For many seasons the St. Louis Cardinals were the team to beat in the National League Central with very little competition. Those days have past.
I have been a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan. I have shared with you readers several stories of fond remembrances of my youth. All of that said, I too remember years when the Cardinals were not so dominant and when reaching the postseason was a distant hope.
As we begin 2017, I find myself hoping that the St. Louis Cardinals of this coming season will not find themselves lamed with mediocrity. Let me clarify: when I look back at 2016, I’m very impressed. I was very disappointed at times in the season, but the ultimate outcome- despite not winning the crown- was not so disappointing.
That said, the Cardinals found it difficult in 2016 keeping up with the media darling Cubs. The same appears to be true on paper going into 2017. Will that be the case? Also, what led to the St. Louis Cardinals finding themselves so significantly behind the Cubs in 2016?
Let me dig into a few ideas on why the St. Louis Cardinals faltered as they did in 2016. Bear with me as this line of thinking is a bit long-winded… Here’s the cut-to-the-chase idea behind the lengthy idea: the Cardinals essentially became complacent with their secure spot at the top of the NLC.
Here’s the longer explanation… As I said, the St. Louis Cardinals were- for years- the team that sat atop the NLC without much difficulty. Diamonds are formed through years of pressure and a lump of coal sitting sans pressure remains just that– a lump of coal.
It can therefore be argued that the years of little competition in the NLC (save a few years of challenge from the Pirates) allowed the Cardinals to rest on their laurels rather than continually improve.
Let me state here, as I’m sure the above paragraph raised ire in several readers, that I believe the organization made moves they felt would either improve the club or maintain the club but I’m not so sure moves were made then as they are being made now. The moves being made now are such to defeat a foe. Moves made during the peaceful reign were likely made to maintain.
Likewise, it can be argued that other teams made moves during the Cardinals’ reign to defeat the foe at the top. The St. Louis Cardinals now find themselves forced to make these moves.
Carrying this pressure-into-diamond idea onto the team itself, there are many examples of complacency within the team during those years. During the years of postseason berths and World Series rings, the St. Louis Cardinals farm system was good but not necessarily great.
“Next man up” was a mentality embraced by the Cardinals in the face of injury in recent years. Luckily the farm system was strong enough to support this mentality. For my memory, the farm system during the winning reign was not so heavily relied upon. This lack of reliance led to less competition within the organization.
Less competition allows for complacency- as has been stated plenty here, right?- and this complacency could well have contributed to weaker batting averages and weaker competitiveness. Players who have internal challenges often rise to the challenge or are shipped off elsewhere. Without internal competition, however, it is difficult to see players rise or fall.
Could these things have contributed to the Cardinals looking up at the Cubs? Not so fast… jumping directly to this conclusion ignores the fact that the Cubs took actions on their own to make them a powerhouse. The Cubs were tired of looking up at the Cardinals and acquired bodies to best the Cardinals.
In this regard then, the friction the Cubs felt made them better in the long run. The friction the Cardinals feel now, then, will make them better in the long run. That is an oversimplification but has stood the test of time for things outside of baseball and will stand true here as well.
So what now, then? Now is the time when Mozeliak needs to make decisions to better the organization as well as best the Cubs in 2017. Mozeliak needs to find ways of adding internal friction as well as ways of making the team competitive in the 2017 market.
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Perhaps the Dexter Fowler addition is one such example of internal friction. Exploring this we see that Fowler forces Randal Grichuk to move to left field with pressure to remain on the team– friction to make better. Fowler also assumes the leadoff spot in the batting order forcing Matt Carpenter to move to the third spot– friction to become a better number three hitter.
Likewise, grabbing Eric Fryer– a great move in my opinion- allows Carson Kelly to start in Memphis. This friction will make Kelly better by allowing him to play every single day. This friction also forces those in St. Louis to play well enough to keep Kelly in Memphis. A perfect example of internal friction. Additionally, look no further than Luke Weaver for another example of this internal friction.
Is this all enough? I don’t believe it is enough. I also don’t believe that Mozeliak is finished. Spring Training this season will be interesting and will show just how much this year’s friction- created friction- can and will help the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals.
Hold onto your hats, Cardinals Nation, as this season will be one of great interest. Let us all hope that this season’s friction will produce diamonds, not coal.