As the 2010 campaign nears its conclusion for the Cardinals, it is time for the organization to evaluate the highs and lows of the entire season and take a look at where the team stands moving forward. With just seven games remaining on the schedule and teams beginning to clinch their respective divisions, the Cards are virtually out of the picture. The magic number for the Cincinnati Reds to win the N.L. Central is down to a mere two games. Barring some sort of miracle, the Redbirds will miss the playoffs for just the fourth time in the last eleven years, a span during which they have won 33 postseason games.
This past year will almost certainly be considered a failure in the eyes of the fans and players alike, ending in bitter disappointment after a two-month long slump that washed away what was once a promising season. This was a season filled with great expectations for a team with loads of talent up and down the roster. The Cards were supposed to reassert themselves as a dominant power in the National League and challenge the Phillies, who had made two consecutive World Series. Obviously, these expectations haven’t been met and this St. Louis organization may very well be on the verge of some significant offseason changes.
The main areas of concern all season long for the Cardinals have been defense and base running. They have committed 94 errors as a team, which isn’t terrible, but it’s at least 12 more than the three division leaders in the National League. Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker, and the recently released Felipe Lopez have each accounted for double digit errors, many of which have come at costly times and impacted the outcomes of games. Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday, and Yadier Molina have been impressively consistent defensively, but it takes more than just a few players to become a solid fielding team.
The Cards have stolen only 76 bases to this point, which ranks 22 in the majors and fourth worst in the N.L. When Albert Pujols is the team leader with 13 steals, you know you’ve got a serious problem. Guys like Colby Rasmus and Brendan Ryan need to utilize their speed on the base paths at every opportunity to give the opposing pitchers more to worry about. In this era of baseball, hitting has really overshadowed the importance of defensive prowess and base running ability. However, these are the little things that make a difference down the stretch and separate great teams from good teams.
On top of the struggles in these two crucial phases of the game, trade deadline acquisition Jake Westbrook has not panned out like the Cards had hoped and they have gotten very little production from their third basemen. Since being traded to St. Louis, Westbrook is 3-4 with a 3.88 ERA in eleven outings. Felipe Lopez and Pedro Feliz have combined for eight home runs and 45 RBIs, while hitting just .231 and .219 respectively.
In the aftermath of this train wreck of a season, I look for the Cardinals to go out and get a solid third baseman who can contribute consistently with both the bat and the glove. Their best options are probably guys like Jorge Cantu, Ty Wigginton, or maybe even Adrian Beltre if he is made available. There is a long list of pitchers that will be free agents at the end of this season, but I think players like Carl Pavano, Ted Lilly, and Kevin Correia are realistic possibilities for the Redbirds.
For the past couple months, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding manager Tony La Russa, who is in the final year of his contract with the team. La Russa, who turns 66 in October, is losing support among St. Louis fans and it may be time for him to walk away from the game and take his spot in the Hall of Fame.
There have been several bright spots for the Cardinals this year despite all of the recent struggles. They have three legitimate candidates for major awards in Albert Pujols for MVP, Adam Wainwright for the Cy Young, and Jamie Garcia for Rookie of the Year. This dynamic trio, along with players like Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, is a great foundation for a team that I believe is just one or two additions away from being a World Series contender.
As the long evaluation process begins, it is essential that the Cards take the necessary steps to put a winning team out on the field next season while still valuing the importance of the long term future. It doesn’t look like the Rams or Blues will be winning a championship anytime soon, so the Redbirds are all the city of St. Louis has. It will be very interesting to see what takes place within this organization between now and the beginning of the 2011 season.