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The Cardinals have no infield bench

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The Cardinals have been thin on the infield all season long, but after trades and injuries the Cardinals are down to just Daniel Descalso.

Justin K. Aller

That's what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the bench.

Daniel Descalso is the backup first baseman.

Who?

Daniel Descalso is the backup second baseman.

What?

Daniel Descalso is the backup third baseman.

I don't know

Daniel Descalso is the backup shortstop.

Why?

The opening day roster might be difficult to remember, but Pete Kozma lasted two weeks and three plate appearances before being demoted. Allen Craig was on the roster, too, but he moved on to Boston to help the rotation and free up playing time for Oscar Taveras. Greg Garcia has been recalled, demoted, recalled, and demoted again. Mark Ellis removed Kozma from the roster, but found himself somewhat mysteriously on the disabled list after struggling all year. Daniel Descalso is now the backup to every single infield position on the Cardinals. To make matters worse, Descalso's lefthandedness is duplicative of three of the four infield starters

None of the players Descalso has survived are particularly good players at this point in their careers. While Ellis was expected to provide insurance if Kolten Wong faltered, he provided steady defense and nothing at the plate, hitting .191/.267/.228. Pete Kozma was given a full year to distinguish himself in 2013, but despite good defense was merely a replacement player and has done nothing in the minors this season to think otherwise. Much has been written about Allen Craig and his struggles this season, and he could have proved a solid platoon partner with Matt Adams or valuable bat of the bench, but too much time as a regular over Oscar Taveras meant his departure. Greg Garcia received only 16 plate appearances in the majors and has proved average in the minors with little power but does have the ability to play multiple infield positions.

Descalso has not played well, hitting just .221/.296/.295 for a wRC+ of 71. Descalso does have experience playing second base, shortstop, and third base, but he has not performed well at any one of those positions. He does not have enough experience at any of the positions, between 700 and 1100 innings at each, but at no position does he have a positive UZR or Defensive Runs Saved. His overall performance is not due simply to being a part-time player or pinch hitter, which is admittedly difficult. Descalso averaged nearly 400 plate appearances per year from 2011-2013.

Of course, that Descalso is not a very good baseball player at the major league level is not news. He was a non-tender arbitration candidate in the offseason, but prior to reaching a deal with Mark Ellis, Descalso was offered arbitration and received over a million dollars in salary for 2014. Ben questioned Descalso's status on the roster at the beginning of March. His experience won out in spring training over Greg Garcia and his spot was cemented when Ellis was injured to start the season. Despite his status as the only infielder on the bench to last all season on the roster, his playing time has been infrequent. His 132 plate appearances rank 13th on the team.

There has been a considerable amount of hand-wringing among fans whenever Descalso has received a start, especially given Matheny's confusing statements regarding fairness when it comes to Descalso. However, due to the iron man status of Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta, Matheny's words have not matched up with Descalso's playing time. Carpenter has made all but three starts at third base this year. Jhonny Peralta has started 124 of 132 games at shortstop, leaving Descalso just eight starts there. Add in another eight starts at second base, and Descalso has started just 19 games in the 23-week season thus far.

Descalso's contribution this season has been negative, but minimally so considering the alternatives. For the second straight year, John Mozeliak has made a move in the offseason to bolster infield depth (Wigginton, Ellis). In both seasons, that move fizzled out. Playing Greg Garcia or Pete Kozma are likely better options than Descalso, but the negative impact is not great. His win probability added, which includes measures normally removed in objective statistics, like game situation and baserunners, is just -0.11.

The Cardinals will have limited bench options until rosters are expanded. Until September 1st, the Cardinals have no right-handed power bat to accompany Matt Adams (Xavier Scruggs anyone?), no defensive help to give Peralta a break in blowouts (Kozma?), and no all-around utility player to provide flexibility late in games (Garcia?). They probably could have used better help than Descalso provided earlier in the season as well as someone Mike Matheny had confidence playing in practice in addition to his words to provide Peralta and Carpenter actual rest.

The Cardinals will play 30 games in the next 31 games including eight day games after night games. The Cardinals' infield is working without a net. The team will continue to lean on Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams (117 games despite a stint on the disabled list), and of late, Kolten Wong. The infield bench provides questions with only unsatisfactory answers. It is not Daniel Descalso's fault he has survived on the bench, but if the Cardinals are to make it to October, it is the starters who will need to do the surviving.