St. Louis Cardinals: The 2017 Cards are blinding us with baseball science

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 27: Aledmys Diaz
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 27: Aledmys Diaz /

For those who haven’t noticed, the 2017 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals has become a baseball laboratory right before our eyes.

That’s right; what started as a fairly pedestrian effort by the St. Louis Cardinals to find the best starting eight, rotation, bullpen mix and bench is now a controlled experiment in player development. And because we’re seeing science in the making, we have no way of knowing where the data will lead us.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the only thing short of a contender that enthuses me about a major-league ball club is a true test of a team’s potential and future configuration.  It seems to me we’re seeing that unfold right now.

When Aledmys Diaz was sent down to the minors this week, the message from the organization was that all bets were off. 

Sure, Randal Grichuk had gotten the demotion earlier, and Luke Voit more recently the promotion.  But the former was about a repetitive swing disorder, something specific to work on that was going to make the outfielder either sink or swim. And the latter, while certainly a reward, was to replace a roster spot opened by a DL-ed Dexter Fowler.  

The Diaz demotion, on the other hand, coming on the heels of another miscue that helped throw away the opening game of the Diamondbacks series, was to my mind a different kind of statement. 

This was notice to the team, that there is no one who is indispensable, permanence is not to be assumed, and you’d better take each game as though it’s your last, because it well might be.

That to me is a different kind of stress than a send-down to work on a specific skill. That’s a, we’re the St. Louis Cardinals, our owners and our fans expect full effort every game and every inning, and we’re not going to sleepwalk through our season whether we’re competitive or not.

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When the team decides that it can and should demote players for general malaise and lackadaisical play, for going through the motions, that’s a noticeable wake-up call. And that, in my opinion, is what happened this week with Diaz.

So what does that mean for the experiment? It means the Cards can get a good look at Alex Mejia, sure. But it also means that management gets to watch how the team operates under stress.

That stress can manifest itself in a number of ways. It might be reflected in who steps up when the heat is on. It could be demonstrated in who becomes a clubhouse leader and who devolves into a malcontent. 

And it can be a true test of who bonds with their teammates and who doesn’t. Since this team has been a bunch of interchangeable parts, making it hard for GM John Mozeliak to decide who to keep and who to trade, this kind of stress can help make the decisions easier for him.

The mettle of a team isn’t always forged in a winning environment. This club will have to make an ascent, whether this year or next, to a different plateau, one that comprises the best of the individuals on it, rather than the worst. 

For the 2017 Cardinals, like a version of the same club three decades earlier, the heat is on, just not in the same way that it was intended way back in the day.  The Diaz move shows it. The fun is in seeing how the team will react to it. And that, my friends, is science.