I’m a life long Cards fan. Before we get started, let’s get that out of the way. The St. Louis Cardinals are who I grew up watching, and good fans don’t stop caring or watching just because the team hits some rough spots. With that disclaimer in place, this team is really frustrating to watch this year.
As of this writing, 10 teams in Major League Baseball have a better win percentage than the Cardinals. One is tied with them. That means 18 teams are actually worse than the Cardinals, in terms of wins. Analysis of wins and losses should be weighed against the toughness of the division that teams plays in, and the Cards are in one of two coveted divisions in baseball. The other being the AL West. Teams in the NL Central and AL West routinely face the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros with their perennially poor play. Being in the division with the Cubs (or Astros) also artifically inflates the records of every other team in that division. For instance, where might the now .500 Reds be without the Cubs to beat up on?
Division quality also, of course, plays a role in the wild card race. It’s no surprise that two of the three teams currently in the NL wild card come from the Central division. In the AL, the exact same situation plays out, where two of three teams currently leading the wild card race come from the Western division. These days, you don’t need to be much over .500 to be in the hunt late in the season.
All the changing dynamics of baseball’s postseason can’t take away from what a viewer sees on an average day when they watch the Cardinals play, however. On both Monday and Tuesday, fans were treated to terrible at bats from Matt Adams to end both games. They were also treated to some lackluster play from Matt Holliday that gave the Marlins an extra base. They were shutout in one game, and came up just short after Adams ended the rally (and the game) in the other.
Fans also get treated to relentless questionable bullpen management and lineup construction. Guys who can run are placed behind the guys who can hit. Reverse splits are a foreign concept to the Cardinals’ manager, instead playing to traditional lefty-right matchups, even when they’re proven not to work. A closer who has struggled all season gets trotted out every night, despite the miracle that is Pat Neshek being available and virtually unhittable.
The strength of the Cardinals is generally perceived to be pitching. However, bullpen woes, and heavy demands placed on the rotation by the poor offense, are even starting to show their wear on the Cards’ prized assets. The batters are far and away the most frustrating aspect of the team, and Matt Adams is just the latest victim in a systemtic breakdown in approach at the plate. Outside of Matt Holliday, who really can be counted on? Well, Jon Jay is on the upswing again. He’s batting right around his career average of .292, so that’s a big plus, especially against RHP.
Actually, I could go down the line and find some positive attributes of almost every player’s record at the dish. The problem is that while their collective and individual stats aren’t terrible, they just can’t string anything together on a regular basis. Timely hitting, situational hitting, and working the count are things the team is visibly struggling with most nights. It’s hard to watch it. I can’t think of a time that the team has played with less energy, enthusiasm, and fight than in 2014. They’re hanging on in this race, thanks to the Cubs, but you’ll excuse me if I don’t get too excited.