When Will the Cardinals Stop Being Good?

I know that while we're sitting in the middle of one of the greatest runs of postseason appearances in MLB history, we all like to think that the Cardinals are always going to be good. I mean, I'm sure none of the citizens in Ancient Rome ever considered that one day their empire would fall. But let's be honest with ourselves. The Cardinals aren't going to make the playoffs every year, and eventually, they're going to have another 1950s, 70s, and 90s, where they just won't be able to escape from mediocrity following the relative success of the previous decade.

Yes, the Cardinals won 100 games this year, and it was the first time in their string of five consecutive playoff appearances that they accomplished that feat. They were the most dominant team in baseball from the beginning to the end despite a hiccup in September. And I don't need to go into too much detail about how the Chicago Cubs defeated them in the NLDS, because we've already read enough articles about that.

This is the first year that the Cardinals led the MLB in wins during this since-2011 era, yet compared to previous years, this Cardinal team just feels...worse, and not just because of its early exit in the playoffs. For the first time ever, there wasn't one player that we as a fanbase could turn to and say, "That's our guy." You know, someone we could turn to in a clutch situation and know that he was going to come through for us. And while overall that ends up being an argument for the strength of this roster and not against it, when you think about it, star players are necessary to all ball clubs. I know, you are what your record says you are, but I'd take the 2011 or the 2013 team over this year's. In a best-of-seven World Series, I think that either of those teams would beat the one that just bowed out in the NLDS.

The 2015 Cardinals earned a lot of praise for how they dealt with the injuries that were constantly depleting their forces all year. It was like trying to fill up a bathtub with a large leak in the bottom. The team could never reach its full potential because key players were going down left and right. And yes, no team ever reaches its full potential because every team has to deal with injuries during a 162-game season.

Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Randal Grichuk, Jon Jay, Jordan Walden, and Carlos Martinez were all out for either long or significant periods. The Wainwright injury is the most-referenced of this bunch, as it showed the resilience of the rest of the rotation.

When I think about it, though, did the Matt Holliday and Matt Adams injuries really hurt the Cardinals as much as we all think they did? Holliday, as we all know, was dominant at the start of the season and got on base in each of his first 45 games. Then, he hurt his leg, missed 31 games and eventually came back for a period of 12 contests (he appeared in 11) before he re-injured that leg of his and was sidelined for all of August and a bit of September. And Adams, as we all know, failed to live up to expectations at the beginning of the year by batting .243 and hitting just 4 home runs. Jay was off to an awful start, then he missed most of the year and was awful when he came back.

The offense struggled this year. I'm not saying it didn't. But I am saying that I think that the Cardinals would not have been much better had those three guys been healthy all year. Let's think about it. At the beginning of the year, the outfield was Holliday-Jay-Heyward. For much of the season, it ended up being Piscotty-Grichuk-Heyward. And did Piscotty and Grichuk do better than Holliday and Jay would have?

Without making things too complex, Piscotty hit .305 with 7 home runs and 15 doubles plus 4 triples in 63 games after his call-up to the majors midseason. Grichuk hit .276 with 17 home runs and, for a large part of the season, was in the discussion for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Those two guys' combined performance, is, in my opinion, better than what Holliday and Jay could have done (cue the sabermetric theologians who will correct me in the comment section with some bizarre statistic that shows that Holliday and Jay were the two best outfielders in baseball this year).

Just this year, I don't think the Matt Adams injury really killed us, given his level of play before and after the injury, but I sure wish we could have come up with a better solution for replacing him than giving Rob Kaminsky to the Indians for Brandon Moss, who Mike Matheny didn't really put in the lineup as we all originally assumed he would. The loss of Kaminsky is worse than the loss of Adams's performance this year (opinion).

Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez were two of the players who really managed to step up in the face of all the injuries to key players. They both became All-Stars, and by many people's opinion, are going to be key players for this franchise for another decade and a half to come. I'm kind of tired of reciting statistics, so go look them up if you really want to know, but I guarantee you they were solid.

