I really thought that the triumphant return of Alex Reyes to the St. Louis Cardinals after more than a year off following Tommy John surgery might be the thing that sparked an up-and-down club to get on a roll and take control of the National League Central Division.
Unfortunately, 15 months of waiting was rewarded with only four innings of excitement as Reyes immediately returned to the disabled list after what is being called a "significant" lat strain. Let's hope things aren't a whole lot worse than what is being presented to the public. It wouldn't be the first time the Redbirds have understated an injury to one of their players.
St. Louis certainly has plenty of starters. It was being argued that the team might have to adopt a six-man rotation to accommodate Reyes. But the top prospect in the Cardinals organization wasn't just another starter on the pile. He was the best chance at adding the elusive ace that the Birds need. A guy who could not only give a team a chance to win — but dominate the opposition in a key game.
While the front office says that Reyes' injury is significant and that he's going to miss more than a few games, let's just hope it's really only a muscle issue and not a structural problem in his shoulder or elbow. It would be quite a blow to see the youngster miss a second season in a row, minus four enigmatic innings, of course.
Meanwhile, a team that had a chance to prove it is a serious contender has been unable to establish itself against division foes. They lost two of three to the first place Milwaukee Brewers and have played 50-50 ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This club isn't terrible. It just doesn't have an element of the game that it can lean on when times get tough. The starting rotation is pretty good. But the bullpen, with the exception of a couple of guys, is shaky. The offense is hot and cold. Sometimes home runs come in bunches. Other times, they can't score more than a run or two for days in a row. For all the speed the team has added recently in Kolten Wong, Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader, it's terrible at base running.
It doesn't make sense on a lot of levels because, while this team is by no stretch perfect, it's more talented than it's shown so far. The club simply leaves to many opportunities on the table. It can't move runners up, it strikes out too much and it doesn't take the extra base at the plate. In the field, it makes too many errors — both mental and physical. As I write this, right on cue, Fowler misses the cutoff man with runners on first and second with two outs and both runners were able to move up. It's those little mistakes teams can't make. (Of course, the eventual three-run homer renders this particular situation moot. But the second wrong doesn't erase the first one.)
The Cardinals certainly aren't the only team that doesn't exactly play baseball with the expertise clubs used to exhibit 30 years or more ago. But might it give the local nine an advantage if they made more of an effort than other teams to do things like hit and run, steal bases, hit behind the runner and manage to put the ball in play with less than two outs and a man on third base?
The team's problems aren't about its personnel. They're because of a lack of planning and execution. It's about being good enough more than making the effort to do things right. Those things ought to be fixable, even if Reyes' arm is not.