Sitting in the stands to take in a Sunday matinee between the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Opening Day 2016 with fellow blogger Alex Bloom and our dads, I didn’t know quite what to expect from the season. It seemed more than likely that the Chicago Cubs would take another step forward and seize control of the NL Central Division from the Cardinals, but my team’s ultimate fate felt very much up in the air. I figured the Cards would be competitive and vie for a Wild Card spot, but there were several other teams in the mix for those two Wild Card berths, and I could not say for certain that my team would end up with one of them.
It is now October, and the postseason has begun, but October baseball ended for my Cardinals on the final day of the regular season. The team finished one game back of both the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants for both Wild Cards spots and was eliminated when the Giants completed their sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers on the last day of the season. It was a bitter pill to swallow, as the Cardinals had done their part in winning each of their final four games, and the Giants had bested the Dodgers’ best pitchers in the sweep. There is no joy in St. Louisville.
Very, very few, if any, will feel sorry for me, and nor should they. As a fan of a team that has participated in the past five postseasons and 12 of the last 17 with varying levels of success (including two World Series wins and four NL pennants), I’ve had a pretty nice time of it since Y2K as far as baseball is concerned. Many have grown to despise the Cardinals due to this prolonged success and the too frequently peddled Cardinals Way and Best Fans in Baseball slogans used to describe the team’s management and playing style and its fanbase. Understandable for sure. Nonetheless, I will truly miss watching the Cardinals this October, and although their absence will bring joy to many, the MLB playoffs minus the St. Louis Cardinals just do not feel right. Still, there are silver linings to the season’s premature end:
- The Cardinals will not once again be eliminated by the Cubs in the NLDS.
- The Cardinals will not once again be eliminated by the Giants in the NLCS.
- The Cardinals will not once again lose to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
- The Cardinals will never have to compete against David Ortiz again.
- Regardless of the final record, I am grateful that I had the chance to wake up to 162 games of meaningful baseball. Prior to the regular season’s final day, so many teams had already locked up their postseason seed or been eliminated from contention altogether and were playing meaningless baseball, but the Cardinals still had a reason to show up to the ballpark and a faint sliver of hope to make the playoffs.
As for the season itself, this was a very frustrating team to follow and watch, particularly when juxtaposed with the 2015 installment that won 100 games and did so many things well. I won’t sit here and dwell on the handful of games that were blown late. In any season, there are games lost inexplicably in the latter innings, but at the same time, there are usually a number of games that are won late miraculously. This was the case for the Cardinals. Sure, they had an incredible road record and would have easily qualified for the Wild Card had they just played .500 baseball at home, but so many other teams can play the “what if” game as well. Bottom line: The 2016 Cardinals were consistently inconsistent and fundamentally unsound. They never won more than five games in a row, and they only accomplished that feat three times. When they won a few games in row, they would follow that streak up with a losing streak of equal value. My friend and fellow Cards fan, Alex Crisafulli, detailed this inconsistency in depth in a post for the Cardinals SB Nation blog Viva El Birdos. In short, the Cardinals never got too cold, but they didn’t set the baseball world on fire either.
As for the players on the field, there were some notable performances. Aledmys Diaz finally (and surprisingly) lived up to the potential the scouts saw in him when they signed him several years ago out of Cuba and hit .300 with over 40 extra-base hits in spite of an extended stay on the disabled list. When regular closer Trevor Rosenthal struggled with his pitching command and an injury, Seung-hwan Oh, who already had a prolific career as a closer in his home of South Korea earning him the awesome nickname “the Final Boss,” had a sub-2.00 ERA in 76 appearances and notched 19 saves. Carlos Martinez took another step forward as the staff ace and looked dominant at times on the mound. Alex Reyes, the heralded pitching prospect and late-season call-up, pitched incredibly in August and September, conceding only eight earned runs in 46 innings pitched and winning four big games (three against the Cubs and one against the Giants!). Jedd Gyorko, a utility infielder who wasn’t expected to see regular action, led the team with 30 homers. The usual suspects, Yadier Molina, Stephen Piscotty, and Matt Carpenter were once again run producers at the plate.
But as a team, their play was uninspiring. They played defense poorly. They pitched poorly. They ran the bases poorly. They scored runs in bunches but not every night, and they struck out a lot. The aforementioned are parts of the game that I particularly enjoy – when done well. I sincerely hope that the Cardinals improve in these areas of the game when 2017 rolls around. Win or lose, watching a team fumble through a game just isn’t as enjoyable for me as a fan. Of course, the Cardinals fan base wasn’t the only group confounded and annoyed by the poor play at times. The players, coaches, and management all had the same feelings. There is clearly a gap between the Cardinals and Pirates and the first-place Cubs, and changes must be made this offseason to address the above weaknesses and close that gap. I remain confident that the Cardinals will be back in the postseason soon. It may not come next year, but they will be back. I’m already looking forward to Cubs-Cardinals on Opening Day 2017. Bring it on.
While my season review is over, allow me one final paragraph to recognize Matt Holliday for his contributions to the “Birds on the Bat” over these past seven-and-a-half seasons. This season wasn’t a great one for Holliday (the impetus for management to buy out his contract instead of picking up the option for one more season), but his long-term contract was one of the few out there that was actually worth every cent. Year in and year out, Holliday was a stalwart in the heart of the Cardinals lineup, hitting for power and average, and he was a favorite of the home faithful. To close out his Cardinals career, he provided one of the – if not the best – moments of the season when, during the Cardinals’ final homestand of the year and his last as a Cardinal, he homered in his first plate appearance after returning from a broken thumb suffered in August. The home run came against the Pirates in a game the Cardinals already had in hand, but with two games left on the schedule, it was unknown if he would get another chance to bat (He did – a pinch-hit, run-scoring single, the next day.). It was the perfect moment for the fans and the visibly upset Holliday during an emotional farewell.
Cover photo by Francisco Diez via Flickr