Grand expectations


Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I often catch a lot of flak for it, but I’m nonetheless fond of a particular insult for people who doubt the Cardinals seemingly on a yearly basis. That word is stupid, and it’s a concept that Edgar Allen Poe described as “a talent for misconception”.

In any other year, I’d probably be penning a scathing response to the Cardinals haters, wondering how they could possibly be so stupid. But this year is different. This year, the Cardinals are the darlings of pretty much every self-described expert — and for the most part, they’re considered in such high esteem for what I would deem solidly logical and well-thought-out reasons. This year, the experts aren’t being stupid (about this).

This year, the chance to be stupid is entirely in the hands of the St. Louis faithful — we’re the ones who have to be careful to not embody “a talent for misconception”. You might be prone to ask “What misconceptions could I have — don’t we have a talented team?”, and I wouldn’t disagree with the idea that the Cardinals are very talented this year. But the potential misconceptions this year are in more ample supply than seats at Great American Ballpark on a summer evening.

Misconception #1 – Michael Wacha will contend for the Cy Young award

To start with, while he’s possibly one of the most talented young pitchers in all of baseball, Michael Wacha is not going to match (or even come close to matching) his postseason performance from last year. Before you light the torches and sharpen the pitchforks, please hear me out. I firmly believe that Wacha is going to be one of the best number 3 (or number 2) starters in all of baseball. I just happen to believe just as firmly that he won’t fool anybody into the thinking he’s among the top 20 pitchers in the game.

He has the makings of a future staff ace, but can we please see at least half of a regular season out of him before we start expecting him to repeat such a brilliant performance as the one he had late last year? It worries me to see so many of the eggs that are the grand expectations for this team piled into “Michael Wacha is going to have a sub-2.50 ERA” basket. Again, he’s exceptionally talented, but he’s not going to be better than Clayton Kershaw every start this year.

Misconception #2 – Last year’s .330 team avg with RISP is repeatable (or even within reach) this year

It was fun to watch, and it covered up the lack of home runs, but the Cardinals are not going to hit .330 with runners in scoring position again this year. They don’t have some secret formula that allows them to hit that well on a consistent basis. Are they better than most teams at hitting in those situations? Probably, but to expect them to even hit .300 with RISP in 2014 is asinine — the 2013 Cardinals are the only team in the last 5 years to do so.

With a regression to mortal levels with RISP, the Cardinals will score fewer runs — not more — than they did in 2013, unless they find a way to become a much better power hitting team. Replacing Pete Kozma with Jhonny Peralta, and seeing Matt Adams at the plate more should help considerably in that quest. Still, the fans who think that the Cardinals are capable of striking the same fear into their 2014 opponents as they did last year with RISP will find themselves disappointed on a regular basis.

The biggest pile of misconceptions – Rookie (and Rookie-ish) expectations

I already touched on it with the discussion of Michael Wacha (only because it’s even worse with him than with the others), but the expectations that people have of the group of inexperienced players on the Cardinals roster is going to lead to disappointment. Yes, this group is fantastic — and yes, almost all of them have the potential to become perennial All Stars. The problem is that not all of them will play at that level this year.

As Cardinals fans, we’re not a group that expects any veteran player to necessarily repeat their career-best numbers every single year — but for some reason, that’s exactly what we seem given to doing with this group of young players. It says nothing negative about their ability (and everything positive about our grasp of reality) if we expect them to perform at least a little bit below the level they performed at last year. Could they perform as good as (or possibly even better than) they did last year? Absolutely. But expecting any such performance from them is not exactly the most intelligent decision.

The bottom line – This team is equal parts amazingly talented and misunderstood

The Cardinals are the best team in the National League, and probably the best team in baseball period. They are realistically as posed as they’ve been in the past decade to basically walk right into the playoffs without much trouble. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are still somehow overrated by many of the fans, at least in certain aspects of the game. Simply taking a step back to look at what the Cardinals actually have on their roster reveals that there are undoubtedly a number of unfair expectations placed on perfectly capable players.

The Cardinals are really good, and there is nothing at all wrong with believing that they have the best team they’ve had in a long, long time. But let’s be smart about. Let’s commit our talents to something other than misconception.