Normally a series between the Cardinals and Cubs would be a big deal. Especially at the end of July when things usually start to get especially interesting in Major League Baseball.
Ticket prices would be through the roof on the resale market. People would have the dates circled on their calendar like it was an eagerly-anticipated holiday and some good ol’ fashioned bragging rights would be on the line with every pitch. But not this year.
St. Louis fans can’t decide whether to talk about trades or potential playoff pitching match-up at this point of most seasons. Unfortunately, this year, the Redbirds haven’t left their supporters much to talk about. Except for how bad this team has turned out to be. Are the home nine likely to sweep the Cubs? That doesn’t seem likely. And what if they did? Is there any reason to believe that was a sign this awful season had suddenly turned around? Hardly.
As I said over the winter, the Cardinals used to be a team that did EVERYTHING well. Excellent pitching, both starting and relief, strong defense, solid middle of the order hitters and a group of proven veteran leaders. All of that is gone. Sure they have depth in the starting rotation. But do they have a guy who is a contender for the Cy Young Award? Not seriously. What they have is a bunch of guys who fall into two categories: fairly good or someone with a lot of potential. They don’t have a guy you want to see on the hill in the deciding game of a playoff series. And they don’t have a hitter that’s preferably over anyone else to be at the plate, down by a run in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. Sheesh, the Cardinals don’t really even have a guy you could have a lot of confidence in to get the job done in a tie game in the fourth, nobody out and a runner at third.
So, the Redbirds are the ones this season in “wait ‘til next year” mode. That’s why, like the last time the Cubs were in town, we’re going to see a whole lot of blue in stands that would normally be a sea of red. And I hope ownership is watching because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of confidence that next year is going to be any better, either. The Birds haven’t exactly been attracting free agents like a moth to a flame the last few years. Maybe that’s because they won’t make serious bids on impact players, preferring to hang around the edges of competitiveness and find something semi-serviceable in a dumpster dive situation. That’s not going to turn things around fast — if it ever does the job.
Sure, we can sit here and be excited about Dakota Hudson and Jack Flaherty. But the Cardinals had a tradition of passing down the responsibility of team ace from one veteran to the next. Andy Benes, Darryl Kile, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright. If we see Wainwright again in a St. Louis uniform it’s going to be a cameo appearance at the end of the year — or possibly as a coach in the future. His day is over, but is Carlos Martinez a worthy successor. He’s got great stuff. But I don’t see him becoming the pitching staff leader. Someone has to groom these young guys and be a leader by example. They just aren’t born to be World Series winners. By the same token, the Cardinals never replaced position player leaders like Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols.
The fruit has rotted on the vine and the Birds seemingly have too many holes to fill at one time. Plus, aggravating the situation is the fact that the team’s off the field leadership is in flux. The team has an interim manager and no clear direction on the field. Team President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak must be under unprecedented scrutiny for letting things get this far out of control. Where do we go from here? The fans would like to know.
Until then, there just isn’t much to get excited about because the current product stinks. I’d at least like to have something to look forward to next year if they can’t do anything in 2018.