Matt Carpenter’s words were blunt, to the point, and telling.
Talking to reporters in Wrigley Field’s visitors clubhouse Sunday – after the St. Louis Cardinals lost 10-5 to the Chicago Cubs to end another frustrating season – Carpenter didn’t mince his words.
“We as an organization, as a total group, top to bottom, everybody in this clubhouse, all the staff,” he said, “we have to find a way to get better, to compete if we want to play in October.”
Gee, do you think anyone could cross-stitch that onto a couple couch pillows this winter for Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak?
Or could somebody frame those words and put them in the Cards’ clubhouse, next to the quote from Stan Musial?
“I love putting on this uniform,” it says.
Yes, time to put the concept of rededication, pride and joy back into the Cardinals uniform.
This year, a midseason managerial change and an influx of young talent wasn’t enough to end the team’s three-years-and-counting playoff drought.
As of Tuesday, it’s been 1,090 days since the Redbirds last played a postseason game – a 6-4 loss to the Cubs in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 13, 2015.
It’ll be another 365 days before that streak can end next October, but much work remains for the Cards to get there.
Top of the list? A determination, echoed in Carpenter’s words, to get better – from the owner’s office to the front office to the manager’s office to the performance on the field.
Carpenter hit .257 – not good enough for the cornerstone of the Cards offense, not even with a career-high 36 home runs. Marcell Ozuna had a good, not great season at the plate (.280, 23 HRs, 88 RBI), and considerably less than that afield. Jose Martinez couldn’t man a defensive position where he didn’t hurt the Cardinals.
Kolten Wong was the opposite of that, splendid with the glove but still maddeningly inconsistent with the bat. Paul DeJong got hurt and then got better, but not enough better. Dexter Fowler was a disappointment from Opening Day until an August injury put him on the disabled list and out of our thoughts.
The pitching staff? Aside from a miraculous season from Miles Mikolas (18-4, 2.83 ERA overall, 10-0 on the road) and some good early work from Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris, there remain lingering memories of another lost year for Adam Wainwright, a bullpen in disarray for much of the season, and perplexing inconsistency from young pitchers assuming increasingly important roles in the rotation and bullpen.
In the end, even a change in the manager’s office wasn’t enough. An infusion of energy when Mike Shildt replaced Mike Matheny dissipated as the season reached its final weeks.
The Cardinals were 26-12 when Shildt’s job title included the word “interim.” After he was given the job for good, they went 15-16, which means the Cardinals went 62-62 for Matheny and Shildt when they had the permanent job title this year.
Don’t know what to make of that, but I know what to make of this: St. Louis won 10 of 12 series in July and August under Shildt, only to lose five of nine series in September.
One possible reason: The kid pitchers, for instance, wore down as they pitched in September for the first time (the minor-league season ends a month earlier than the majors).
The Triple-A callups were needed because injuries struck as the season unfolded, sidelining Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, Jedd Gyorko, Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, DeJong, Fowler, Wong and others.
The team was undermanned as the year went along, and a number of moves at the trade deadline did little to help.
Which brings us back to Carpenter’s words: This team simply can’t go into 2019 with the same mindset (and roster) that it had as 2018 ended.
Mozeliak and General Manager Michael Girsch must take a major step this winter, bringing in a frontline middle-of-the-lineup bat. That will be a tough get, but guess what? Cardinals fans are tired of the front office folks complaining about how difficult their jobs are.
Other topics of concern: Who will assume the closer’s role? What is Fowler’s future here? If Wainwright retires or leaves for another team, who will take his leadership role in the clubhouse? Can anything be done to improve the defense, aside from new players manning key positions in the field? With Molina a year older, do the Cardinals have his successor (Carson Kelly, Andrew Knizner) in house? Where can the Cardinals hide Martinez in the field, or should they quit trying? Will Reyes be able to contribute as next season dawns?
The young core of talent – Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Hicks, and Reyes – is tantalizing. The core of veterans – Marcel Ozuna, Molina, Carpenter, and DeJong – is good if not great.
But it’s not enough. And with the likes of Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and other free agents available, it’s time for Mozeliak and Girsch to do better this winter than the Cardinals did this summer.