How the Cardinals handled their fifth stater is another example of compounding issues

The Cardinals have a bad habit of compounding their own issues, rather than solving them when they first began.
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals / Scott Kane/GettyImages

After Sunday's loss to the Boston Red Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals made it clear they'd be going to a different option with their fifth starter spot, rather than trotting Matthew Liberatore out for another go of it.

The issues that led to this black hole in their rotation go all the way back to the 2023 MLB Trade Deadline, but the reason we got to this point is that the front office has continued to compound this mistake. An issue that could have been easily solved this offseason has now turned into an utter mess for which they have no clear solution.

Following the MLB trade deadline, the Cardinals gave the ball to the likes of Dakota Hudson, Jake Woodford, Zack Thompson, Drew Rom, and Liberatore to see what they could do for them down the stretch. Hudson, Woodford, Rom, and Liberatore all posted ERAs north of 5.00 and struggled to get through more than four innings at a time, while Thompson also could not go deep into games but was fairly effective.

Personally, I felt pretty good about Thompson being a depth arm for the Cardinals following what we saw from him down the stretch. Was he going to be the best sixth starter you could find? No, but with how dire their pitching needs were, it was a pretty good place to start. Rom did not show me anything that warranted him just being a spot starter in emergencies, and Liberatore had excelled out of the bullpen when he finished the season there.

So the Cardinals address their other rotation holes with Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn during the winter while letting go of Hudson and Woodford. They entered camp with that trio joined by incumbents Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz for their five-man group. Sure, it wasn't a scary rotation by any means, but they thought that group had enough to get them through the season.

Unless, you know, someone goes down with an injury...

When Sonny Gray went down with a hamstring strain in Spring Training, that should have been enough of a warning sign for the Cardinals to consider upgrading their depth (since they were unwilling to add another front-line starter).

Naturally, they turned to their top-depth options in Thompson and Liberatore to see what they could provide, and both guys struggled in different ways. Thompson had lost weight during the offseason and was struggling to regain his velocity, while Liberatore could not pitch effectively to right-handed hitters. Oh, and to top it all off, Rom landed on the injured list with a bicep injury and ended up having surgery.

So, those depth options...

Naturally, the Cardinals went out and brought in some insurance, right? Well, no. They figured Gray would be back within a few weeks, so let Thompson make a couple of starts, and then he can go down to Memphis and figure things out if needed. Heck, maybe even one of those starters in Triple-A like Sem Robberse, Gordon Graceffo, or Michael McGreevy would be ready by then?

The Cardinals weathered the storm until Gray got back, but when they sent both Thompson and Pallante down to Memphis to get stretched out, that proved to me that they were not confident in their Triple-A arms and had to find other ways to get the depth they needed.

Again, this would've been another great opportunity to go out and sign someone like Rich Hill, Zack Greinke, Noah Syndergaard, or some other free-agent veteran starter. No, it's not inspiring by any means, but it is better than using a reliever in your rotation or hurting the development of young arms.

Instead, they kept the train moving, hoping that someone from Triple-A would emerge, whether it was someone being stretched out or a prospect, and if an injury came again, they'd be ready.

Then Steven Matz hit the injured list, and frankly, the Cardinals made his injury worse by pushing him to make a start when they should have had a depth option available they could spell him with. But again, they didn't trust those guys, and instead crossed their fingers with Matz, making the situation far worse.

We know the story from there. Liberatore has been making some starts in place of Matz since then...oh and while also being used as a reliever between two of those starts. They didn't even give him a fair shake when they put him in this bad position.

Not only did they create issues for their own rotation by having Liberatore in there, but they also weakened their bullpen in the process. Liberatore has been one of their best relievers this year, and one of the best qualities of this Cardinals team has been their ability to shorten games with their bullpen. Removing Liberatore from that equation weakens their bullpen while also putting a greater strain on it since Liberatore struggled to give the Cardinals more than four innings.

The Cardinals compounded their own issues with how they handled Matthew Liberatore

So here we are today. The Cardinals have yet to announce their plans for the fifth starter spot, but it won't be Liberatore again, and now they have to hope they did not hurt his rhythm as a reliever.

The Cardinals seem to have a bad habit of compounding their own issues. Pitching has been the big one in recent years, where pretty much every year, right around the middle of May and into June, their rotation is being held together by paper clips and bandages as they pray they can stay in the race up until the deadline.

You can see it in how they handled the catching situation last year, changing their mind day to day on whether or not Willson Contreras was their starting catcher, or if he was now a DH and an outfielder, or if he would catch again, or if they would revisit it in the offseason.

You can see the compounding of issues in how they have chased outfield bats since the death of Oscar Taveras. They traded for Jason Heyward and then he skipped town for the Cubs. They traded two future Cy Young contenders for Marcell Ozuna. They signed Dexter Fowler to a terrible deal. They traded away Randy Arozarnea, Lane Thomas, and Adolis Garcia, banking on the struggling veterans they had and young talents like Dylan Carlson, Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader, Stephen Piscotty, and Randall Grichick. They rushed Jordan Walker to the Major Leagues. They strained their relationship with Tyler O'Neill.

You can see it in how they tampered with the development of arms like Johan Oviedo and Jordan Hicks, calling them up before they were ready because they were desperate for a starter (Oviedo) or ending Hicks' chance of starting games because they needed bullpen help.

The Cardinals never intend for these things to happen, but their resistance to going out and getting that insurance piece for the rotation is just another example of things going south for this club. Let's hope they learned their lesson this time.