate in, but above all they could have used a little production—one more shot at a guy who wasn't slumping—from third base, where they instead got a lot of regression from their collection of utility infielders. 

I'm not sure if it tracks with anybody else's, but my idea of what happens when a team is a hitter short is that they're unable to get the guys who can rake across the plate; the middle of the order does its thing, and then 6-7-8-9 putters around and strands baserunners. Which leads me to this table: 

2008-6 .279 .346 .396 2009-6 .213 .287 .333
2008-7 .283 .347 .389 2009-7 .224 .313 .374
2008-9 .267 .322 .325 2009-8 .251 .313 .417
2008-8 .205 .253 .298 2009-9 .199 .273 .263

Those attractive numbers in the sixth and seventh holes are half-Molina, half a cast of thousands—Mather, Lopez, whoever was in the lineup at the moment. This year Molina's moved quite literally "up" a slot—where before he was split in a rough 60/40 between sixth and seventh, with Glaus gone he's spent about forty percent of his plate appearances hitting fourth and fifth. 

With Molina, a basically average hitter, pressed into service as sportscaster-approved protection for the Pujolses and Ludwicks of the world, the sixth and seventh spots are left to the offensive misfits. Right now they're on pace to drive in twenty fewer runs than they did last year. So when four and five aren't hitting, either, there'll come a few days in which nobody's around to bother tying the game against the Reds bullpen.