St. Louis Cardinals

Sad, sorry Cardinals irrelevant in playoff hunt and at trade deadline

Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and General Manager Mike Girsch will have their work cut out for them assembling a contender for the future. But don't look for them to make any big moves as the non-waiver trade deadline nears.
Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and General Manager Mike Girsch will have their work cut out for them assembling a contender for the future. But don't look for them to make any big moves as the non-waiver trade deadline nears. Tim Vizer

Out of sight in the National League Central race, an afterthought in the wild card race, and now a non-factor at the trade deadline.

This is how sad, sorry and irrelevant the Cardinals’ season has become.

Almost two weeks after interim manager Mike Shildt took the helm, the Cardinals have lost ground in the battle for a playoff spot — in fourth place in the NL Central, with nine teams in the NL with a better record as the Redbirds advance (ahem) their candidacy for one of two wild card berths.

Too many teams to pass, too many mountains to climb, too many hurdles to overcome — even if the Cardinals were playing top-echelon baseball. Which they’re not.

And now, with the non-waiver trade deadline nearing Tuesday, the Cardinals find themselves on the outside looking in as teams weigh player moves to improve their playoff chances — or ways to improve their team for next year and years to come.

Why?

Simply put, no single move (or even multiple moves) will be enough to put the middling, meandering Redbirds back into the playoff picture.

And they have no player (aside from Matt Carpenter) that could help a contending team looking for more help down the stretch.

Granted, talk of a Cardinals’ playoff berth is preposterous, given their .500 record, a porous bullpen, oft-inept lineup, sometimes-suspect starting pitching, and a defense that summons to memory this old wisecrack: What do the Cardinals players and Michael Jackson have in common? They wear a glove on one hand for no apparent reason.

Ah, if only it were a laughing matter.

This team, unless its fortunes change dramatically, will finish with the franchise’s worst won-loss record since 2007, when Tony La Russa’s team battled a raft of injuries before finishing 76-84.

The Cardinals are likely to miss the playoffs three years running for the first time since 1997-99, And unless they find a way to climb above the break-even mark the next two months, they will face this stark fact: The team has had only one losing season (that 2007 club) this century.

To measure it another way: If the Cubs played only .500 ball the rest of the season, finishing 89-73, the Cardinals would have to go 18 games over .500 the rest of the way — 39-21 — to pass them in the standings. If it’s hard to imagine a second half in which the Cubs play much worse than they have all season, it’s even harder to imagine the Cardinals playing much better.

Playoff talk aside, the Cardinals find themselves only six games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds for last-place honors in the Central division. That’s an astonishing fact: Just two months ago, the Reds were 21 games under .500 (at 22-43) and 14 1/2 games behind the Cardinals.

A little context: A Cardinals team last finished in fourth place in its division in 2008, the only time since the turn of the century that they’ve been that low in the standings. Heaven forbid: They haven’t finished last in their division since 1990 — the year Whitey Herzog walked away from the manager’s job on July 6, disillusioned after a decade in the job.

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Matt Carpenter has turned around a slow start in which he batted just .155 in May. He currently is batting .260 and leads the Cardinals with 15 home runs. Jeff Roberson AP

Looking for a silver lining? Maybe a fourth- or fifth- or sixth-place finish will be enough to convince Cardinals management to make sweeping changes this winter, acknowledging the mistakes they’ve made to acquire or give long-term contracts to Brett Cecil, Greg Holland, Mike Leake, Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong, Stephen Piscotty, and Marcell Ozuna

But that sea change is unlikely to commence this week, as contending teams use the trade deadline to improve their clubs for 2018, or pretenders deal established frontliners for promising youngsters in a bid to bolster their rosters in the years to come.

Just as they are in the playoff race, the Redbirds are likely to be onlookers only at the trade deadline:

The one St. Louis player of much interest to other teams would be Carpenter, but he’s virtually untouchable after hitting .340 with 22 home runs, 40 RBI and 54 runs scored since he stood at .140 with three HRs, 13 RBI and 23 runs scored on May 15. He has almost doubled his average, to .275, in the two months since.

What about others on the club? What contending team thinks Ozuna – no home runs, only 11 RBIs in 34 games since June 16 — would help down the stretch? Or Fowler, hitting a miserable .181 for the season? Or Wong, at .216 and on the disabled list? Or even Jose Martinez, contributing at the plate (.295, 13 homers) but a liability defensively (seven errors, no range)?

Ditto for the pitching staff, dogged by injuries to key members of the rotation (Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha) and ineptitude on the part of nearly every reliever not named Jordan Hicks or Bud Norris.

And so we sit, 102 games into the season, 60 games left — the prospects dim for a 2018 turnaround or a 2019-and-beyond uptick in player talent.

Sad? Sorry? Irrelevant? Such are the Cardinals as this dreary season drags on.

Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985.
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