With the Cardinals loss on Wednesday to the Cubs and the Rockies win over the Marlins, the elimination number fell to 1. With that, the odds of the Cardinals making the playoffs fell to 1 in 143, or 0.7%. It solidified something many of us have known for a long time—that this team is not consistent enough to merit a playoff berth. For all intents and purposes, it put the final nail in the coffin for the 2017 season. And with the loss to the Cubs last night, it was official.
It was a season that will surely be examined and analyzed many times over for the next couple months, but it will ultimately be remembered as a frustrating period of time where the Cardinals were a good team with a high floor, but a low ceiling. In addition, it was a time where frustration with Mike Matheny and, more surprisingly, the front office, rose to levels not seen in many years.
Still, with all of the trials of this season, I would argue that many positives came from it. Some obvious developments and others that are perhaps not so obvious. Nevertheless, these developments are significant enough that if supplemented with the right players, this team could contend in the near future.
The Emergence of Tommy Pham
What Pham has accomplished this year has been nothing short of sensational. Despite having the fewest plate appearances of any player in the top 10, he was able to post a WAR value that slotted him at 6th in the National League. He did this in essentially 3⁄4 of a season. In addition, he has an outside shot at 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases—something that would be a truly remarkable feat. Even if he is unable to reach that milestone, his strong season has solidified his spot in the outfield for next year and, barring an epic meltdown, for years to come.
To address potential offseason moves, the establishment of Pham as a reliable everyday player under contract through 2021 creates the possibility of the Cardinals packaging younger outfield prospects for an upgrade at another position. It is not flexibility the Cardinals lack, it is the willingness to actually make a move.
The Establishment of Tyler Lyons
On the other side of the field, Tyler Lyons established himself as a dominant, late-inning reliever. He is not a player that necessarily needs to close out games, I would give that role to Nicasio. But having access to a player that can be successful in tight situations is key to a strong bullpen. Especially with Rosenthal likely out for the entire 2018 season with Tommy John surgery, Lyons will have a consistent role with the big league club from day one.
Lyons is a player who is under arbitration through the 2020 season. Another significant asset the Cardinals have under control for a good bargain. It is with pieces like this that give the front office the flexibility to go out and acquire a bigger name free agent.
While these are simply two of the many silver linings to this season, overall there is no way to classify the 2017 campaign other than disappointing. Although the Cardinals may not have taken a step forward by making the playoffs, they certainly have options and pieces that create flexibility heading into the offseason.