Just my opinion, but I believe Cardinals manager Oli Marmol overreacted and made a mistake by publicly ripping center fielder Tyler O’Neill after Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Braves.
It’s one thing to call out a player behind the scenes, in the privacy of a team setting. But to do it a second time, in a post-game media setting that’s being broadcast by Bally Sports Midwest? That’s harsh, not to mention unnecessary, and I don’t think O’Neill deserved that.
In case you missed it – and I’m sure you didn’t – O’Neill didn’t accelerate to high-gear speed in the seventh inning when trying to score from second base on a two-out single by Brendan Donovan. O’Neill wasn’t loafing. He wasn’t being lazy. He just didn’t react as alertly as he should have, and wasn’t as aggressive as the manager wanted.
O’Neill got a relatively slow jump from second base. At that point his shot of beating the tremendous throw by the rifle-armed right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. was virtually guaranteed to fail. And O’Neill was doomed when didn’t go full throttle as he approached the third-base bag. O’Neill wasn’t close to the plate when catcher Sean Murphy tagged him out.
I don’t know what third-base coach Pop Warner was thinking when he waved O’Neill home. Pop is good at his job, but this was a poor decision. Perhaps Marmol should have mentioned – or criticized – his coach. Instead, Marmol went off on O’Neill by accusing the player of a lack of effort.
“We’ve got a lot of guys playing really hard and that’s not our style of play as far as the effort rounding the bag there,” Marmol said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Marmol said he communicated his dissatisfaction to O’Neill. That happened before the media made it downstairs to the postgame area. Why wasn’t that sufficient? Marmol criticized O’Neill to his face, which is perfectly fine. But what’s the point of doing it again – this time embarrassing the player in front of a media-TV-fan audience? Marmol obviously made his point to O’Neill. He made a sharp point. But that wasn’t enough for the second-year manager.
“I think (Marmol) was pretty blunt about it and he didn’t think I gave the best effort,” O’Neill said.
I strongly believe in accountability. And I can’t stand “Happy Talk.” But there’s a right way – and a wrong way – to hold your players accountable. After venting at O’Neill in a player-manager setting, why would Marmol invite controversy by taking this on stage? You can hold players accountable without resorting to theatrics.
If a manager can’t get through to a player in a one-on-one situation, then it’s a failure on the manager’s part.
Again: we can blame O’Neill for a terrible job of awkwardly navigating his way to third base and rounding home. O’Neill was honest in his explanation. He’s cognizant of his history of frequent injuries, which is why he went through a comprehensive offseason training program to improve his flexibility. O’Neill was hobbled by two hamstring strains last season, the second of which prevented him from being placed on the first-round playoff roster.
O’Neill doesn’t want to tear another hamstring and disrupt yet another season. We all want that, too. He’s determined to play more than he did last season — only 96 games. He’s never played more than 138 games in a season for the Cardinals. O’Neill wants to help his team by playing more frequently, and that’s a worthy goal. Fans and media have criticized or made fun of O’Neill for missing too many games. And he wants to rectify that in 2023.
The anxiety over injuries seemingly was part of O’Neill’s thinking as he set out to score on Donovan’s single. It was raining. Not a fast track. The turn at third was uncoordinated and tentative.
O’Neill didn’t say this, but I’m guessing he figured he had no chance to score on Acuna. (If so, he was right.) That’s not his call, but I can understand why O’Neill may have been surprised by Warner’s decision to challenge Acuna.
There was a lot going on inside O’Neill’s head including the fear of getting hurt again. But does that mean he wasn’t trying? Of course not. Does he need to do a better job the next time he’s in a similar situation? Of course. This was just a bad moment in a long season. O’Neill has to work through this.
I don’t understand why O’Neill didn’t accelerate after turning home from third base. I’m not saying he was blameless in all of this. He wasn’t. It was just a weird sequence.
T.O. isn’t the only example of questionable baserunning by this team early on. Going into Wednesday the Cardinals have had four runners thrown out while trying to advance an extra base on a batted ball — tied for the most in the majors. (Paul Goldschmidt was nailed at home plate Wednesday when trying to score on a botched pop-up. That makes it five for the season.)
The Cardinals should move on from this episode, but so far Marmol has declined to do so.
“I was trying to take a tight turn,” O’Neill said. “I’ve been working a lot on different run-form mechanics and stuff here in St. Louis that puts me in a better position for longevity. So, maybe there was a little too much thought process in the play from me instead of just going and getting them — as I usually would. So, it’s finding that happy medium and learning from the experience, for sure.”
Marmol’s blast-off bugged him.
