It appears the Cardinals dug themselves too big of a hole to get out of when they started the seasons 26-32. As games in April and May count the same as games in June, July, August, and September, it matters not that the Cardinals have played two-thirds of the season like a 90-win team that could have won the division (BaseRuns says they've been a 90-win team even with the tough start). They will finish the season with three games against the Brewers.
This was a season of missed opportunities. While the Cubs were floundering, the Cardinals managed to match them. As the Cubs got better, trading for Jose Quintana, Alex Avila, and Justin Wilson, the Cardinals did nothing. Yet still, the Cardinals improved.
Tommy Pham is having the best offensive season by a Cardinals player since they last won the World Series. Paul DeJong has more than made up for the disappointing season from Aledmys Diaz. Dexter Fowler has been everything the Cardinals could have hoped for. Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter were solid performers. Kolten Wong plyaed well when he was healthy. Michael Wacha was healthy and solid. Lance Lynn had a good ERA. Luke Weaver came in and pitched like an ace for a while. Carlos Martinez just might lead the National League in innings even if his production has been merely good and not great.
This Cardinals team has put up numbers like a team that should be right there with the Cubs at the top of the division with the Wild Card as an easy fallback. We can say that the bullpen was bad, but mostly, it was average just with sub-optimal deployment. The team is six games under .500 in one-run games, including five games under .500 against the division-winning Chicago Cubs in those tight contests. According to the Baseball-Reference play-index, which is where I go to get these types of stats, the Cardinals are just 7-15 this season when tied heading into the seventh innings and 3-11 when tied heading into the eighth inning.
There are few ways of looking at it:
- The Cardinals have played like a 90+ win team, but they’ve had some bad luck in close games. It’s random and it happens.
- The Cardinals have played exactly what the record indicates, a team a little above .500 and barely a contender. They just aren’t that good.
- The Cardinals have played like a 90+ win team, but there is something about the distribution of skills with the players or perhaps the manager that prevented them from reaching that goal.
If you are person one, you might be justified in taking roughly this exact same team out next spring, replacing Lance Lynn either internally or externally, and then replacing Rosenthal/Nicasio in the pen.
If you are person two, you need to re-evaluate everything about the Cardinals, players, managers, front office strategy, everything, and it probably means taking major risks this offseason to avoid another failure.
If you are person three, you can take a little bit of one and a little bit of two. Realize the team is good, but don’t pretend like it can’t get a lot better. A lot can go wrong in a baseball season, so provide a greater margin for error by improving every single marginal outcome. Even if you believe this year's team had a 90-win talent level, the same team next season might not be at the same level due to regression and aging.
Regardless which camp you are in, let’s not pretend like the next three games matter at all in your evaluation. It is much too late for that. These next three games are the final opportunity of the season to enjoy world-class athletes play a world-class game. Don’t treat these games like they could possibly change your evaluation of the season. Perhaps that way, you can enjoy them a little more than some of these games coming down the stretch.
The Cardinals are playing the Brewers in what should be an important matchup for the playoffs. It’s not, though. It is Cardinals baseball, and we are about to be without for quite some time.
- Tonight, September 29, 7:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network
John Gant v Chase Anderson
- Saturday, September 30, 3:15 pm CT, FS1
Luke Weaver v TBD
- Sunday, October 1, 2:15 pm CT, Fox Sports Midwest
Carlos Martinez v TBD