While May 4 is probably a bit early to say the season is at a critical stage for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals, there is definitely cause for concern.
The Cardinals are 15-16, unfamiliar territory at this point of the season for a Mike Matheny team. His lineups, and the player personnel moves, have been curious (to put it simply) and all the mixing and matching and moves don’t seem to have made much impact since the team has lost 4 of its last 5 games. The offense was back to struggling again yesterday, just when we all felt like maybe they’d turned things around. The team is hitting .244/.310/.365 overall, ninth in the National League (and just ahead of the Cubs at .239/.302/.366), while the overall team ERA, 3.00, is second.
Even with the pitching as good as its been, things are kind of mediocre all around. Some kind of spark is needed.
Perhaps the spark Chris Carpenter used to provide.
Carpenter is, of course, now a special assistant to general manager John Mozeliak. He was in Springfield, Mo., this week, working with the Double A Springfield Cardinals, and there was a terrific column by Kary Booher about him in the Springfield News-Leader on Wednesday.
The column reminds us all anew what a leader Carpenter was for the Cardinals, although we haven’t really forgotten since he only officially retired in November. But check out this quote from Springfield pitcher Kurt Heyer, who held the door open for Carpenter when he arrived at Hammons Field Tuesday morning, to see what kind of impact he’s having already in his new job: “With his presence …. you feel his intensity all over and hopefully that can rub off on some of us.”
Intensity. There’s something the 2014 Cardinals seem to be lacking thus far.
Last season, and for most of 2012, Carpenter’s role was that of a de facto coach — in a way he was already a special assistant there to watch, listen and advise.
Although, actually, he was a leader when he was on the active roster too, as we all remember hearing his role in the August 2011 team meeting that subsequently led those Cardinals from 10 1/2 games back in the wild card standings to World Series champions — perhaps the most famous of many examples. Wasn’t he the one who told the team they weren’t out of it in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the Nationals, even though they were down 6-0 in the third inning? And there are so many other instances that could be cited. The picture above is one I took last Sept. 1 in Pittsburgh — he was intently watching every pitch thrown by Joe Kelly and would talk to him when he came back to the dugout.
Carpenter knows, and embraced, the role he did play last year as he’s transitioning into his new position, as Booher writes:
I started getting a little taste of it toward the end there (last season),” said Carpenter, who missed the entire big-league season. “I tried to do the best I could even when I was playing, like with Waino (Adam Wainwright) and the kids that came up while I was there.
“Toward the end, it just got fun to be able to watch and talk and try to help teach as much as I could. I feel like I have something to offer with the experience I’ve had. It doesn’t mean it’s always right.”
Whether it’s right might be debatable, although none of us are privy to those conversations, but it sure seems like he made a positive impact with his teaching. And that will be absolutely welcome at the minor league level, given that his own playing career had him experiencing everything from amazing highs to incredible lows. It’s difficult not to be excited for the possibilities of what his role can be too when reading things like this:
When manager Mike Shildt summoned all players in for a team meeting and ceded the floor, Carpenter’s message lasted all of a minute, maybe.
He’s here to listen and learn, he told them. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
“First things first is getting to know them. I’m not going to come down here and start telling everybody what to do and how to do it,” Carpenter said. “I’m going to get to know the kids personally and then you can just have regular conversation about baseball and experiences and what’s going on through their minds and what went on in my mind at times.”
Put another way, this could be a fabulous next chapter.
Oh, but if that chapter could be back with the big league club … especially now, with these Cardinals going along as they are.
Is there any way it wouldn’t be a benefit?
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email email@example.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates and like AMF on Facebook if you don’t already.