St. Louis Cardinals: A full season in one night
Postseason elimination is now official and Thursday night’s game provided a glimpse into just what has gone wrong with the St. Louis Cardinals this season. A struggling offense, an unreliable bullpen, and a clearly better Cubs team all downed St. Louis both last night and this season. Judgement day is upon us and harsh realities must be faced.
Of course I’ll still be tuning in this weekend to watch the St. Louis Cardinals, but it will be a bittersweet final series knowing that their season has come to an abrupt and disappointing end, far sooner than we all hoped.
Having your team be officially eliminated from postseason contention is always the hardest time to be a baseball fan. It feels like there’s nothing to watch for anymore and that the sport almost doesn’t matter.
The game that mathematically did them in, a 2-1 heart-breaker to the Cubs, was a microcosmic reflection of the St. Louis Cardinals season as a whole. A roller coaster battle with a division rival not playing up to par that gave us hope for a victory but ultimately ended up crashing down in frustrating and bitter fashion.
I couldn’t think of anything better to describe 2017’s version of the baseball team that we all love.
Thursday night started off in poor fashion, with Lance Lynn giving up a first inning home run to Ian Happ that made it appear as though the Cubs were going to run away with this one, much like how the Cardinals started the season 3-9.
Then, things evened out as Lynn settled in and fired his next three innings without allowing a run or any trouble. However, as the St. Louis Cardinals’ starter settled in, so did Kyle Hendricks, keeping the Cardinals scoreless through three innings despite a significant threat in that 3rd inning.
So, after the rough start, things began to bounce back for St. Louis, much like they did in late April and early May, as the Cards ballooned their record at one point to 21-15: a season-high six games over .500 at that point. This stretch was highlighted by a six-game road winning streak, the only road trip of six games or more in Cardinals’ history that the team had managed to finish undefeated.
As the next few innings Thursday night mostly went by uneventfully, I was reminded of a fact this season that has been all too consistently ignored: Lance Lynn has been a savior of this pitching staff and I don’t think I’m ready for the day when he actually does pitch for another team.
Lynn, although never producing a highlight reel of strikeouts and also being as unfriendly as he is to FIP and xFIP, just knows how to pitch and his five innings of one-run ball on Thursday evening proved that fact.
However, while appreciating Lance Lynn, I looked up and realized that the Cardinals were still trailing the Cubs by a run, which felt like more because this was the Cubs.
In mid June and early July, the Cardinals were consistently sitting between two and five games under the .500 mark, struggling offensively and playing generally poor baseball, much like we were seeing in this very game.
However, suffering through a World Series hangover, the Cubs were struggling as well, hovering right around the .500 mark and keeping the Cardinals in what shouldn’t have been a tight division race. The NL-Central always felt out of reach for St. Louis as they sat under .500, but it never truly was.
Then, in the 6th inning, the Cardinals tied the game because of Tommy Pham’s devil magic. St. Louis’ best player in 2017 pulled a rabbit out of a hat and created a run all by himself, singling into center, then stealing 2nd and advancing to 3rd on a wild pitch before scoring on a Dexter Fowler groundout.
The only thing that would have made this more poetic was if Paul DeJong had been able to drive in Tommy Pham, but alas it was not meant to be.
On August 12, the Cardinals peaked their typical post-All-Star break run towards the playoffs, beating Atlanta at home for an 8th consecutive win in a row to bump their season record to 61-56 and tie Chicago for 1st place in the NL-Central.
Although the score in the real game didn’t reflect what the August and September standings did after these parallel moments, this would be the last time that it would feel like St. Louis had a chance to take down the Cubs.
On the morning of August 13, the Cardinals woke up in first place. On the morning of September 1, they woke up seven games back of a now runaway Cubs team.
In the 7th inning, the Cardinals found themselves tied with Chicago, but it never truly felt like they had a shot at winning. From the 6th inning onward, St. Louis only managed three total base runners, all reached on walks given out by the Cubs’ pitching staff.
A once awoken St. Louis Cardinals offense reverted to dormancy when it was needed most.
Finally, in the 11th inning of a seemingly tight battle, the Cubs predictably struck the killing blow with a Taylor Davis RBI double to left. The whole sequence was peak 2017 Cardinals, starting off with a Matt Bowman error on a weak Kyle Schwarber ground ball up the third base line and ending with a Cubs’ rookie coming through to deliver the knockout blow in both the game and St. Louis’ season.
The Cardinals started quietly in the bottom of the 11th until, with 2 outs, rookie hero Paul DeJong sent a high fly ball out to center field. It had home run distance and looked good off the bat, maybe Paul DeJong had just saved the season in St. Louis.
Could it be?
OH MY GOD.
It couldn’t be.
Leonys Martin tracked DeJong’s would-be home run back to the center field wall and made a run- and game-saving catch to end the Cardinals’ season in devastating fashion.
Just as much as the game had been a microcosmic reflection of the Cardinals’ 2017 season, so had this potential home run. A rookie hero stepping in to save St. Louis from a previously terrible offensive and team performance was sadly swiped away from us by the glove of a Cubs’ player.
Looking back on the play, it was almost predictable. There was just no way that the Cardinals were going to have any sort of luck on their side against the Cubs because that’s just not the way it was meant to be this year.
This game and the 2017 season saw multiple similarities.
A slow start, an even middle section, a promising burst towards the end, but an ultimate crushing at the hands of the Chicago Cubs.
Tommy Pham and Paul DeJong combined to put up four hits and lead the way offensively. Pham stole bases and created the lone run by himself. DeJong nearly saved the game and season with a would be home run. But, ultimately, their terrific individual performances were rendered moot by the rest of the offense’s ineptitude.
The Cardinals’ bullpen threw six high-quality innings of one-run baseball, only allowing four total hits and striking out seven Cubs along the way. However, it’s the final run given up by Matt Bowman that will be remembered instead of the five other terrific innings.
More from Redbird Rants
- Report: Cardinals Emerge As Mystery Team for Carlos Rodon
- Cardinals: Trade targets after signing Willson Contreras
- Reflecting on the 2013 Cardinals’ top 30 prospects
- Cardinals: Here is Willson Contreras’ first message for St. Louis fans
- How do the St. Louis Cardinals stack up with Willson Contreras?
On the season, the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen ranks respectably near the middle of the MLB pack in terms of ERA (12th), FIP (13th), and xFIP (12th), but it’s the crippling blown saves at just the worst times that will be remembered more than what generally was a quality overall performance.
Lance Lynn pitched well. He battled his way through five tough innings, clearly not his best on the night, but still kept the St. Louis Cardinals in a position to win the game. His offense failed him and his bullpen couldn’t hold up. He suffered as a result in what was likely his final start in a Cardinal uniform.
For two years in a row, the Cardinals have missed the playoffs. After having missed the playoffs just four years out of the previous 16, it would be easy to understand how not having postseason baseball could be ‘unfamiliar territory’ in St. Louis.
But, as Tommy Pham put it after the game, “Well, it’s a familiar thing now, it its back-to-back years. So it’s not unfamiliar anymore.” Losses like this, in games that matter, against the Cubs, are also becoming familiar to the Cardinals and last night’s was just another crushing example.
Next: Applying 2017's lessons to the 2018 roster
See you next year, Cardinals. I hope it’s better than this one.