In some ways, the Cardinals are better off than most. They don’t lose much at first base with Matt Adams filling in for Allen Craig, and they’re still fine in the ninth since Trevor Rosenthal replaced the sore-shouldered Edward Mujica in the closer’s role. But the truth is that both injuries played huge roles in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Pirates.
With Adams filling in for Craig, here’s the Cardinals’ current bench: Adron Chambers, Tony Cruz, Daniel Descalso/Pete Kozma, Shane Robinson and Kolten Wong. There isn’t even one decent pinch-hitting option there. Wong, a rookie second baseman, is the talent in the bunch, but he hit just .153 in 59 at-bats after arriving in the majors. The Cardinals are down enough on him that he was left on the bench while both Kozma and Descalso hit against Jason Grilli in the ninth today.
Chambers is in the roster spot that would have gone to Craig. He went 4-for-26 in the majors this year.
And, of course, while Adams is probably a better hitter than Craig against righties, he was a far lesser option today against Francisco Liriano. He’s also the weaker defender, which played a role in Kozma’s throwing error in the two-run first inning today.
As for Mujica, well, he’s on the roster and available, but the Cardinals don’t trust him right now. That’s why Rosenthal wasn’t out there in a tie game in the eighth when the Pirates scored two runs today. That almost certainly would have been Rosenthal’s assignment a few weeks ago. Since he’s now the closer, he was held in reserve.
The Cardinals are also going it without Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte and Rafael Furcal, but those are injuries from several months ago. Had they known they’d be without Craig, they probably would have brought in some bench help prior to Aug. 31.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirms that the Cardinals are promoting top prospect Kolten Wong from Triple-A Memphis. He will join the team in Chicago tomorrow. In a corresponding move, the Cardinals will option Adron Chambers to Memphis.
Wong was drafted by the Twins in the 16th round of the 2008 draft, but did not sign, opting instead to play at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Cardinals drafted him in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2011 draft. The 22-year-old started the year at Triple-A, where he has posted an .835 OPS with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 463 trips to the plate.
Wong may get regular playing time at second base, which would push Matt Carpenter to third base and David Freese to the bench.
In other Cardinals top prospect news, outfielder Oscar Taveras will undergo season-ending surgery on his ailing ankle.
The biggest hit in Sunday’s Game 1 came about because the Nationals got the matchup they wanted and the Cardinals didn’t.
Down 2-1 with two on and two out in the top of the eighth, Nationals manager Davey Johnson sent up lefty Chad Tracy to hit in the pitcher’s spot in the order. The Cardinals had their regular eighth-inning guy, righty Mitchell Boggs, in the game at the time, but Mike Matheny chose to counter with left-hander Marc Rzepczynski. Of course, that just led to another move from Davey Johnson; he put in right-hander Tyler Moore to replace Tracy.
Matheny should have known this was coming; Tracy had nine at-bats against lefties all year. It was a no-brainer that Johnson would go get Moore off the bench. And Moore, getting to face the southpaw, came up big, delivering a two-run single that proved to be the difference in the Nationals’ 3-2 win.
It was Matheny’s second of three very questionable decisions in the game. In the sixth, he picked Skip Schumaker over Matt Carpenter to hit for the pitcher with two on and two out against Craig Stammen. Maybe he felt Carpenter could be employed in a bigger situation later, though that chance to break the game open seemed plenty big at the time. Schumaker ended up striking out to end the inning. And Carpenter did get to bat in an important situation in the eighth. He too struck out, thanks to Tyler Clippard getting a strike call on a pitch four or five inches off the plate.
The third decision came before Carpenter hit in the eighth. With just six outs left in a one-run game, Matheny chose to give away one of them to bunt Adron Chambers — who was pinch-running for David Freese — from first to second base. The sac was successful, but the Cards failed to score.
It’d be silly to say Matheny lost this game for the Cardinals; an offense that came up with just three hits all day was the bigger problem. What Matheny didn’t do was put the team in the best position to win.