The 5 Stages of Baseball Grief

“His Bat Plays” of the NEGATIVE UZR Tribe of Missouri

Somewhere beyond the Matheny bashing, hypothetical lineup construction machinations, and the usual angst one expects with a 3-9 team lies an unspeakable, horrific possibility.  Maybe the window of opportunity for the Wainwright/Molina era teams has finally closed, and nobody knows it yet.  Perhaps the level of baseball played through the first 12 games more accurately reflects the team’s actual collective abilities than fans would like to believe.  If so, then embracing the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief should begin now.

DENIAL

There must be a mistake.  The Cardinals are a much, much better team than what they’ve shown, and they’ll be fine once the hitters, pitchers, and fielders all start doing baseball things much better than they’ve done baseball things thus far.

I, too, would greatly enjoy clinging tightly to this wonderfully benign reality no matter how unlikely both my head and my heart agree that it is.  The greatest obstacle to this particular ostrich staying buried in this particular sand is that the individual parts seem to exactly sum to the whole that we’ve seen on the field.

The Cardinals possess a vast amount of untapped raw potential, and the possibilities may truly be endless, but potential doesn’t put up crooked numbers on any park’s scoreboard.  Nor does potential adequately substitute for established talent that performs, and the Cardinals are attempting to use the two interchangeably with the former replacing the latter.

That’s really just a philosophical assertion best left for another long, droning blog post about unicorns and whimsical uniform options.  Back in present day America, we’re worried about important things like Turkish elections, North Korea’s instability, and whether our favorite sportsball team is actually what their record says they are.

The Cardinals are baseball’s equivalent of Schrodinger’s Cat.  They are simultaneously better than a 3-9 team while also being precisely a 3-9 team.  The same can be said for pretty much all the teams in baseball, so we’re not reaching new territory here.  They underperformed a smidge last year, and no law shall prevent them from doing so again this year.  But go ahead and point at reasons for optimism, if it (and Ambien) helps you sleep at night.  Perhaps a full year of Aledmys Diaz will make them 2 or 3 games better.  Maybe adding Fowler, the leadoff switch-hitting lockdown CF they’ve coveted for years will have similar impact.  In theory, the return of Lance Lynn could be a difference maker as well.  As realities go, this collective one seems possible if not all that plausible.  There’s an old joke about an Egyptian river somewhere here, but it’s probably not worth making.

ANGER

Blame Matheny.  Blame Mozeliak.  Blame it on the Rain (that was falling, falling), if you’re a child of the 80’s.  Blame it on the Boogie, if your idea of a musical is Pitch Perfect.  Regardless, find someone or something to blame, and expel your anger with much forcefulness.  You may find it cathartic…much like day drinking but without the accompanying job loss.  Consider this the easiest of the five steps.

Mike Matheny deserves as much blame as anybody, but he’s not solely responsible for his team playing .250 ball.  He’s definitely solely responsible for not giving his team every chance to win, and for that shortcoming the erosion of his previously ardent support base seems well and truly earned.  For a guy who touts leadership and putting players in position to succeed, he’s faithfully wed to the idea that Matt Adams should play LF…well, ever.  Apparently, unbeknownst to anyone else on the planet, Matt Adams has a bat that will play, and it will play a corner outfield position.

Adams can hit, but it seems highly improbable that he’ll consistently hit enough as a left fielder to make his overall production a net positive.  Speaking of Adams as an everyday 1B makes this a completely different academic discussion, but it’s one that must be tabled unto such time as Matheny stops attempting to bludgeon a square peg into a round orifice.

FYI – You can locate “Peralta playing anywhere on the field” and “bullpen usage” in the “Anger” stage as well.

BARGAINING

Surely there must be a compromise here somewhere.  We can come to some kind of agreement with the baseball gods, right?  Maybe so, but we as fans have nothing much to offer in order to appease the aforementioned deities.  Neither do the Cardinals.  They find themselves in a nest of their own making, and now they must lie in it.

What if they promise to move Peralta and return to a time when they weren’t all that hypocritical about PED use?  What about agreeing to hire more minorities?    How about a few more wins in exchange for showing real human emotions in an uncomfortably public setting?

Sorry, but these are infuriatingly ingrained in the Cardinal Way, or at least I easily understand the perception that they are.

ASIDE:  Molina showed more emotion during one throw in the WBC than the entire team has shown through 12 games.  Someone please loosen the reins just a bit.

DEPRESSION

Hard to believe that some fans have reached this stage already, but that just puts them closer to the end goal than others.  They’ve chosen the express train to Apathyville in favor of the maddeningly slow descent of the more scenic route.  Difficult to begrudge them that choice.  Think of it as ripping off a Band-Aid quickly as opposed to peeling it off slowly.  Perhaps experience told them to cut the losses on their emotional investments.  If you are going to short the Cardinals, then this might be the right year to do so.

After all, why bother throwing good emotional capital after bad?  Matheny has a job for life, so that part of the equation will never change.  Wainwright no longer commands respect (or a fastball), and he’s the guy taking a flyswatter to a locust swarm.  Management seems unmoving, because they have no reason to fix a money machine that isn’t really broken.  Even with a losing season, they’ll still have to hire a team of people responsible for hiring another team of people to count all the money coming in.  What with 3.2M paid attendance as a modest assumption, why bother listening to the angry mob of Ballpark Villagers?

They won’t, but they may eventually pay attention to empty seats and the dollars that won’t be coming in via food, beverage, and merchandising sources.  For a team that tries to monetize everything except the toilet paper, disinterest will provide a wake-up call.  Sadly, such a call probably won’t change much, because the organization can point to the string of playoff appearances, injuries, and how the team is just a hot streak away from contention as reasons/excuses for the team’s place in the baseball universe.  They can also hope that the downturn doesn’t last longer than the goodwill of the BFiB, and it probably won’t.  The more things don’t change, the more they stay the same….or something, so you might as well move to the final stage.

ACCEPTANCE

I’ve not yet reached this stage, but I’m already at peace with the conclusion, because I like closure as much as the next person.  The inevitable decline phase for a team has no set rules, duration, or severity.  It’s the circle of baseball life to ebb and flow, and the Cardinals have beaten the odds with regard to the longevity of the most recent rise in their tide.  If there is cause for optimism in my mind, it’s that I truly believe Mo and Co. started preparing for the ebb before it even started.

Think of it as a 2-year plan of sorts as though a hardball actuary helped create it.  It started with the signing of Dexter Fowler and continued via extensions for Yadier Molina, Stephen Piscotty and Carlos Martinez.  Sure, the organization demonstrated the usual business acumen in locking down key players thereby ensuring a reasonable amount of cost certainty, but there’s more.  Look at who they’ve got under contract through at least 2019 – Molina, Fowler, Leake, Carpenter, Martinez, Gyorko, Piscotty, Cecil, and Wong.

That’s 2/3 of an outfield (including the two toughest spots to fill), 3/4 of an infield, catcher, 40% of the rotation, and Brett Cecil.  Now toss in the guys who aren’t even eligible for free agency in half a decade, and you’ve got a good core.

Either this looks like a real plan for the future as well as a solid hedge for the current season, or I need to start over at the first stage – denial.

peace and humptiness forever – #dennis

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