Pick-Six: The Cardinals Have an Identity Crisis…And It’s the Season’s First Week

A stream of consciousness on local and national sports headlines…

1. It’s early, but six games into the season and the Cards…
…are already suffering from an identity crisis. Successful teams have talent, good coaching, as well as execute the fundamentals. It’s no secret that those franchises are also self-aware. Great teams, from top to bottom, have a deep understanding of who they are, what they stand for, and what their philosophy is. All offseason and throughout spring training the Cards preached more athleticism and better defense. Every move John Mozeliak made last winter was intended to improve the defense and the focus of Mike Matheny’s spring training was to improve that area as well. Yet the first six games of the season were littered with gaffs in the outfield and at the corner infield spots. Granted, once Stephen Piscotty (head, knee) returns to the lineup, Matt Adams will return to his primary role as a pinch hitter.

Still, if the emphasis all offseason was on improving the defense, why was Adams forced to learn left field on the fly? Jose Martinez will never be confused with Kevin Kiermaier, but he is an outfielder (unlike Adams). With the offense struggling, Matheny sacrificed defense in left for Adams’ bat. The trade off wasn’t worth it in the end, which is fine. Not every decision a manager makes throughout the course of a 162-game season will pan out. But six games into the season, we’re already left scratching our heads as to who the 2017 Cardinals are.

2. That said, it’s still only six games and if you look at the rest…
…of the league, several contenders are off to slow starts. The Blue Jays, Indians, Rangers, Mets and Giants are all expected to via for at least a wild card berth in their respective leagues and those teams are a combined 11-20 to start the season. It’s early. Way too early to show as much panic as the Cardinal faithful have shown after the Reds took two of three at Busch. The offense (save for a 10-run outburst against 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo), the bullpen and the defensive miscues are all concerning, but it’s a little early to make declarative statements on how the Cards’ season will play out. Somewhere Tony La Russa is muttering to himself, “It’s the first week of the season!”

Peralta struck out seven times through his first 14 at-bats this season.

3. “It’s the first week of the season” or not, one issue that could…
…plague the Cards throughout the year is the lack of a true cleanup hitter. Again, once Piscotty returns, perhaps this problem will fix itself. That said, it’s not as if most considered Piscotty a “true” cleanup hitter anyway. This was a concern heading into the season and six games in, it’s a concern now. At the very least, I thought Jhonny Peralta would give the club professional at bats until Piscotty was healthy enough to reassume the job. Instead, Peralta has struck out seven times in 14 at bats, eight of which came in the cleanup spot. For as good as Yadier Molina has looked to start the season, he’s not the answer at No. 4 either, and Randal Grichuk has fared better batting further down the order. The bullpen should rebound. The offense struggled out of the gates last year before scoring 779 runs to finish fourth in that category in all of baseball. When Piscotty returns, the defense won’t be as vulnerable as it was over the last four games. I’m less optimistic, however, that the lack of a true cleanup threat is going to solve itself over the course of the season.

4. The best thing about where the Blues are right now…
…is that their playoff fate will come down to execution. Above I mentioned how the 2017 Cards are already suffering from an identity crisis and in the recent past, I’ve said the same about the Blues. Not now; not since Mike Yeo took over for Ken Hitchcock. We know what this team is and what this team isn’t. They’re not that big, heavy team that they were under Hitch, the one that often tried to grab a lead and then wear on teams until the clock ran out. Under Yeo, the defense is going to play mostly zone, they’re going to protect Jake Allen as much as possible, and they’re going to attempt to generate offense from back to front. If they win most of their puck battles, limit the odd-man rushes, and control the neutral zone while in transition, they’re going to be competitive throughout the postseason. This team isn’t a mystery like they have been in year’s past. Despite their recent hot play elevating expectations in St. Louis, they’re also somewhat playing with house money. We’ll see next week if they can execute enough to make a run at this thing.

5. It’s extremely rare when NFL teams win without QBs, but…
…it should be a no-brainer that the Browns select Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick later this month. No, Cleveland still doesn’t have a quarterback and if the team is ever going to turn around its misfortune, it will need to find a franchise signal-caller at some point. That said, I watched some of Garrett’s film over the weekend and he’s a freak. Not many prospects stand 6-foot-4, 272 pounds and own an 82 5/8-inch wingspan. From a pass-rushing standpoint, Garrett isn’t a one-trick pony either. He can transfer speed into power (which is important because when NFL tackles take away a pass rusher’s edge, that defense has to be able to transfer that quickness into strength in efforts to push the lineman backwards) and he can bend the edge as if he were a man half his size. On top of his physical skills, Garrett comes across as someone who is committed to football, which cannot be understated at this time of year. He’s the best player in the draft and not even the Browns can screw this up (uh…I think).

6. In one weekend, Sergio Garcia changed the narrative…
…of his career. Admit it, you were waiting for Garcia to fold. I was. As likeable as he is, that’s the perception he has given golf fans over the year. That said, it’s only April but Garcia’s victory in the masters is already one of the best sports stories of the year. The guy was on an 0-for-73 drought in the majors, which puts Phil Mickelson’s 0-for-46 skid back in 2004 into perspective. When he went into the sudden-death duel with Justin Rose, seemingly everyone was rooting for Garcia, who didn’t disappoint. On his final shot, he drained a 12-footer when he could have two-putted to victory after Rose missed his par attempt. Despite Matt Kuchar nailing a hole-in-one on Sunday that briefly stole the spotlight, this was Garcia’s moment.

More: Miklasz – The Cardinals Had a Disappointing Week … But It’s Early … It’s Early … It’s Early … It’s Early