I’ve questioned O’Neill’s fragility (re: injuries) and have been frustrated by his strikeout-plague issues and overall inconsistency. But never – not one time – did I ever watch O’Neill and think he was jaking it by failing to hustle. He took a positive and important step last offseason by making an intense effort to increase his viability … for his own good, and for the betterment of his team. This tells me that the dude cares.
“I’m out here every day grinding my ass off and giving it my all and trying to stay on the field for 160 games,” he said. “I’ve got to get a better jump next time and get around the base a little quicker and be in there (safely) next time.”
This incident will blow over, but I sincerely wonder about this: can the other players have 100 percent trust in Marmol? When he barks at a player in private – the proper way to handle it – how can others be sure the manager will keep the salty convo in-house instead of going outside the family to re-air the denunciation?
Instead of taking care of a relatively small problem on Tuesday night, Marmol created a bigger problem by turning a regrettable baserunning mishap into a controversy.
And the young manager was still going on Wednesday morning.
He benched O’Neill.
You’d think that Tyler O’Neill was C.B. Bucknor or something.
Marmol wasn’t in a forgiving mood when asked about his decision to exclude O’Neill from today’s lineup in the series finale against the Braves.
This was relayed by John Denton who covers the Cardinals for MLB.com:
“There’s a standard and it’s here,” Marmol said, gesturing with a hand held high according to Denton. “You meet it, you play. You don’t meet it, you don’t play.”
O’Neill wasn’t in the mood to play nice either.
“Obviously he thinks that I should’ve handled my play a little differently, but I’m a hard-nosed player,” O’Neill said, via Katie Woo of The Athletiic. “I got to the big leagues playing my ss off and that’s who I am. It’s not something that should be de-characterized for me.”
“I don’t think it should’ve been handled that way,” O’Neill added. “I think if there’s internal issues they should be handled internally. We should have each others backs out there. Sometimes it doesn’t go that way I guess. Live and you learn.”
And: “These conversations definitely could have been had in-house and not gotten out on the loose like they have, should have been handled a little differently in my opinion, but you know, who’s to say?”
So this nonsense grumbles on for a second straight day. So much drama. So much over-the-top drama. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak backed his manager up on the criticism of O’Neill. But of course he did. Mozeliak already has fired two managers since July 2018 and has to keep one in the chair for a while. Is there something else going on with O’Neill that’s bugging Marmol and Mozeliak?
Well, we might as well bring in O’Neill’s agent, Scott Boras, and make this a reality TV show. Remember when Marmol called out Harrison Bader for non-hustle last season? Bader was traded. Don’t get this manager upset unless you’re one of the preferred veterans.
Um, does anyone want to talk about the team’s hideous starting pitching. which was failing the Cardinals again early in Wednesday’s game?
No, the manager hasn’t had much to say about that other than “not ideal.”
You could say that. And the Cardinals just got embarrassed by the mighty Braves, who swept the three-game series from the home team. The Cardinals dropped to 2-4 on the season. But sure, let’s make this all about Tyler O’Neill. If Marmol thought he’d fire his team up by picking on O’Neill, he was wrong.
1. Steven Matz: Making his first start of the season, the lefty was no match for the Braves. Matz allowed six hits to the first nine hitters he faced, and got popped for two home runs in Atlanta’s first six at-bats. Overall: 10 hits and four earned runs in 5.1 innings. One positive: Matz struck out seven and walked one. He settled down after the early turbulence – retiring six of the last eight hitters – but it was too late. Damage done.
Since signing a four-year, $44 million deal with the Cardinals before the 2022 season, Matz has an overall 5.40 ERA in 53.1 innings. That includes a 5.81 ERA in 10 starts. As a STL starter Matz has been spiked for 10 home runs and nine doubles in 48 innings, with opponents working him over for a .482 slugging percentage.
2. The Rotation Is Burning: It’s ugly, my friends. Through the first five games Cardinal starters have been contused for 33 hits, 12 walks and 18 earned runs in 23 innings. The damage includes five homers, six doubles and two hit batters. The rotation’s 7.04 ERA ranks 26th in the majors. Needless to say, the Cardinals have to turn this around – or it will be a long, frustrating season. Perhaps Miles Mikolas will put the rotation on a more positive track in Wednesday’s start against ATL.
3. The Worst Thing About the Rotation? St. Louis starters have been absolutely pathetic early in games. In their first time through the opponent’s batting order during their first five games, Cardinal starters have faced 45 hitters and gotten hammered for 20 hits, 12 earned runs, four homers, and three doubles – with five walks thrown in for added measure. Add it all up, and the STL starters have a first-time-through ERA of 16.20 and have been clubbed for a .526 average, .578 onbase percentage and .921 slug.
