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This Is Cardinal Baseball?
Tell me this is rock bottom
As Cardinals fans, we’ve see a lot of things go right. We’ve seen an 83-win team make the playoffs and win the World Series, though I continue to contend the 2006 teams is underrated, given the 100 win seasons by basically the same players the two years prior. We’ve seen a team 10 1/2 games out of the wild card in late August make the playoffs on the final day and then win it all. We’ve seen a team hit .330 with runners in scoring position on their way to a National League pennant. We’ve seen a legend return and make an improbable run to 700 homers.
So if you were to say that this season was the bill for all of those remarkable things, maybe it would be more palatable. More palatable, though, doesn’t mean palatable. There’s no bit of past history that can wash away the taste of everything we’ve seen this season.
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In the second act of Solo, it looks like our team of heroes are going to make their escape from the spice mines of Kessel without much incident. They are going to complete their heist and then be able to get out from under the debt owed to Crimson Dawn. Everything is right at their fingertips—until a Star Destroyer shows up and blocks their path.
Last night Jake Lamb and Mike Trout were that Star Destroyer. Not that the Cardinals were going to necessarily jump into lightspeed if they won last night, but it was one of the few uplifting moments. The team had faced Shohei Ohtani, one of if not the best pitcher in the American League, and put up four runs against him. (Though, looking at his game log, the fact that he gave up five runs to Oakland last time out takes the shine off of that a bit.) They were three outs away from having a chance to take only their third series of the year. The Cardinals have only three times this season gone into the final game of a series with a chance to win the series and they’ve won two of them. Everything was coming up Cardinals, it seemed, at least in comparison to the rest of 2023.
Here’s the thing. It’s not just one thing that’s going wrong for the Cards right now. It’s everything. Even when they do the right thing, it comes back to bite them.
Using Ryan Helsley in the seventh with two on, two out, and Hunter Renfroe up in a one run game should have worked. It did work. Helsley struck out Renfroe to end that threat and then had a smooth eighth. You can argue that he should have had the ninth as well, which is a fair discussion, but it’s also fair that the Cards didn’t want him to get up and down three times.
Besides, Giovanny Gallegos had given up one run all year. It was in his last outing and Gallegos tends to be streaky but using him in a one run game in the ninth isn’t something that is unheard of. If Helsley had been unavailable for such a situation, Gallegos would have gotten the call.
Gallegos failed last night. He wasn’t the only one.
The Cardinals had seven hits last night, which is a step up from some of their recent three-hit outings. The problem was that six of them were clumped together in the 2-3-4 spots. Dylan Carlson got a home run (which was good to see) but the rest of the lineup went 0-19. It’s hard to put any sustaining offense together like that.
The four runs seems like a big deal (and is almost exactly what they are averaging on the season) but it’s less than the MLB average of 4.59. This offense was supposed to be more of a top 10 squad but it’s currently in the bottom 10 in most offensive categories.
Miles Mikolas allowed three runs and eight hits in just under six innings, falling again short of the minimum for a quality start. The rotation seems to have improved as of late but they still aren’t putting together a lot of good outings. The starters have a 5.00 ERA and are tied for 19th—with the Brewers, surprisingly—in strikeouts. The best chance to keep the bullpen from buckling is to limit their innings, but the starters are barely averaging over five innings a game and I imagine if you factored out Jordan Montgomery from these numbers, things would look a lot different.
The boobirds showed up at Busch last night. Perhaps their strongest appearance in years.
I get the booing and I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t, but it’s clear the players want to do better as well. Gallegos wasn’t trying to throw gopher balls. The frustration is there from all parties.
The booing also was directed at the whole situation, at Oli Marmol and John Mozeliak, and that does come with the territory. Many of you have seen the VanHicklestein gif on Twitter that moves the manager's face (it started with Mike Matheny) into one of four quadrants: good process/good result, bad process/bad result, good process/bad result, bad process/good result. Last night, I think Oli wound up squarely in that third spot, at least when the ninth is concerned. If that goes the way it should, we’re not nearly as irate with him today.
The front office has come under a lot of fire, from the end of last season until today, for not adding pitching to this team over the offseason. Which is a legitimate criticism and one that we discussed regularly on the podcasts over the winter. It’s also fair to note that probably none of the pitchers we expected the Cardinals to go after would have helped. Justin Verlander (and, in truth, nobody expected St. Louis to sign him) makes his season debut today. Carlos Rodon is still out. Perhaps you could argue Pablo Lopez if they could have made a trade, but he’s allowed 11 runs in his last 10 innings against Washington and Kansas City so it’s fair to ask if that’s a blip or if his early season success wasn’t sustainable.
There’s a lot of talk about “trusting the process” and “staying the course” and that’s all fine and good until it’s mid-June and the Cardinals are 20 games out.
I understand not making knee-jerk reactions. It’s one of the things that I find so admirable about this organization and one of the reasons that they’ve had so much sustained success. (If you told this season to a Pirates fan they’d have a dozen that compared to it.)
That said, continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting the results to change can be a problem if there are underlying issues that keep things from succeeding. We’re not there seeing the data they are seeing so I don’t know if “keep on keeping on” is life-giving or a death wish. It does seem like something needs to change, though, whether it is drastically or incrementally.
What can they do? Give up.
I don’t mean not try to win, forfeit the season, or anything like that. These are professionals and they aren’t going to be able to lay down. What I am saying is that they need to at least pretend that the results don’t matter.
Marmol has mentioned the frustration in the clubhouse and this desire to try to do too much to fix everything. I imagine many of those players are feeling like they can’t let an opportunity go by, that they must throw the perfect pitch or hit a home run every time. It sounds simplistic to say the pressure is getting to them but it seriously sounds like that is the case. If you told me Nolan Arenado went 1-20 because he wanted it too much I’d completely believe that.
However, would it hurt for Marmol to tell the team, “Look, the damage is done. We’re in a hole and the odds aren’t great we can dig out of it. So just relax. If you get the hit, great. If not, it can’t get much worse.”
Would that be enough to break them out of this rut? I don’t know, but at this point it’s definitely worth a try.
It’s Star Wars Day. May the Fourth be with you, my friends. With the Cardinals playing this afternoon it gives you a good chance to view some Star Wars media this evening. (You might have taken that option even if the Cards were on tonight.) While all the movies are a fine choice—I’ll try not to judge you if you put on The Rise of Skywalker—might I suggest if you don’t have as much time but you do have Disney+ that you put on Chapter 13 of The Mandalorian: “The Jedi”.
This was a big episode. It gave us the name of The Child. It brought Ahsoka Tano to live action. It also let us know that Grand Admiral Thrawn was out there. With Ahsoka coming in three months, this episode is well worth revisiting.
If you are a Star Wars fan, what are you going to be watching today?