ST. LOUIS — They sing about patience so often at Busch Stadium, it’s fitting they got Guns N’ Roses to play Busch this year — when Axl Rose serenades St. Louis with: “All we need is just a little patience,” hopefully the locals won’t boo.
The St. Louis Cardinals entered Tuesday with the worst record in the National League. They were tied in wins with the Nationals (that team traded their top guys; the Cardinals hoped to improve around their own top guys).
And yes, it’s totally fair to ask for patience with, say, Jordan Walker or Matthew Liberatore. But for the team in general? We’re past patience. This was supposed to be the Cardinals team that took the next step from playoff one-and-done to pennant contender. Instead, the confusing Cardinals are underachieving with frightening predictability.
How bad are things for the Cardinals? Their fans are arguing over who deserves the blame.
Front office? Manager? Players?
That’s as if just one aspect of the organization is at fault.
Who’s to blame?
Everybody is to blame.
From Bill DeWitt Jr. to the bullpen — everyone has contributed to the collapsing culture of the Cardinals.
— DeWitt Jr. has succeeded wildly in his decades as Cardinals’ chairman — and his dedication to honoring the history of the club is important. The problem is — he needs to run his franchise with the hunger of an owner who’s never won a championship.
This past winter, I wrote about DeWitt and the merry-go-round on the corner of Clark and Eighth:
Step 1: The Cardinals play a season and have a winning record.
Step 2: They either just miss the playoffs or get in and are knocked out super-fast.
Step 3: Other teams that spend more and take bigger risks win the pennants and World Series.
Step 4: Cardinals share offseason optimism about both the present and the future.
Repeat Steps 1-4.
This happened eight years in a row.
Well, here in June of 2023, looks like it’ll be nine times.
— President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and his staff, of course, have put together some great teams, notably in the early 2010s. But the Cardinals also won just one playoff series from 2015-22.
From starting pitchers to sluggers, there have been so many free agents available in the past two offseasons. As for additions, some people said the Cards should bolster the offense (even if it meant moving proven players to other positions). Some said the Cards should bolster the rotation (even though St. Louis entered 2023 with five clear-cut guys to start). The Cardinals did neither (except for signing a catcher because they needed a catcher). The Cardinals are in last place.
What I’m about to say isn’t apples-to-apples. But when I think about these years with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, it reminds me of the Angels, who can’t seem to build a winner around Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout (so, they’re basically wasting Ohtani and Trout). The Cards have two generational talents, yet they might never even crack the National League Division Series while on the Cardinals together.
— Look, manager Oliver Marmol has a beautiful baseball mind. Some people blame him for seemingly everything, but he is such a sharp thinker. And to his credit, he blends and balances analytics with the human element in his managing. And he sure won a bunch of ball games last year. But this year, the Cards entered Tuesday with a 6-14 record in one-run games. Those often come down to managerial decisions, be it with Ryan Helsley usage or, in the infamous loss at Los Angeles, not pinch-hitting Nolan Gorman in the ninth.
— But it’s the players doing the playing. And for the mosaic of this miserable season, the Cardinals’ players deserve so much blame. In just Monday’s loss alone, we saw a bullpen malfunction (Genesis Cabrera), bad base running and, surprisingly, unclean defense from Arenado. Incidentally, the Cards preach fundamentals, but right now, the Cards’ defense ranks 26th in Major League Baseball, per the stat site Sports Info Solutions.
Also, after any loss, we always point out the big moment or big mistake. But what about the many bad at-bats that could’ve led to something (and instead provided nothing)? Games can be lost in the quiet innings, and the 2023 Cards’ sure have lost many that way.
And the batting is getting bad. While the Cardinals have the ninth-best OPS in baseball, since May 22 it’s 26th-best — and that’s when the latest downward spiral began.
— The talk with Willson Contreras was that he just needed those couple days off to refresh. Well, after those two days off, he went 1-for-12. He entered Tuesday with a .211 batting average and the lowest OPS for any stat-qualifying catcher in baseball. Yes, I lauded the signing. Yes, it’s looking ominous.
— Arenado is hitting .263. Take out the pandemic season, and that is the lowest of his career. His strikeout rate has never been higher. His OPS is in the “7s.” He needs to be part of the solution.
— As for some other players, Helsley has been too inconsistent and delicate; Steven Matz was a massive disappointment; Adam Wainwright has pitched six innings only once in his past 11 starts, dating back to last year; Tyler O’Neill seems like a lost cause — his poor play and back injury makes him seem like the odd man out. A guy to trade, if they can find takers.
Overall for the Cardinals, there are still 100 games to be played. A lot could happen, especially if Walker emerges. But the rotation is still the rotation. And this Cards team, even if it has all pistons firing and maximizes its talent, is still beneath numerous NL teams, notably the Dodgers and Braves.
Meanwhile, right now, the Cardinals are beneath all the NL teams.