After a somewhat baffling decision yesterday that cost the St. Louis Cardinals a shot at the game, the team now falls to a single game over .500 through 69 games. Is it time to start questioning the Mike Shildt hire?
I get that Mike Shildt is no Matheny, but we have to really start looking at the state of the St. Louis Cardinals and wonder how much of it revolves around poor management. The order is flat and constantly changing, the fifth starter is in constant flux, and the team is playing way below its talent level.
While much of this can be attributed to players simply struggling, Shildt is not entirely blameless. We should be maligning Shildt for the same things that we did Matheny, because while he put together a great finish to last season, that doesn’t mean he’s some messiah.
Part of what happened last season was more about the subtraction of Mike Matheny and his crew, and is more of a reflection of how atrocious he was as a manager, and how desperately the St. Louis Cardinals needed someone else. Anyone else.
That’s what Shildt was, and having a fresh face for the first time in 5 years was enough to reignite the team. He made good decisions, sure, but there were still some rough spots, and while he did turn a team around, there was still no reliable way to measure how well he would do and what adjustments he would make when his team is struggling.
We have now hit that point, and Shildt hasn’t passed so far. There have been good batting order adjustments, but they are covered in a slew of awkward ones and stubborn lack of moves. Base running has improved a little bit, but guys like Harrison Bader are still misutilized and mistaught on the basepaths. The bullpen management, while very much improved from the dark days of Matheny, is still very questionable more times than not.
This situation is very reminiscent of another recent coaching circus in another professional league. After struggling under Lovie Smith as head coach overall, yet flourishing on offense under the watch of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Smith and quickly turned to hire Koetter because they feared another organization would take Koetter if they didn’t make this move, similar to the interest the Cards thought Shildt would receive.
Fast forward a few years, and Koetter just didn’t have the experience or the completeness as a coach to bring the results they were hoping for, and so the Bucs fired Koetter and got an established, previously thought retired head coach in Bruce Arians.
Am I saying that I think that Shildt will be fired soon in favor of Joe Girardi simply because it would be a reflection of the Buccaneers situation? No, but I think it does provide a valuable lesson in panic hiring inexperienced coaches.
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Things are certainly better in that it doesn’t feel like our manager is explicitly sabotaging the team, but things have not been up to par. When a team is playing this far below its talent level for this long, only so much of the blame can rest on the players.
The St. Louis Cardinals haven’t been an easy ship to sail this year, but that still doesn’t excuse some of the decisions that have been made.
Why was Daniel Ponce De Leon, a young pitcher who has proven multiple times that he can pitch at the major league level and has excelled in the minors through a devastating head injury, just called up after months of absolute atrocity out of the bottom of the starting rotation?
Why is Matt Carpenter still leading off? Before you go off on me, know that I was the original champion of keeping Carp as a leadoff when the world was saying Fowler should be the man, so I know that he excels as a leadoff and struggles at other spots in the lineup.
But at some point, there has to be a cutoff where you have to put the team before the player, and the St. Louis Cardinals may already be at that point. It isn’t April anymore, and it might be time for the Cardinals to start acting like it.
These are the little stubborn mistakes that the team hired Shildt to get away from, yet here we are yet again. There is a legitimate possibility that Shildt has far less say than we thought, and many of the rather questionable moves that have been made since Tony La Russa‘s retirement is because of John Mozeliak.
It’s hard to say either way, but what we can say is that something needs to be shaken up on this team, and that’s what Mike Shildt was brought in to do. If he can’t get this team together, it will not be a good sign for his future as the St. Louis Cardinals manager.
It’s little things like understanding when it’s time to make moves that separates the good from the bad when it comes to managers. We are now closing in on Shildt’s first 162 games, and while a 76-62 record so far isn’t a terrible start, it just isn’t good enough for an organization with aspirations as lofty as the St. Louis Cardinals.