Can Oscar Taveras spark the Cardinals this season like Yasiel Puig did for the Dodgers last year? That’s a question some fans have bandied about since the team recalled their top prospect from Memphis on Monday.
A better question might be whether or not anything has changed since the last time Taveras donned a Cardinal uniform.
We’re all familiar with what Puig did a year ago in L.A. In early June, the Dodgers were in turmoil, mired in last place in the NL West. High-priced veterans were underperforming or on the disabled list, and the heat under manager Don Mattingly’s ass had reached dangerous levels.
Then Puig caught fire, hitting .436 in June, .287 in June and .320 in August before slumping in September. The Dodgers went from last place on June 30 to first by a 3.5-game margin over the second-place Diamondbacks in one month. While the Cardinals ended their season in the NLCS, the turning point for L.A. came in early June when the team called Puig up from Double-A.
It’s not difficult find similarities between the ’13 Dodgers and the ’14 Cardinals. Unlike Mattingly early in 2013, Mike Matheny’s job is safe. But Allen Craig, Yadi Molina, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta haven’t delivered on expectations to this point, and it would be cruel to Cardinal fans to provide a refresher on the current injury situation.
But therein lies the crux. Before they sent him back down, I lobbied on-air that the Cards should keep Taveras in the majors. Even though he hit just .189 in 11 games, he never looked overwhelmed by big-league pitching. What he needed was to see more of it, not to go back down to Triple-A to work his problems out against lesser competition. One could argue that Taveras staying in St. Louis would have meant Matt Adams wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get hot, but 1) we don’t know that for sure and 2) even with Adams hitting .339 upon his return, the Cards are only 10-7.
The point is, even if Taveras hits better this time around and Adams stays hot, plenty of concerns remain. For starters, how will Taveras, Craig and Adams handle a platoon? For that matter, how will Matheny?
Holliday is only slugging .385, down from his career mark of .524. Molina, meanwhile, is only hitting .210, and his batting average with runners in scoring position is .280. Let’s be honest: While he’s still throwing runners out, he hasn’t displayed the same Gold Glove defense behind the plate, either, at least from a passed ball standpoint.
Then there’s the pitching staff, which thankfully has kept the club afloat over the first three months of the season. Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia are out and, while Kelly is on the mend, who knows when Wacha and Garcia will be back. Over the weekend, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez didn’t exactly rise to the challenge, combing for just over 11 innings pitched.
Simply put, Adam Wainwright is the only stable situation the team has right now in the rotation. As for the rest of the starters, it’s like lighting a box of fireworks and hoping those death rockets don’t ignite in your face. Sometimes you escape with all your limbs, and you wind up seeing a great show. Other times, Lance Lynn happens.
Don’t get me wrong, the unknown is still pretty exciting right now. Taveras could catch fire, which could unleash the second-half version of Holliday from 2013, which could unlock the 2012 version of Molina, which could convince Lynn that every month is April, which could convince Shelby Miller that every team’s Milwaukee. But am I banking on that much witch magic sweeping through St. Louis soon? No.
Taveras could be this year’s version of Puig or, as long as we’re talking about current Cardinal opponents, the 2010 version of Buster Posey. But the Dodgers also had Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu step up. The Giants wouldn’t have won without Posey in 2010, but speaking of witch magic, Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Jonathan Sanchez also stepped up to accompany Posey, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson.
I’ll spare everyone the clichés about the importance of team. It’s great that Taveras is back up, and I hope he goes off. But outside of a depleted starting pitching staff and a hot Adams, not much has changed since the last time the Cards thought he could provide a spark.
We’re beyond the point where more than one or two players need to make a significant impact in order for the Cards to start firing on all cylinders.