It seems that St. Louis Cardinals fandom is divided following an awful start that’s seen the club lose all of its first four series of the 2017 season.
Some folks are quick to point out that the Redbirds got off to a similar start in the spring of 2011 – and went on to win the World Series. Others think it’s the end of the world and that it’s time to blow up this club and start from scratch.
I’m starting to believe the latter explanation is more likely than the former.
While I’d like to be optimistic that this club can turn things around like it did six years ago, there are a lot of differences between this edition of the Cardinals and that one. The 2011 team was chock full of superstar players – Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday. This team doesn’t seem to have many players on its roster that competing clubs would prefer to their own players.
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Who would the Chicago Cubs replace on their team with current Cardinals? They might find a place to fit Carlos Martinez someplace. But that’s about it. I don’t think Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong could hold down a place on Chicago’s bench.
Even if the Cardinals could turn things around, the hole they’ve placed themselves would make their task monumental, to say the least.
At 3-9 after a miserable road trip that saw St. Louis lose two of three to the Washington Nationals and get swept by the New York Yankees, the Cardinals can probably expect to have to turn in a 92-72 record to have a reasonable chance to make the postseason as a wild-card team. That means they’d have to go 88-62 from here on out. That’s a pretty dominant win-loss record to expect for a team that hasn’t been able to get out of its own way in April.
I am so tired of hearing people say, “It’s just a small sample size” of the Redbirds’ record as if their struggles are a new thing.
The Birds were exceedingly mediocre last season. And now they’re a year older. They were poor defensively, their pitching was inconsistent and their offense struck out too much and couldn’t advance runners on the bases. A lot of folks like me were pretty perplexed when the team announced it planned to solve most of its problems by magically getting the players it has to play better – under the same coaching staff that allowed them to underachieve the year before.
In short, this team is what we thought it was.
So, how did we get here?
The Redbirds have seen an awful lot of talent walk out the door since the last time this team won the World Series six years ago. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of effort to replace pillar players with new pillar players.
Pujols departed that offseason via free agency. Berkman was injured for most of 2012 and departed for the Texas Rangers the next winter. Allen Craig was injured down the stretch in 2013 and was never the same, eventually causing him to be traded to the Boston Red Sox. Adam Wainwright was hurt in 2011 but returned to Cy Young Award contention in between the last two St. Louis World Series. But it appears that the Achilles injury he suffered in 2015 has gotten the best of him and he isn’t the same. Holliday left as a free agent last year.
In their place are a bunch of players who are decent athletes. But they’re not stars by any measure.
Matt Carpenter looked pretty nice batting at the top of the order with Berkman, Holliday and Craig holding down the fort in the middle of the order. But the third-place batter is supposedly the best hitter on a team. If Carpenter is setting the table or complementing your offense while batting sixth or seventh, he’s a pretty nice piece. But if he’s your best hitter, you’ve got problems.
I have been searching high and low for reasons to be positive about this team. I hope it all somehow comes together. But I’m just not seeing that happen at this point. Still, I’m sick of people saying you’re not a “real Cardinals fan” if you complain about how terrible they are.
I’m not going to run out and buy a Cubs or Pirates cap. But it’s not healthy to pretend everything is all right when it clearly isn’t. The only way the Birds are going to get better is if things are critically examined and a plan to get better is formulated.
Maybe, as a fan base, we are spoiled by this team’s success. Regardless, what they’re throwing on the field right now isn’t good enough.