Tate: Cardinals trying to get on clear path

Tate: Cardinals trying to get on clear path

We don’t need sabermetrics to evaluate the St. Louis Cardinals.

They’re not hitting. We know because, not only are long balls infrequent, but not one of their 10 veteran batters is averaging one hit per four at-bats. Five Redbirds actually check in under .200, including over-the-hill Jhonny Peralta at .120, overpaid Kolten Wong at .171, a thinned-down Matt Adams at .167, swing-and-miss Randal Grichuk at .196 and Cub castoff Dexter Fowler who reached .183 with two homers and a single Wednesday.

So let’s keep it simple, and avoid the complexities of computerized statistical analysis, OPS or ratios vs. the league average.

We have watched Adams lumber due to overweight, then come in a tattooed 30 pounds lighter. But he’s still a detriment in the field, and he chases bad pitches at the plate. They wouldn’t have shifted Matt Carpenter to first base if they thought Adams would be productive.

We have watched Mike Matheny search for a cleanup hitter on a roster without one.

Of greater concern, we watched Adam Wainwright’s struggles in recent 14-6 and 9-3 losses and wonder: Is Waino past his prime? Who would replace him in the rotation with fire-balling Alex Reyes sidelined? Is it outrageous to think of flip-flopping roles between Wainwright and reliever Matt Bowman?

Manage expectations

For Redbird fans accustomed to season-long contention — a popular summer pastime in these parts — the week began with growing despondency before three consecutive 2-1 wins over Pittsburgh. It’s now an open question: Can a team that holds 10 divisional titles and three wild cards since 2000 recover from the agonizing 3-9 start and challenge for a playoff berth?

Forget the Cubs. They’re deeper and more athletic. Cardinal fans should concentrate on wild card opportunities until we see if recently shoddy Cub pitching leaves an opening.

If this week was a crisis point, there are signs of encouragement. Mike Leake, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha were on point against the Pirates. Leake, in particular, has performed in a way we hadn’t seen before. And the relievers are straightening out. Ultimately, some of the troubled Cardinal hitters, specifically Carpenter and Fowler, will come around, and Carlos Martinez will be entertaining even if at times erratic.

Smith nearing decision

The members of Edwardsville’s Smith family have a variety of favorites in the sudden recruiting whirl.

Who wouldn’t be proud of their son accepting an offer from such prestigious basketball programs as Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State. But the senior guard, Mark Smith, still has high personal interest here as he makes a final unofficial visit to the UI campus today.

Michigan State is making a powerhouse push while Duke is also attempting a late run just as Kentucky joins Indiana and Kansas State on the unfavored list. The Smith choice could boil down to being a contributor on a strong, balanced program at MSU or being the “in charge” playmaker-scorer at Illinois.

Meanwhile, new coach Brad Underwood is working on a recruiting list that is short on his most important need: center.

Most of the names linked to Illinois are forward types: transfers Cameron Johnson (6-8) of Pitt, MiKyle McIntosh (6-7) of Illinois State and Shakur Juiston (6-7) of Hutchinson CC, and preps Francesco Badocchi (6-6) of Kansas City, Kenny Wooten (6-8) of Las Vegas and Taylor Bruninga (6-9) of Illini Bluffs. Transfers Carlton Bragg of Kansas and Charlie Moore of California must sit out a year unless they stay home.

The search never stops

If Underwood can’t land a big man, the post slot falls to Michael Finke and Leron Black, both of whom are considered power forwards.

On only a few occasions in history has Illinois lacked a bona-fide center. It happened when star George Bon Salle lost eligibility in 1957, and again a year later when 6-4 Govoner Vaughn had to fill in for injured giant Ted Caiazza. It happened when Ron Dunlap was felled by the “slush fund” and Decatur’s Dave Scholz had to move over in 1967.

Frequently, the Illini had a pair on display ... like John “Red” Kerr and Bob Peterson in the early ’50s, Derek Holcomb and James Griffin in the early Lou Henson years, and Efrem Winters and George Montgomery later on. Shelly Clark filled in alongside Deon Thomas and then Jarrod Gee. Jens Kujawa left early, turning the position over to Flyin’ Illini Lowell Hamilton and backup Ervin Small. Brian Cook’s four seasons brought him alongside Marcus Griffin, then Robert Archibald and finally James Augustine, the latter a four-year starter through 2006.

It’s an endless list bringing us through Shaun Pruitt, Mike Tisdale, Meyers Leonard, Nnanna Egwu and Maverick Morgan. With earlier signee Jeremiah Tilmon apparently gone, Champaign’s Finke could be invaluable in 2017-18 ... although Underwood hasn’t given up the search.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com


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