Let’s begin with this:
1. I firmly believe that Willson Contreras will find his mojo and provide the blast of offense that the Cardinals coveted when they signed him to a five-year $87.5 million free-agent deal. He had a career .808 OPS as a Cub, and that’s who he really is. His hard-hit rate, average exit velocity and barrel percentage are all in line with his career norms. We shouldn’t disregard his .237 batting average on balls in play this season. That’s sabotaging him. Among 169 MLB hitters that have at least 200 plate appearances this season, only eight have a lower balls-in-play batting average than Contreras. Yes, bad batted-ball luck is a factor whether you want to accept that or not.
2. I liked the signing and still like the signing. The transition has been rough and rocky and isn’t much of a surprise. You join your old team’s arch rival, you have to succeed the legend that is Yadier Molina, and your manager puts you at the center of an avoidable and preposterous controversy by benching you as the catcher … only to restore to the starting gig less than 10 days later. Yeah, I think that might get a guy’s head spinning a little.
3. All of that said, Contreras needs a breather. I’m not talking about yanking him from the lineup. But it would be a smart move to relocate Contreras from the No. 5 spot in the lineup. I’ve been opposed to this idea, but the situation has really deteriorated, and it’s turned extreme. This will likely fester until manager Oli Marmol makes a change. Not a permanent change, but one that will help Contreras get going.
In 173 plate appearances in the fifth spot this season, Contreras is batting .201 with a .289 slugging percentage and only 13 RBI. You don’t need me to tell you that those numbers are horrendous. And when batting fifth runners in scoring position Contreras has a strikeout rate of 31 percent.
It’s been much worse over the last three weeks. In his last 19 games Contreras is a ghastly 5 for 63 overall (.079) with two extra-base hits (solo homers) and a weak .175 slug. And when he’s batted fifth over this time, Contreras is 5 for 50 (.100) with a 25% strikeout rate.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the big leagues that I have struggled this bad,” Contreras told MLB.com beatwriter John Denton. “I think I’ve lost my confidence and I lost my trust, and lost the trust that I came into the season with. It just went away.”
Contreras is obviously feeling a ton of pressure and it’s getting to him. It makes sense to ease him out of the No. 5 spot and let him regroup. After scapegoating Contreras earlier this season by blaming him for the team’s pitching failures, manager Oli Marmol is probably being overly sensitive about moving Contreras down in the lineup. But that’s not a good reason. This is about the a bad team that is bogged down by an increasingly ineffective offense that shrinks in juicy run-scoring opportunities and leaves too many runners stranded in scoring position.
You can’t have a guy that’s 5 for his last 50 in the No. 5 spot stay in the No. 5 spot.
There will be a time to restore Contreras to the fifth slot in the lineup. But right now the change is necessary and will do Contreras some good if the manager reduces the heat that’s been rising comes with hitting fifth — a key spot — in a terribly disappointing offense.
Thanks for reading …
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.