Major League Baseball | St. Louis Cardinals

The 2016 Cardinals Are an Ever-Changing ‘Psycho Front’ in Several Ways

There’s a concept defensive coordinators like to use in football called a “psycho front.” This is where the defense has one, two, or even zero defensive linemen with their hands on the ground while everyone else in the front seven walks around almost aimlessly as if they were in a zombie apocalypse.

carlos martinez
Carlos Martinez has been the Cards’ 2016 ace thus far with a 4-1 record through five starts.

Another term associated with the “psycho front” is the “Amoeba” defense, nicknamed for its shapeless, ever-changing form. The goal of the defense is simple: Create confusion.

Quarterbacks can’t set their offensive line protections properly because they don’t know where potential rushers will attack. Since defenders aren’t stationary, it’s not clear to the signal-caller what kind of underneath coverage the defense will run on a given play either.

Not only is the defense confusing, it’s ever-changing, never stagnant, and often leads to plenty of frustration.

So basically it’s the 2016 Cardinals.

Baseball fans often want to project what a team is going to do in October by defining what they are in April. It’s insanity; an exercise in futility.

Take the Cards for example.

They have plenty of power…against weak pitching.

Their rotation has a solid 1-2 punch…but it’s Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, not Adam Wainwright and some combination of either Wacha or expensive free agent edition Mike Leake.

Their young core shows plenty of promise…if you don’t consider Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk part of said core (which John Mozeliak obviously does, which was evident in the commitment he made to both players leading up the 2016 season).

They can play defense…actually they can’t play defense.

Who are the 2016 Cardinals? Ever-changing. Confusing. Frustrating.

As some have pointed out, the Cards need a consistent middle of the order presence, a rock in the cleanup spot that can strike fear into opposing pitchers. That’s ultimately true, but it’s also not a cure-all for a team that is inconsistent as a whole.

A solid middle of the order presence goes a long way to deepen the lineup but it’s not an end-all, be-all solution against the top pitching in the National League. Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw are equal opportunist when it comes to carving up the middle or bottom of a lineup.

A new cleanup hitter doesn’t fix the defense either, which has been an issue since spring training. If the infield continues to put strain on the pitching staff with its failures to complete even routine plays, then there’s only so much even the most dangerous cleanup hitter can accomplish.

Speaking of the pitching staff, Adam Wainwright, despite earning wins in his last two games, still isn’t right either. His curveball still isn’t sharp, he’s leaving too many pitches belt-high over the plate, and his overall stuff doesn’t have the same life that we’ve seen over the past 10 seasons.

So if adding a thumper in the middle of the order isn’t the solution, then what is?

Don’t get it twisted: adding a dangerous hitter in the four hole is unquestionably a need for the Cards. It just doesn’t fix some of the routine problems that this team has had through the first month of the season.

Actually, “routine” would be a welcome sight right about now.

Football teams who run the ball with consistency at opponents using an “Amoeba” defense can have success. Screens, traps and bootlegs work as well, but a good old-fashion ground game can be just as effective. All of a sudden that movement starts to work against a defense because it can put defenders out of position to clog running lanes. The defense then counters by doing the exact opposite of the “Amoeba”: Being stationary and stagnant.

The key for the offense, however, is consistency. That’s exactly what the Cards need to display in order to force fans to get off the roller coaster ride this team has provided weekly this entire young season.

Pitch well, play good defense, and do the little things to help manufacture runs instead of counting on the five home-run night. That’s not as tantalizing as demanding that Mozeliak trade for Carlos Gonzales or complaining that he should have signed Chris Davis, but those are traits of winning clubs.

It’s still early. Neither this season nor this team has yet to be defined. The only thing we know for sure after one month is that this team is inconsistent.

Let’s just hope that when this Cards team does finally take shape that it resembles the same steady club we’ve grown accustomed to over the past five seasons.

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