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St. Louis Cardinals swept out of playoff contention with poor showing against Chicago Cubs

The St. Louis Cardinals went to Wrigley Field over the weekend to prove the naysayers wrong by making a statement in beating the National League Central-leading Chicago Cubs in a three-game set.

Unfortunately, it seems the Redbirds instead proved the naysayers — who complain the team doesn’t have enough offense, big-game players, useful bullpen pitchers or competent fielders to compete for a championship — to be correct.

St. Louis was swept by the Cubs. The Cardinals were given a chance to shine and they didn’t know where to start.

Meanwhile, manager Mike Matheny continued to make excuses for his club, saying it lacked only a key hit here or there, when everyone watching the games could see that his team was soundly outplayed.

Because of their place in the standings, the Cardinals entered the series with nothing to lose and everything to gain going. They should have been free and easy and eager to prove themselves. The team surrendered its pride but gave little resistance in three consecutive contests.

On both Friday and Saturday, Matheny didn’t take advantage of having an especially deep September bullpen, choosing instead to watch struggling starting pitchers Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha falter. By the time he went to his bullpen, it was far too late.

The Birds were forced to use Jose Martinez as their cleanup hitter in this key series. No offense to the young slugger because he’s had a really nice season. But is a guy in his second major-league campaign after languishing for the better part of a decade in the minor leagues really an acceptable option as a fourth-place hitter on a team that’s a legitimate playoff contender?

As an extra outfielder, back-up first baseman and power source off the bench? Great. As the primary power source in the middle of the batting order? Not so much.

Carlos Martinez got contract security over the offseason and was expected to become the ace of this club as Adam Wainwright fades into the sunset. Unfortunately, St. Louis fans have spent more time this season talking about Martinez’s latest hair style than they have talking about what a great job he’s doing as a pitcher.

Friday was the day Martinez was supposed to earn his millions by coming through with the season on the line. He didn’t. He couldn’t make big pitches when he needed to, and in a moment unfortunately similar to Jaime Garcia’s big-game disappointments of yore, he botched an easy comebacker that allowed an opponent to break the game wide open.

Martinez is still young and could gain composure. But what we saw this weekend proves the Cardinals could use a legit ace if they’re going to be a team that expects to win in the postseason.

If there is one good thing that came out of this weekend, it’s that the Cardinals front office can no longer live in denial, with team architect John Mozeliak claiming that his club was just one magical hot streak away from the playoff promised land.

Fans who have been up and down during a roller-coaster season can finally have some closure in knowing this isn’t the latest incarnation of the 1964, 2006 and 2011 miracle workers.

This is a bad baseball team terribly in need of a talent transfusion.

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