The St. Louis Cardinals have used a trio of second basemen this year as they’ve muddled to a 58-49 record heading into play Sunday that mirrors the mess the team has at the second-base position.
It’s time for the Cardinals to make a playoff push, but to do so they will also need a regular second baseman who plays fantastic defense and can get a key hit when necessary. That player is Daniel Descalso.
Descalso was a key part to the Cardinals 2011 run to the World Series championship, and he could play an even more important role this year if manager Mike Matheny gives him the chance.
Descalso has always played stellar defense, and he has flashed the leather lately. He filled in at shortstop for Rafeal Furcal for five games last week against the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. In those games he made two outstanding defensive plays. He also had six hits during the weekend agains the Milwaukee Brewers and made a couple more fabulous diving plays.
Part of the Cardinals troubles this year have stemmed from their inconsistency in the field. The Cardinals have committed 69 errors and their fielding percentage ranks 17th in Major League Baseball. Beyond the errors, there have been countless plays fielders simply haven’t made. They don’t count as an error, but the runner still gets on base or takes an extra base and quickly ends up in scoring position.
Sure, Descalso is hitting just .241 on the season, but he gets hits when they matter most. He is hitting .281 in the late innings of close games. Of regular starters, only Furcal and Yadier Molina have a higher batting average in those situations.
The other option for the Cardinals at second base is Skip Schumaker. He is hitting .319 on the season and plays solid defense. Unfortunately, both Descalso and Schumaker bat left-handed. That means Tyler Greene continues to get at-bats when the Cardinals face a left-handed pitcher even though he is hitting .222.
Greene has long been an enigma for the Cardinals and their fans. The Cardinals drafted Greene in the first round back in 2005, but he has failed to hit above his current .222 batting average in any of his four seasons with the club.
Yes, Greene has speed. He has stolen nine bases and been caught just twice, but he doesn’t get on base enough to utilize that speed. Also, when he gets on base he sometimes tries to do too much. He has twice been thrown out at the plate to end a game this season.
So, while Schumaker has the better offensive numbers, Descalso has the intangibles that help a team win ballgames.
Descalso doesn’t have to be the starting second baseman for the entire final two months of the season, but he does need to be on the field more often than not if the Cardinals are going to make a run at either the NL Central title or a wild-card berth.
If not, the frustrating inconsistent play that has plagued the first four months of the Cardinals 2012 season will prevent the team from making a run at the playoffs in the final two months.