On a night in which the pitching staff issued eight walks and the offense could muster only two hits, you can’t rightfully pin the Cardinals’ costly one-run loss to the Brewers last Wednesday on rookie Adolis Garcia’s base-running gaffe.
But is there a more perfect metaphor for the way the second half of the Redbirds’ season played out?
The new manager turned to the fresh legs of a rookie to do a job the core veteran couldn’t do. The youngster made a quick first step, built up a head of steam, charged hard into the final turn toward the home stretch, and then ...
.... fell down. Inexplicably. Had the throw beat and face planted within a few steps of home plate.
The Cardinals had won six of seven games, including three in a row over the Giants, to build a game-and-a-half lead for the National League’s final playoff spot with a week left to play. Then they stumbled in a three-game sweep to the Brewers and tripped over the Cubs at Wrigley Friday.
While the Cardinals sat on the turf, head in hands, the Dodgers and Rockies trotted past with only the NL West title left to be decided.
For the third year in a row, the Cardinals have prematurely freed their fans to retreat into their offseason dens until pitchers and catcher report again in February.
But— and you can go ahead call me an optimist — this ending, frustrating as it may be, doesn’t have the same stink as 2017’s epic collapse.
Last year at this time, John Mozeliak and the St. Louis brass, were still proclaiming their confidence in Mike Matheny, who had insisted on shorting his bench with an eight-man bullpen, while feeding innings to a few overworked arms. Base running and defensive issues persisted. There were no clear incumbents on the infield corners, the outfield needed an overhaul and two closers finished the season on the disabled list.
This year, we can see the way forward. We’ve already witnessed positive trends.
Matheny was dispatched, and new manager Mike Shildt oversaw big changes to the construction of the lineup.
Six of the Cardinals’ eight everyday position players are home grown. Save for Miles Mikolas, who was reclaimed from the Japanese league to win 18 games with a 2.83 ERA, a deep stable of rotation candidates also was developed down on the farm. That starts, of course with 22-year-old Jack Flaherty, who had a break-out year with 179 strikeouts in 148 innings.
Nine rookies made their major league debuts and several promotions from triple-A Memphis made immediate and significant impact, notably outfielders Harrison Bader (60 runs scored in 95 starts with Gold Glove-worthy defense) and Tyler O’Neill (.512 slugging in 60 games).
Even the manager, Shildt, is a product of the organization.
Those young Cardinals were 14 games over .500 after the All-Star break, leap-frogged seven other NL teams in the standings, finished with their most wins since 2015, and were still in the playoff hunt when they won game No. 161.
This is not to say the Cardinals don’t have issues to address or questions to be answered:
- Will the Redbirds stand on their current roster or add another piece, like a power-hitting third baseman?
- Can Alex Reyes stay healthy and make the rotation just that much deeper?
- Will Adam Wainwright retire, entertain a short-term offer from the Cardinals, or sign on with another club?
- Can Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina continue to produce in the heart of the lineup?
- How much repair does the bullpen really need?
- What becomes of Dexter Fowler and the last three years of his contract?
Yes, the lights have gone out at Busch Stadium for the final time this year and it will be another chilly autumn in St. Louis. And, yes, these young Redbirds stumbled at the end.
But their second-half trend tells me they can dust themselves off and make another home-stretch run in 2019.
Better days are ahead.