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Panicking Mike Matheny Holds Cardinals Back

St. Louis Cardinals’ Manager Mike Matheny responded to the sluggish start to the season by demoting the starting second baseman after three weeks and effectively benching his new center fielder. Kolten Wong, who’d been an average major leaguer in his start to the season, is in Triple A. Peter Bourjos, who got off to a slow start, has been benched in favor of last year’s incumbent, Jon Jay. Even Randal Grichuk, who had a .306 on-base percentage in the Texas League in 2013, has moved ahead of Bourjos on the depth chart.

Grichuk, and second baseman Mark Ellis, keyed the Cardinals win Sunday night over the Chicago Cubs. However, this is not the way to run a ball club with as much talent as any team in the National League.

These are signs of panic. Matheny displays that he has two sets of rules–ones for those he knows, and a second set for newcomers. Of course, Matheny bases his decisions–some of them–on past performance. While Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Carpenter got off to slow starts he did not replace them. He effectively has doubled down on that core to keep the club afloat offensively.

Jon Jay was deemed replaceable after last season. They acquired a player who was a star at 24 in 2012 in Peter Bourjos. The Cardinals need what Bourjos can provide, in the form of all-world defense. If Bourjos were allowed to play, he would be an upgrade over Jay by improving the outfield defense and adding an element–speed–that the club lacks. The Cardinals, and their sycophants, have decided Bourjos is a failure based on 39 plate appearances.

Kolten Wong‘s slash line read .255/.327/.319 when the Cardinals sent him down. They are not gaudy statistics, but they were above average league-wide, and a good deal above average for second basemen. He stole three bases in three attempts. He struck out five times in 52 plate appearances. He was very good in the field. How did he become a problem?

Until last night, Mark Ellis had been a downgrade at the plate and in the field, hitting in the .100′s and showing some indecisiveness at second base. Randal Grichuk is a good-looking athlete, but is not a long-term option in 2014.

The fact that Grichuk got the start last night, over the left-handed hitting Jay, over Peter Bourjos, and even over the organization’s top hitting prospect, the left-handed Oscar Taveras in Memphis, is the only indicator one needs to see that results are being sought in the wrong fashion. It was the second time over the weekend that Matheny stacked the lineup against a pitcher and selected one bat that was same-sided. He played Jay against the left-hander Travis Wood, while sitting Matt Adams,  and played Grichuk against Jason Hammel.

They had a good plan and a good off-season for acquisitions. Why is Mike Matheny ditching the plan?

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