For the first time in the Mike Matheny era (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), the St. Louis Cardinals ended their season on a winning streak instead of a three-game losing streak. Unfortunately, this four-game winning streak is relatively meaningless considering it did not cap off the organization’s 12th World Series title — the only way for a postseason-bound team to end a season with a victory. Instead, the Cardinals have the month of October off for the first time since 2010, and despite my opinion of this season being more like an obligation, it still feels really weird.
Despite the title, I will not write a true postmortem for the 2016 Cardinals. I will not be playing the blame game. If you have read any of my stuff, you should know that is not really my style. However, it is my day to write here at VEB, so I intend on providing a few of my personal thoughts on the season, a brief look forward to the 2017 season, and finally, what to expect from me over the offseason.
First and foremost, many people will write (or already have written) that the Cardinals didn’t make the playoffs because of some poorly-managed ballgames by Mike Matheny. Heck, before we even knew the outcome of the 2016 season, our terrific site manager Craig Edwards wrote a well-thought-out, fact-based article on why the manager should be fired. Others will take a different route by going after general manager John Mozeliak and the DeWitts for being “cheap” over the offseason.
The fact is, after years of being downright terrible (so bad for so long that even Al Yellon pondered the firing Theo Epstein), the Cubs, under the calculated guidance of Epstein and Jed Hoyer, were the much better team than the Cardinals this season. No, removing some of Matheny’s questionable in-game tactics would not have made the Central Division race all that much closer. Also, no “big-name” signing over the offseason would have made too much of a difference in the division, either. Heck, when you look back at the offseason “headliner” deals, none of the contracts look all that appealing anyway.
Yet, to be fair, I will hear out both sides here. Say Matheny did manage a few games better (or say the offense delivered on what math considered probable after a ninth-inning lead-off triple) or say Mozeliak did successfully land a big-name player (or two) over the offseason, and the Cardinals won one, two, three, or maybe even four more games this season. They would have been guaranteed at most a tiebreaker game 163, with the potential for game 164, and if they managed to win both, a true postseason series against the team with the best record in baseball.
Essentially, this was a long way of saying, “The Cardinals were who we thought they were” this season. If they had reached the coin-flip Wild Card game and lost, would we have considered the season a success? Simply because they were able to celebrate in the clubhouse for making the “postseason”? Nah. While I like the addition of a second Wild Card, especially when one team runs away with the division, I won’t consider the team I root for truly in the playoffs until they reach the NLDS. The percentages were stacked against the Cardinals to reach the NLDS, even if they would have been granted the tiebreaker game 163.
Thus, this is the end for the 2016 Cardinals. No, we are not spoiled for being upset about this ending, but we also must be willing to admit that the Cardinals were an inferior team this season. Given what they’ve gone through, it happens. That being said, there is definite promise when you look forward to the 2017 season.
The pitching staff, which did not live up to its expectations this season, should be really good next year. Lance Lynn returns. Hopefully, at least one of Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales returns. Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver, barring the inclusion in an offseason trade (for Kevin Kiermaier?!) will be back. Adam Wainwright will come up with yet another way to get hitters out, as his stuff continues to decline. Carlos Martinez will emerge as a true front-line starting pitcher. If not finally given a chance to start, Trevor Rosenthal will become part of a two-header monster with Seung Hwan Oh. The offense, which became a home-run hitting machine, should retain many of its bats in 2017. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will.
As for me, after some time off (hopefully), I plan on digging into pitch sequencing this offseason. It is easily my single favorite part of baseball. I have already touched on the topic in the past, but I want to go further. If the topic of pitch sequencing interests you (and you are better with statistics than I am), please reach out to me via email. I look forward to getting started, and fortunately, the Cardinals have two starting pitchers (Martinez and Reyes) that will make this undertaking a whole lot more fun.
Enjoy October and get out on the golf course while the weather still permits.