Now, I've had my doubts about Martinez during just about every stage of his development, but I've always kind of thought Wacha was a sure thing since the moment we drafted him. He put up a great first half, but his performance slowly declined, all the way to the point where he was downright ineffective by the end of the season. Steve McNeil over at Redbird Rants wrote a pretty good article about Wacha yesterday about his opponents' relatively low BABIP. A lot of people will argue some of McNeil's points by saying that Wacha is a fly ball pitcher, but hey, how fun was it watching a fly ball pitcher in Game 3 of the NLDS?

So, let's say Wacha doesn't pan out. He just flops after this year, because finally, when hitters put the bat on the ball against him, they place it in the right spots. That's one of the centerpieces of the Cardinals' future right there, just down the drain. And while I don't believe anything this extreme will happen, it is definitely a possibility.

So after lingering on the subject of players within our organization's pasts in a post that is supposed to be speculating about the future, I now reach that point. The Reds, Pirates and Cubs have been building up their farm systems while our Birds have been winning their division these past few years (the Brewers don't really know what they're doing). The Cardinals' system has experienced a serious depletion in bats, and the big-league roster is already full of pitching. The Cubs, Reds, Pirates, and Brewers have a combined eighteen players on's Top 100 prospects list. The Cubs have already graduated Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber to the majors, and they are by no means stopping. The Pirates have Tyler Glasnow, arguably the best pitching prospect in the minors, knocking on the door of the bigs, as well as Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, and Jameson Taillon. The Reds pretty much just used five rookies as their starting rotation this year, and they'll likely trade away a lot of their team this offseason and obtain even more talent. The Brewers have like, two guys who look like they will be good!

So, pretty much, talent is rising throughout the NL Central. The Chicago Cubs won 97 games and are in the NLCS this year primarily because of their young guys and Jake Arrieta. There's rumors that they're interested in David Price, and if they have Arrieta and Price in the same rotation then it's time to panic.

The Pirates don't appear as threatening, as a lot of their wins can be attributed to the veterans on the team, but they have extreme talent in the minor leagues and at least look to be competitive for another few years.

The Reds and Brewers both look like they might be okay, I guess.

So the point that I'm trying to get across here is that we don't have any young talent that seems poised to emerge yet. Everyone thought that 2015 was going to be Kolten Wong's breakout season, and that was a disappointment. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, are, in the view of pretty much any dumb expert on the Internet, incapable of sustaining their respective performances this year, and our core members of the team, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and Adam Wainwright, are growing older by the day (and yes, I know that we are all growing older by the day regardless of our age, thank you sarcastic reader).

I think that it isn't out of the question at all that the Cardinals fail to reach the playoffs next year. The Cubs are going to be good, as are the Pirates, which obviously cripples our chances of winning the division. As for that wild card spot, the Nationals might actually live up to the hype, the Giants will be in an even-numbered year, so it's either them or the Dodgers that are going to claim one of these spots, and the Mets might also claim a spot if the Nats win the East.

I know that instead of worrying about the future, I should be enjoying the present, but the Cardinals are declining. It's a slow collapse. When the 2020s come, I think we'll be done.

There are a few reasons why this might not happen, though. First of all, the 2015 Cards ranked first in the majors in production from players younger than 25. Second of all, if Heyward signs in the offseason, we've got the prime seasons of one of the better prospects in recent memory. He may not hit 30 homers, but I wouldn't bet against it.

We've been gifted to watch one of the greatest runs of success in Cardinal history. The glory days of our modern team. Reminding everyone else how to play baseball "the right way." Defying expectations year after year, showing the experts that they cannot claim that title if they think that they know what is going to happen in baseball games before they happen.

But the day is going to come. When we see the Cubs piling on top of each other with their first title in over 100 years. When the last day of the regular season is the last day of the season, and it will be us that will have to choose teams to love and hate in October. We'll have to be the ones on the outside looking in, watching another team win the division while we shout "Just wait 'til next year!" I almost forgot how it felt.