Past the one-third mark of the 2014 season, the St. Louis Cardinals continue to confound with brief periods of excellent play bookended by mind-numbing losses.
The Redbirds have been handled by the likes of the rudderless Kansas City Royals on the Busch Stadium grass. Then they go to Toronto to play the American League East leading Blue Jays and not only win two out of three. But they shut out the Jays' potent offense twice.
It seems everyone who follows the team is looking for a magic bullet of an answer to solve the Cardinals woes. But, we're far too deep into the season for their mediocre record to be a statistical anomaly. Is it possible that maybe the Redbirds are just a mediocre team?
I'm not suggesting that the Birds are devoid of talent. But let's remember that two of the starting eight position players -- Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras -- are rookies. In the starting rotation, Michael Wacha just passed the one year mark in the majors and Shelby Miller is a pretty tender second-year player. Bullpenner Carlos Martinez could best be described as being a relatively raw talent.
Don't look now. But the Cardinals are a rebuilding team.
This isn't Kansas City where the Royals have been rebuilding since 1985. This is an on the fly sort of action. Sort of like a pit stop compared to a trip to the garage for a complete overhaul. Still, there are going to be bumps in the road.
Miller is the perfect example. One game he looks like he's a star in the making and the next, he's terrible. That's what talented young players do. They have high ceilings -- but the lack consistency.
In the last couple of years the Cardinals have lost the likes of Carlos Beltran, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and David Freese. That's a lot of talent, leadership and experience to leave the island.
While the youngsters have skills, what they don't have is a lot of polish. It takes some guys two or three years to completely get up to speed in the major leagues. While we'd all like to point a finger and say it's the manager's fault or the hitting coach's fault, I think it is much more plausible that the Redbirds are just going through some growing pains.
They're caught in a situation where they need to decide if they should weaken the product on the field by letting the kids take their lumps -- or if they should play veteran journeymen who might give the team a chance to do better in the short run. When you try to do both, neither goes well. A guy like Mark Ellis, who has a proven track record as an MLB player, is struggling to hit .200 in spot duty. And Wong seems to hear footsteps behind him every time he commits and error or has a hitless night at the plate.
This isn't necessarily a lost season for the Cardinals. But it seems like a reach to expect a team to perform as it did the season before because MOST of the names on the backs of jerseys are the same. Nevermind that the guys who were gone are borderline Hall of Fame players with full trophy cases.
The best bet for the Redbirds is to stay the course and let the kids continue to gain experience. And then as the trade deadline nears, general manager John Mozeliak can try to deal off some of the surplus young talent for a couple of key role players who can lead this team into the post season.
In the meantime, let's all try to stop whining a little bit about the Cardinals underperforming when they've played in two of the last three World Series and came up only one game short in the other year. It can't be sunny every day.