More likely than not, those reading this article do not work for the St. Louis Cardinals. I am a pharmacist, and you may be a teacher, a lawyer, an accountant, a small business owner, among countless of other career choices. You may have fallen on tough times and are in the process of searching for a new job. No shame at all there because most of us get that, as most of us have been there (or will be there at some point in our lives). Heck, you may even be retired (hey, Dad) after many years of hard work. Tip of the cap to you for the accomplishment. Yet, regardless of each of our day “jobs,” one thing has remained the same for much of the last decade: St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
After winning the 2006 World Series despite “backing into” the playoffs with an 83-78 record, the Cardinals missed the playoffs in three of four seasons from 2007 through 2010. We all know what happened in 2011 as the term “Game 6” brings back truly unforgettable memories. The “Mike Matheny era” began immediately after the 2011 World Series title and Tony La Russa’s subsequent retirement from managing, and despite a disappointing string of three-losses-in-a-row exits from the playoffs, the Cardinals have been really good, making October runs in each season but the last one (as they fell in the divisional series, three games to one, to the Cubs).
Unfortunately, from the very beginning, the experience of cheering for the Cardinals has felt different in 2016. Oh so very different. They were underdogs now. Growing behind years of rebuilding under the direction of Theo Esptein and Jed Hoyer, the Cubs were the clear favorite to win the division, even after Kyle Schwarber went down early with an ACL tear. And after “coming in second” on both David Price and Jason Heyward over the offseason, it honestly would have been wise to temper one’s expectations for the Cardinals (especially considering Mike Leake ended up being the offseason headliner).
Of course, Heyward has dealt with well-documented struggles at the plate all season (71 wRC+ over 582 plate appearances), so his departure was not necessarily the worst thing (Stephen Piscotty: 117 wRC+ over 632 PAs). Despite not quite a “peak David Price” season with Boston, the 31-year-old’s 4.5 fWAR would be more than a win greater than any current Cardinals starting pitcher (Carlos Martinez leads the team at 3.0). Plus, given the prolonged injury issues of Michael Wacha, Tim Cooney, Marco Gonzales, and Tyler Lyons, Price would absolutely have been a welcome addition this season.
Even without Price (and Lance Lynn, for that matter), the Cardinals had what appeared to be a very good starting rotation, the foundation of their 100-win 2015 season. Heck, Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal ranked the rotation as third and second best in baseball, respectively, prior to the season. Well, with four games left to play, the Cardinals rotation possesses the league’s 14th-lowest ERA at 4.12, whiling faring better in FIP at 3.92 (seventh lowest). Regardless, this performance is nowhere near its 2015 level (2.94 ERA, 3.48 FIP), and it certainly has not been top-three worthy.
On the flip side, the offense has been terrific, posting a non-pitcher wRC+ of 108 — good enough for third highest in baseball behind only, you guessed it, the Cubs (113) and the Red Sox (114). They have been miserable on the base paths, but with an offense backed by 216 home runs (and an isolated power of .186), they find themselves in the top ten of runs scored with 735 (after scoring 647 in 2015). Obviously, you wish the offense could come through with a mere sac fly or a bloop single in certain situations, but overall, if your gripe about the 2016 Cardinals is primarily (or even secondarily) offense-related, I would sincerely question your analysis.
The problem for the 2016 Cardinals, and this is where “obligation” replaces the usual “privilege,” is the team’s frustrating inconsistency. Too many times did fans endure cycles where the middling pitching found a groove but the near-league-leading offense was lost or the offense was clicking but the pitching simply couldn’t get hitters out. The team came from behind in miraculous ways at times, but none ending up serving as a true “turning point.” According to our own Alex Crisafulli (and upon further review, he’s probably not too far off), the 2016 Cardinals have experienced “at least ten” “this win could be what turns it around” moments.
The Cardinals have been nine games over .500 on nine separate occasions, and each time they’ve had the opportunity to get to 10 over, they’ve lost. Their best first-half hitters have been ice cold in the last 30 days as Matt Carpenter is hitting .198, Jedd Gyorko is at .200, and Brandon Moss is at an abysmal .071. When Leake and two rookies (Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver) are outperforming your staff ace(s) over the last month, you know things aren’t going well.
Now, there have absolutely been unexpected bright spots in Seung Hwan Oh, Aledmys Diaz, Alex Reyes, and Yadier Molina (on offense), but these are only three (and a half) players of an active pre-September roster of 25. A team, over 162 regular-season games, needs more players stepping up should they want to get over the hump, and this is something we have seen from the Cardinals in the past. When a player goes down with an injury, oftentimes a replacement steps in admirably. When one hitter is slumping, another picks up the slack.
Unfortunately, the “privilege” that is watching St. Louis Cardinals baseball has felt more like an “obligation” all season. Instead of coming home from work excited to watch the game on Fox Sports Midwest, the feeling has transformed into “which team is going to show up tonight?” or “will I even end up watching the entire game?”
Four games remain in 2016, and considering how bad the San Francisco Giants have been, the Cardinals still somehow have a shot at a Wild Card berth. Here’s to hoping they make this article look extremely silly. Given their upcoming opponents (one more against the Reds and then three against a Gerrit Cole/Francisco Liriano/Mark Melancon-less Pirates), the Cardinals should be able to finish the season strong. But given how 2016 has gone thus far, what can we honestly expect?