In closing out the D-backs 10-4 on Thursday, the Cardinals won their first series against a non-Phillies opponent since May 12-14, when they took two of three from the Cubs. They did so with Paul DeJong starting each game at shortstop, and second base duties split by Greg Garcia and a human named Alex Mejia.
In another season, I would be praising Mike Matheny for giving Garcia some extended run in his starting infield while Kolten Wong is on the shelf. In this season, I’m seeing that Garcia required a hit Thursday to get himself above the Mendoza line. Garcia carries a .202/.326/.263 batting line in 2017, and somehow remains the most conventional choice of anyone on the active roster to start at second on a regular basis.
But because the Cardinals made the unconventional choice to demote the team leader in hits–a choice I had no problem with, by the way–they need to show a willingness to be equally unconventional with infield construction leading into the All-Star Break.
If Paul DeJong over Aledmys Diaz at shortstop makes you a better team (for now), there is no harm in allowing Diaz to work on things down in Memphis. Except, of course, for the fact that it turns second base into an empty chasm of despair. See, with Wong expected to remain sidelined until after the All-Star Break, the Cardinals depth in the middle infield following the Diaz demotion is startlingly light. DeJong, Garcia, and Mejia appear to be the options to fill the two spots on a given day, which is less than ideal considering Garcia’s struggles at the plate.
For the season, the Cardinals rank 9th in OPS from second baseman (.808), but most of that comes thanks to the injured Wong. The best choice offensively to replace him would be DeJong, but again, he’s busy playing shortstop, where the Cardinals have ranked 26th in OPS (.638) for the season.
DeJong is batting .283/.287/.500, which is better than what the Cardinals were getting out of Diaz. Starting him at shortstop for a couple weeks to find out if he can handle the position at this level is reasonable (though long-term, the Cardinals should do whatever it takes to improve the shortstop position). What isn’t reasonable is refusing to shuffle the rest of the defensive alignment to squeeze more production out of second base over the next couple weeks.
Instead of accepting the likely minimal offensive output Garcia or Mejia would offer at second base, the Cardinals should considering moving one one of their other infielders to the position to accommodate more thump in the batting order. A short-term position change for Matt Carpenter and/or Jedd Gyorko could allow Luke Voit to receive regular playing time, which would help St. Louis evaluate his prospects as an asset in the organization going forward.
Between the two of them–in whatever alignment better suits Matheny–Gyorko and Carpenter could hold down second and third base. Voit has mashed his way through every level of the minors, and has thrived in his rare opportunities since the Cardinals called him up. His three hits (two doubles) in six at-bats have been enough to warrant further consideration in the lineup.
If Voit struggles and shows he’s not the answer, the Cardinals could pursue another option when Dexter Fowler returns from the DL. Because of the insane level of competition between Tommy Pham and Randal Grichuk for playing time in the outfield (throw Jose Martinez in that mix, too), another spot to plug an extra outfielder would be extremely convenient for the Cardinals with a healthy Fowler. Though we haven’t seen Stephen Piscotty on the infield lately, his trial run at first base did get some play last season–could another stint be in the cards for St. Louis?
If either scenario were to occur, it would likely be the former over the latter. Though the team’s reluctance to move Carpenter from first base was strong enough for John Mozeliak to give Matt Adams to Atlanta, it could be the very move the Cardinals need right now. The downgrade defensively would be concerning over a longer period of time, but because the Cardinals could go back to their preferred alignment upon Wong’s return from the DL, this could be a way to inject desired life for the Cardinal infield over the next couple weeks.
-Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12)