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St. Louis Cardinals: A Fundamental Struggle

On Opening Day, Cardinals Did Not Practice What They Preach

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Manager Mike Matheny joined the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 2012 season and immediately started discussing fundamental baseball. A return to the basics was in order, and Matheny was willing to take the time to work on them.

Spring training 2013 seemed to reinforce that thought. The team held bunting competitions, players were seen working on defensive drills long before official practices began, and baserunning was a major focus. The team was out to make sure that it would find success in the most simple places, by being aggressive when the time called for it and keeping its head in the game.

Opening day April 1 in Arizona seemed to show just the opposite from the young players on the field for the Cardinals. Following an otherwise solid play by Daniel Descalso, Allen Craig failed to hold onto a ball at first base that would have prevented a run from scoring. Jon Jay took an ill-advised dive at a line drive that caused another run to score. Descalso found himself hung out to dry trying to grab an extra base, ending a momentum-shifting inning. When the dust settled, the lack of fundamental play and over-aggressive style allowed the Diamondbacks to take advantage of key situations and send the Cardinals home with a loss.

These things can easily be avoided. They also represent the true problem the Cardinals face. A young team, being taught to be aggressive at times, needs to learn when to rein that aggression in. Fundamental plays have to be made. More important, baserunning and over-aggressive defensive gaffs can change the complexity of a game quickly. Sometimes, they will need to surrender a hit in order to save a run. Sometimes, not advancing into scoring position will keep the inning alive and provide the next hitter an opportunity.

It is easy to get caught up in the emotion of a game and try harder to provide your team with a chance to win. Matheny has been teaching the young club that those chances will present themselves sometimes. He has enforced aggressive baserunning but advised that there is a time and a place for it.

The aggression shown by the young Cardinals can be exciting and flashy. It can become the source of highlight reels and amazing stories. At the same time, as we all saw on opening day 2013, it can also have the opposite effect and have the team struggling to come back.

Allen Craig will need to dig throws out of the dirt. Daniel Descalso will need to learn to not always try and take the extra base. Jon Jay will have to learn to play a line drive on a hop and throw the runner out at the plate.

The Cardinals have the right plan going into 2013 -- playing fundamental baseball and being aggressive on the basepaths when the situation calls for it.

If they don't stick to the plan, however, it might be a bumpy ride.

Bill Ivie can be found writing about the Cardinals at i70baseball as well as here on Yahoo! Sports. You can find him talking baseball on Twitter regularly.

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