Greetings. Finally gaining traction, the Cardinals have won of six of their last seven games. Their success includes a happy 5-1 trip through Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
While impressive, the St. Louis road show featured another cuckoo development on the Willson Contreras front.
This psychodrama becomes more meshuggeneh by the day.
After being cast out at catcher to enact the plan to make Andrew Knizner the new starter, Contreras spent only nine games as a DH. He’s gone! He’s back! What’s next? Hell if I know.
The Cardinals will start him at catcher on Monday night, working with starting pitcher Jack “The Art of Pitching” Flaherty against the Brewers. It’s the start of an important homestand for the Cardinals, who face seven consecutive games against the Brewers and Dodgers.
Here we go again.
All aboard the crazy train.
In a stretch that began May 5, Contreras became the fall guy in a brazen attempt to redirect the conversation away from president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and manager Oli Marmol.
Let’s review how we got here:
1) Just about everyone knows, starting pitching was primarily responsible for the wreckage that put the Cardinals at the bottom of the National League. But Mozeliak didn’t see it that way. He pushed back on the widespread opinion of his failure to augment starting pitching last offseason.
As Mozeliak told KMOX on the last day of April: “Again, I do not feel like the starting pitching is our reason we’re not having a better record right now.”
At the time Cardinal starting pitchers had a 4.94 ERA and the team was 10-18 and slipping. After Mozeliak spoke to KMOX that morning, the Redbirds proceeded to lose six in a row, and their starters had a 8.46 ERA during the demoralizing stretch
But according to Mozeliak, we shouldn’t point the finger at the abysmal starting pitching. In his view, the Cardinals were all set. And he’s felt this way for a long time.
As Mozeliak explained before spring training: “The key really is, where are the innings going to go? Right now we feel like we have six starters for five spots. If you add another starter to that, then you have seven.”
2) As we know, instead of holding the starting pitchers accountable. Contreras was blamed instead, and that was made easier by spoiled starting pitchers who found fault in Contreras’ catching – instead of owning up to their unsatisfactory work. Mozeliak amassed this 2023 rotation, so he couldn’t blame himself, right? Can’t hang this on the new pitching coach Dusty Blake because “Mo” brought him into the organization. And Mozeliak hired Oli Marmol, which gives the second-year manager immunity.
3) So naturally, all of this was put on Contreras. As Contreras was relocated to DH to save the woeful starting pitchers, the stunningly bizarre move drew laughter and pitiless criticism from media both near and far. You sign Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million free-agent contract and bounce him from the starting-catching job after he’d made only 23 starts? All because the front-office was negligent (again) in improving the rotation and needed a culprit?
4) At the time of demotion, Mozeliak and Marmol wouldn’t offer a timeline for a Contreras return to catching. But his time in exile figured to last a while. When Derrick Goold (Post-Dispatch) asked if the goal was to have Contreras resume full-time catching, Cardinals officials told the reporter “not necessarily.” Huh.
5) The Cardinals began winning, then suddenly reinstalled Contreras after he’d spent fewer than 10 days in DH limbo. What? Well, I suppose that’s OK. By rushing Contreras back so soon, the Cardinals validated the criticism of their scornful decision to move him out in the first place.
6) Instead of staying with Andrew Knizner behind the plate for a while – he’s done well – Mozeliak-Marmol are trying to foment a new narrative in an attempt to restore peace … and save face. Knizner hasn’t fixed the starting rotation; no man can. But his live bat was producing runs, and there’s nothing wrong with sticking with him a while longer.
7) Don’t get me wrong; I’m in favor of putting Conteras behind the plate sooner than later. I’m just surprised that the “Sooner” part won our. And are we really supposed to believe the many things Contreas was working on – game planning, strategizing, pitch selection, setting up better behind the plate – got fixed in only 10 days? This is loco. You just have to giggle at this.
8) Remember what Mozeliak told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic? “Obviously the Cardinals were used to one guy behind the plate for close to two decades. The nuances of that position, maybe very subtle, are what a lot of our pitchers were used to. What we were seeing was a lack of confidence … with this, we’ve noticed a lot of puzzling trends we know we need to fix. We know we need to address it. We just decided to do it head on, put it out there. Do we think we’ve seen Willson catch his last game? No. But this is going to take a little time to get him to where we feel he understands the expectations of what this role is for us.”
9) Translation: obviously, despite having Molina as our catcher for nearly 20 years, and for around 2,300 games, and close to 20,000 innings we frankly were surprised to discover that Contreras wasn’t Molina. And we concluded this after Willson made 23 starts and played only 625 innings as our catcher.
By the way, this is an actual Marmol quote on Contreras during spring training:
“There are things he’s working on daily that are super encouraging, and we couldn’t ask for any more buy-in or enthusiasm than what Willson has given us.”
10) We’re supposed to believe that Contreras took care of a rather long list of things to do? After working to improve his multiple flaws since May 6?
When Lynn Worthy of the Post-Dispatch asked Contreras if he’d made the requested changes to his preparation, the catcher said this:
“It’s all the same. I don’t think I had to change anything. It’s my game. There were a couple of suggestions the pitchers made about the target, little lower, little higher, things like that makes them better which is cool. Nothing more than that.”
Welcome back, Willson.
And good luck to ya on the crazy train!
Thanks for reading …
(More later this afternoon on the Cardinals’ 6-1 streak — plus other Bird Bytes.)
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Bill James Online and Baseball Prospectus.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.