Once they absorb the first-time-through battering and stay in the game, Cards starters have a 3.31 ERA and allowed a .220 batting average.
I don’t know … maybe try out a new warmup routine?
Let’s say it again: long season, 157 games to go. They’ll face weaker lineups than what they’ve encountered (Blue Jays and Braves) so far. Surely the starters will do better than this. But how much better? That’s the question. And maybe the problem.
4. Bullpen Inspection: After Matz departed, relievers Drew VerHagen, Andre Pallante and Giovanny Gallegos gave the STL hitters a chance to generate a comeback by combining for 3.2 shutout innings.
Jordan Hicks has a horrendous 13.50 ERA in his 3.1 innings, but the other parts of the St. Louis bullpen have combined for a 1.92 ERA in 18.2 IP.
Let’s acknowledge the stellar work of Drew VerHagen, Zack Thompson, Packy Naughton, Andre Pallante and Giovanny Gallegos. They’ve collectively allowed just one earned run and eight hits in 14.1 innings – with only two walks and a 34 percent strikeout rate.
5. Head-Scratching Futility Against Rookie Pitchers. Braves starter Dylan Dodd made his MLB debut Tuesday and breezed through the St. Louis lineup for five innings of scoreless, six-hit pitching. The lefty didn’t walk a Cardinal and struck out three. We’ve seen this movie before, eh?
Good note from John Denton: “Over the last 10 years (2014-23), rookie starting pitchers making their MLB debuts are 5-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 17 starts vs. the Cardinals, per MLB Stats & Research.”
Denton continued, writing that the Cardinals’ struggles vs. rookie starters making their MLB debuts “runs counter to the rest of the league. Over the last 5 years, rookie starters debuting are a forgettable 37-63 with a 4.82 in 170 starts. Over the last 10 years, they are 96-143 with a 4.85 ERA in 371 starts.”
6. Cool Stat On Taylor Motter: The Cardinal utility man’s fifth–inning doubled left the bat with an exit velocity of 114.8 mph. According to Mike Petriello of MLB.com, that’s the hardest-hit ball of the major-league season so far.
7. ATL Lineup vs. STL Lineup: A Comparison: Through the first two games of the series, the Cardinals and Braves have the same number of hits (22.) Obviously there is a difference. Only two of STL’s 22 hits have gone for extra bases. Atlanta’s 22 hits include nine for extra-base bases. The Braves have out-homered the Cardinals 5-1. And with runners in scoring position, the Cards are 3 for 17 (.176) with four RBI. The Braves are 5 for 14 (.357) with two homers and a double and eight RBI.
8. Jordan Walker Update: He’s now hit safely in his first five MLB games going 6 for 20 for a .300 batting average and three RBI. Five of his six hits have been singles. But among the 135 hitters that have a minimum 20 plate appearances this season, Walker is tied for the fourth-highest ground-ball rate in the majors at 72.2 percent. (At least the rookie is in good company; Juan Soto also has a 72.2% GB rate so far. The only hitter in the majors with a higher GB/FLY ratio than Walker is Trey Mancini. Walker averages 6.5 grounders for every fly ball he hits.
9. Braves at Busch Stadium: Going back to 2018, the Braves are 11-3 against the Cardinals in regular-season games at Busch Stadium. The Braves outscored the Redbirds 86-51 in the 14 games.
10. Know Thy Enemy: The Brewers are on a rampage, having won four in a row after their opening-day loss to the Cubs. In their last two games the Crew wrecked the visiting Mets for 19 runs in consecutive shutout wins.
In Tuesday’s 9-0 victory the Brewers walloped five home runs including a back-to-back-to-back sequence of consecutive bombs by Rowdy Tellez, Brian Anderson and Garrett Mitchell against Mets starter Max Scherzer. The Brewers have a new home-run celebration this season, with the homer hero donning the famous cheesehead hat in the dugout. In Tuesday’s sixth-inning home-run party Tellez homered and put on the cheesehead topper, passed it to Anderson, who passed it to Mitchell. I’m sure Scherzer was thrilled.
During this four-game win streak the Brewers (4-1) outscored the Cubs and Mets by a 31-6 margin, and starting pitchers Brandon Woodruff, Eric Lauer, Freddy Peralta and Wade Miley teamed for a 1.16 ERA. Milwaukee’s starting rotation is fourth-best in the majors with a 2.22 ERA.
Thanks for reading … and stay dry.
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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All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
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.