Unfortunately I don’t have time to write as in depth of a post as I normally would, but this is the best I can do for the time I have available. I hope to produce a more detailed Blues season preview before the puck drops in about two weeks.
The 2015 team won with run prevention. The pitching was tremendous. The defense was rock solid. When a big play was needed in an important part of the game, the 2015 Cardinals seemed to make it.
This year the Cardinals won with power. They set a record for pinch hit home runs. The offense wasn’t consistently great because it struggled to manufacture runs in tough situations; however, when the power showed up, it often propelled the team to a victory, regardless of how sloppy the defense was that day.
This spring I wrote about how the Cardinals bullpen could have been really good this year. It wasn’t.
Trevor Rosenthal, coming off of back-to-back +40 save seasons, had a disastrous start to the season before landing on the disabled list for an extended period of time. Seth Maness, trusted fireman and double-play inducer, also had a rough start to a season that ended with surgery on his UCL. Jonathon Broxton went through horrendous phases.
The bullpen had a few bright spots. Seung-hwan Oh had 19 saves and an ERA under 2 in his first season in MLB. Matthew Bowman, a Rule 5 pick up, was very good as well. He began the season as a middle relief pitcher and ended the season serving in important roles in late innings. Tyler Lyons had some nice stretches too, but he also ended the season on the disabled list.
When the bullpen would blow a lead, the Cardinals would hope for a home run to save them because producing a run by linking hits together and using small ball were foreign concepts to this team, not to mention their horrendous baserunning. There were some really bad losses this year.
The best way I can describe this team is as a collection of nice puzzle pieces. Some of the pieces were beautiful and valuable. Most of the pieces were at least nice enough to support the overall picture. Yet, in the end all of the pieces couldn’t be put together to create a masterpiece. Some pieces were too old; others had parts broken off. The collection was simply never going to make something whole or special.
Aledmys Diaz hit an emotional home run after the death of Jose Fernandez.
Matt Holliday hit a pinch-hit home run in what was thought to be his last game as a Cardinal. (It wasn’t.)
Stephen Piscotty hit a late-inning home run in Chicago.
Diaz hit a 3-run home run against the Giants to complete a 4-run comeback.
Matt Adams hit a walkoff home run against the Dodgers.
Adam Wainwright threw a complete game shutout on the night the Cardinals celebrated the 2006 World Championship team.
Lou Brock made a special appearance on Opening Day
Carson Kelly earned his first career hit.
Alex Reyes had a handful of stellar starts in his first MLB season.
Now the question we must ask is: How will the club’s management turn this assortment of pieces back into a team that can play more fundamentally sound and generally consistent baseball?
The Cardinals also must decide what their rotation will look like. Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes should headline the group. Wainwright will still be around after a sub-par 2016. Mike Leake is under contract after an inconsistent first season in St. Louis. Then you have Lance Lynn returning from Tommy John surgery, Jaime Garcia if the Cardinals exercise his relatively team-friendly option, Luke Weaver fresh off of his meteoric rise through the farm system, Tyler Lyons begging for a rotation spot, Trevor Rosenthal always seeking a starting job, and Marco Gonazles & Tim Cooney coming back from injuries ready to prove they’re big-league worthy. Am I missing anybody?
And, again, perhaps most importantly the Cardinals must figure out how to improve their defense without sacrificing too much offense by removing talented offensive players. Related questions include: What position should Matt Carpenter play every day? Can Jedd Gyorko take on a bigger role? Is Kolten Wong ever going to be an everyday player? Is Randal Grichuk really a centefielder long term? Can Tommy Pham take over centerfield? Can the Cardinals bring in a true No. 3 hitter? Is that person Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and will the Cardinals chase him? Is Jhonny Peralta capable of playing 140 games at 3B next year? Can Brayan Peña actually back up Yadi or is it time for Carson Kelly to take over? Will Yadi’s defense return to normal next season after a winter of rest? Does Jose Martinez (.438 batting average in 18 PAs in 2016) deserve a permanent spot with the big club?
And there are bigger questions that qualify the previous ones: Will the Cardinals be punished for the hacking scandal and how will the punishment affect their offseason plans?
There are quite a few questions to be answered, and management will be dealing with an unusually impatient fan base while making the decisions.
For now, all we can do is watch the wonderful playoff moments from the last five years:
Thanks for reading, and Go Blues!
I do not own any pictures included in this post.