St. Louis Cardinals: Missing the playoffs might not be a bad thing
This has been an uncharacteristically rough season for the St. Louis Cardinals, possibly missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since ’07-08. While postseason baseball is always exciting, the failure to make the playoffs may be a necessary step in the remodeling of this team in the short and long-term futures.
First, I would like to clarify that I am not at all advocating for the St. Louis Cardinals to tank. The way the franchise operates is very much like the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. They have never been a franchise to even sell hard, much less undergo a full tank and rebuild process.
Just like the Spurs and the New England Patriots have done over the past 15+ years, the Cardinals have been consistent without needing to make blockbuster deals or trying to sell hard.
However, there are two main differences between the Cardinals and these other franchises that make this style unsustainable for much longer unless specific changes happen soon. The first is the difference in-game management.
The Spurs have Gregg Popovich and the Patriots have Bill Belichick, two coaches I consider to be the best ever in their respective sports. While the Cardinals had one of the greatest minds in the dugout, but that ship sailed in 2011.
I don’t think I have to try too hard and convince people reading this article that comparing Mike Matheny to guys like Pop, Belichick, and Tony La Russa is completely asinine. He seems to have no control over his lineup or his bullpen, constantly shifting people, pulling hot batters out, and sending out pitchers from the dugout in questionable situations.
As I mentioned on the most recent podcast, it seems that Matheny is emulating La Russa’s madness without the method.
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The second part of the problem lies in the lack of a “lynchpin” in the lineup, and the Patriots and Spurs each have approached this in a much more long-term mindset than the Cardinals have. While Albert Pujols did not show the Cardinals quite the same loyalty Tom Brady and Tim Duncan had with the Pats and Spurs when resigning them, there had been plans in place to prepare a replacement.
The St. Louis Cardinals haven’t really done this, and us fans are seeing the results. Without stability at the helm, the team has slowly tumbled into the mires of mediocrity. However, the most disturbing part of all of this is not the lack of foresight of stability, but a complacency and lack of urgency to change. If there is no real desire to be more than a fringe playoff contender, then that’s what they will be.
Take a look at the way the Golden State Warriors ascended. They were able to get over the hump because upper management was always looking for ways to improve and were never satisfied. Nothing showed this more than the firing of Mark Jackson following a playoff appearance and first round loss to the Clippers. It is demonstrative of the mindset teams should not just be looking for playoffs, they should be going for the gusto.
So what does that have to do with the St. Louis Cardinals? Well, the Cardinals are stuck on the bad end of these things. Poor management, a lack of a leader in the lineup, and a complacency by upper management all spell out one thing: the Cardinals are somehow satisfied. They are happy with the way the team has preformed, and DeWitt see no reason to fire Matheny, especially if the team makes the playoffs.
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The Cardinals missing the playoffs for the second straight season may change that. The fact that the Cardinals never sell hard is demonstrative of a certain expectation of success, however little that is. Being out of the playoffs again with the way the season played out has to cause some questioning of the personnel within the organization, both management and players alike.
Now, there is an obvious con to not making the playoffs that cannot be ignored. Having the opportunity to play for the World Series is great, and if the Cardinals make it, there is a chance they go all the way. But that’s about the extent of the team’s hopes this year in my eyes.
Consistency is a testament to a team’s ability to distinguish itself from similarly skilled peers, and the Cardinals have been the opposite of consistent all year.
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It would be one thing if the Cardinals were geared for the playoffs with elite starting pitching over a short series, but that’s not who the Cardinals are right now.
Carlos Martinez is still wild, for a number one pitcher despite his success, and too many times have the Cardinals sent out pitching that just “didn’t have it” on that night.
Such deficiencies are fatal in a postseason setting, especially considering the quality at the top of the National League this season.
For a team in the St. Louis Cardinals’ situation, there is little to no benefit to making the playoff if they don’t win it all, and that result would all but guarantee another year of Cardinal mediocrity. It would give young guys like Paul DeJong some postseason experience, which is the huge benefit towards making the postseason. Having such experience is invaluable for future contending teams, despite not quite having what it takes to contend just yet.
Ideally, the Cardinals take notes from the Warriors, and see that Matheny is not the answer for this team despite his trips to the playoffs, and we get both the experience and the progress towards a World Series team. Obviously, this is incredibly unlikely based on Matheny’s contract and DeWitt’s past interaction with Matheny.
Maybe they sign someone big in the off-season after making the playoffs, and that would be great too. Once again, I just don’t see it happening.
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All in all, I am not rooting against the Cardinals this season, but I am rooting for change in the future. I would love to see them compete in October, but this year more than any in recent memory, missing the playoffs doesn’t seem so bad.