The St. Louis Cardinals seemed as if they might sneak back into the playoff picture this weekend, riding a four-game winning streak back into the wild-card picture.
Unfortunately, the club unleashed a triple play of disappointment instead. So it seems that it’s all over but the crying.
The Redbirds couldn’t afford any more losses the last 2 1/2 weeks of the season. That’s a tall order. But it’s the spot they played themselves into. Still, they were playing a Pittsburgh Pirates team that had nothing to play for but pride. On Sunday, the Bucs rolled out a lineup that would have got the club fined during a spring training game because only two players to start the game were major-league regulars.
Against the junior-varsity squad of a team that came into Sunday with a 70-85 record, the Birds managed to score one run, get snookered for the equalizing tally and then eventually collapse under the weight of a home run hit by someone named Jordan Luplow.
On the tying run, the Pirates had a man at third when a 150-foot popup was lofted to left. Outfielder Tommy Pham settled under the ball, caught it and fired a low, hard throw toward the plate that seemed destined to beat the runner by 20 feet.
Inexplicably, third baseman Jedd Gyorko cut off the ball and relayed a much weaker, less accurate and slower throw toward Carson Kelly at the plate and the run scored. The Cardinals seemed to believe that the runner at third left the base too early on the sacrifice fly and were in the process of trying to appeal the play when Andrew McCutchen, apparently, intentionally got himself picked off to distract the Cardinals pitcher. McCutchen was out. But because he initiated a new play, the appeal at third was no longer possible and the Birds were possibly tricked out of a run.
St. Louis managed to lose two of three contests to a seemingly disinterested Pittsburgh club.
After a game in which the Cardinals managed only four hits and one run while striking out six times in five innings off a starter with a 4.65 ERA and seven wins at the start of play, manager Mike Matheny made his familiar “We Just Didn’t Get Any Key Hits” speech. Inspiring.
It’s true, the team didn’t get any key hits. It’s also true that he’s groomed a club that has to sit around and wait for three-run homers because, despite a roster populated with speedy players like Pham, Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra, the club rarely steals bases and seems entirely incapable of executing a hit and run.
I’m sure the excuse for the latter is the massive number of strikeouts this team has racked up over the past three years. But that’s a copout. Maybe if the club tried to hit and run, some of its free swingers would be forced to learn to cut down their strokes and learn how to situationally hit and how to make a little bit of contact when they need to.
Enough with the excuse-making. A major reason this team doesn’t perform in the clutch is because it is ill-prepared. It’s not acceptable to shrug your shoulders and say “we just strike out a lot” when players don’t come through — and I’m not talking about getting a hit every time. If you can’t get on base, you have to at least make a productive out and advance baserunners. Everybody is playing for the home run because they want to pad their personal stats. The Cardinals need guys who want to be a part of a team and to win above accepting 150 to 200 strikeouts in exchange for 20 homers.
While all this unpleasantness unfolding, team chairman Bill DeWitt was interviewed in the St. Louis paper and went on at length about how happy he is with things just the way they are. He thinks Matheny is the right manager for the team despite his mauling of the bullpen, the team’s terrible plate discipline, situational awareness and its worsening fielding.
DeWitt went on to say, when pressed about the fact that the team has fallen out of the top third of Major League Baseball in payroll while its revenue has increased dramatically with a new television contract, that the club wasn’t going to “spend money just to spend money.” Swell.
The Cardinals remind me of a story about the man who is on his roof during a flood, praying to be saved. One by one, people with boats come by and offer to help him only to be rebuffed by the man. Finally, he drowns. And when he gets to heaven the man asks God why he didn’t save his life. God replies “What about the boats I sent?”
The Redbirds won’t make a trade for an established player. They are patsies of the free-agent market, allowing themselves to be outbid at every turn and they’re inconsistent at best when it comes into turning their precious minor-league talent into productive major league players.
In short, this weekend was the crushing blow to our 2017 pennant hopes — and it was a crushing blow to those of us who would like to see the team make a bold move to improve next season and beyond.