The St. Louis Cardinals have been playing a lot of bad baseball lately.
But they took it another step in the wrong direction Thursday night against the Milwaukee Brewers when they seemed to just flat out quit. There is no way I can be made to believe that a team that played so sloppily was giving anything close to a 100 percent effort.
I'm not sure what the answer is. But defeatism is incredibly contagious and it's going to be all over for this team really fast if it isn't nipped in the bud. It seems that someone — or several — need to be made an example of.
There's plenty of blame to go around. Take your pick of who gets it:
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▪ Manager Mike Matheny: Where is our allegedly motivational leader? Either Matheny has a bad message or the players have tuned him out because there is no way that so many guys have gone south at once if they're all bought in on the team's message. That's not even considering that he's the most unimaginative skipper I've ever seen when it comes to in-game management and that his use of the bullpen is probably not too far short of qualifying him to be charged with a war crime.
▪ Hitting coach John Mabry: The stats don't lie and the only statistic in which the Cardinals show a rising trend is strikeouts. Well, maybe runners left on base. Two supposed starters are hitting well below .200 in late June and this team couldn't hit a deep fly with a runner on third base and one out if batters went to the plate with a bass fiddle. It doesn't matter who is up. I don't want to hear that it isn't how the game is played anymore. Because I don't believe it. I believe the game has been simplified because teams aren't teaching their players how to do things the right way. It's the fault of coaches for accepting that.
▪ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak steadfastly insisted the parts were in place for this team to win. Apparently they weren't. While the players currently here can certainly perform better than what we've seen, I think it's fairly obvious there is a lot of room for improvement on this roster. Mozeliak let the core of a pretty good team rot on the vine, refusing to replace players who aged out or left as free agents with an equal or greater level of talent.
▪ Kolten Wong: One of the most enigmatic Cardinals players I can remember, Wong is a talented guy who seems to clench up to the point he can't function when the game starts. He's an awesome spring training player, but not so hot when the heat is on. Still, Wong has all the physical tools to be somebody. That's what makes it all so frustrating and unacceptable. Mozeliak tried to soothe Wong's jittery nerves by giving him the comfort of a long-term contract well before the player could command it — or even justify it. At first it seemed like the move backfired by causing Wong to feel like he had to live up to the money. But he seemed to eventually get over that and now he acts as if he has his money, so he doesn't care if he plays or sits.
▪ Dexter Fowler: I admit it: I thought Fowler's trademark brand of high-energy baseball and his positive personality were exactly what the Redbirds needed. Too bad that's not what they got. Fowler seems about as motivated as a fast food restaurant employee who turned in his two-weeks notice a week and a half ago. He's slow on the bases and in the outfield. He never could justify his planned roles of either a lead-off man or as a centerfielder. Now there's talk he wants out of St. Louis, which is probably a good thing because he has a no-trade clause. But who would want to pay him for the remaining 3 1/2 years of his five-year contract?
▪ Matt Carpenter: He got off to a terrible start but has been hitting better lately. Is it enough to tempt an American League contender as a DH? While I don't question Carpenter's effort or work ethic, I do question his ability to continue to perform while he ages. His defense and, specifically, his throwing arm, have deteriorated to the point that they're beneath the acceptable level. Maybe he doesn't deserve to be shipped out. But if the popular Carpenter is sent away, might it shake the complacency out of less-established players?
Something has to be done with this team to shake it up. The club, ever since its swoon in a tour of duty against NL bottom dwellers, has been falling apart fast. If something isn't done to change the course of this club, it's going nowhere but down the tubes.