"Deserve has got nothing to do with it," some say. Well, I disagree. The 2016 St. Louis Cardinals don't deserve to be in the playoffs.
They've been presented with so many opportunities to rise up and punch their way through the competition in the National League Central(it was sitting there midseason during the Cubs swoon) and in the past several weeks in the wildcard. Yet, they start play Saturday night three games behind their host, the San Francisco Giants, and two games behind the New York Mets, owners of a soft September schedule.
Are the Cardinals rebuilding? Yes and no. Sure, John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny have been forced to insert young guns Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver into the roster ahead of time. Those two are the biggest surprise entries of the season. The spring training roster was built to make the playoffs, whether or not the Cubs went into beast mode or not. With the extra wildcard, this should have been a clinched berth on September 1st.
The Cardinals don't rebuild. Mozeliak doesn't believe in the term. That is why he traded young Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward in what amounted to a one year rental. That is why he aimed high on David Price before getting outbid by the Boston Red Sox, who wash their Benjamins in Boston Baked Beans and a payroll that stretches nearly as far as the New York Yankees. The Birds don't take years off. They compete for the World Series. This is not a rebuilding year. That is an excuse.
Injuries? Do you remember 2015? That team required an extra trainers room and for Mozeliak to hire a sports physiology/injury prevention specialist. Well, it didn't work. The Cards have suffered another terrible wrath of injuries. However, did we really miss all of those players?
Did we really yearn for Michael Wacha's 4.00+ ERA when he was out from August 8th until this week? No.
Did we really pine for Jhonny Peralta's deflated power and fielding? No.
Does any fan, or even Matt Holliday fanatic, truly expect the big guy to produce when he returns? No. It may be a struggle.
Did anyone really look forward to the return of Trevor Rosenthal, who pitched well Saturday night in his return, when he was out? No.
Does anybody expect Jordan Walden back? Are they praying for a Jaime Garcia rebound? No.
The injury to Aledmys Diaz stung and so did Matt Carpenter's oblique, but most of the injuries didn't make Cardinal Nation shed tears.
The 2016 Cardinals simply haven't been good enough. They can slug with the best of them, but as their rosters have taught the league in the past 20 years, pitching and defense wins championships.
Example 1: Faced with a soft August schedule, the Cards went just 14-13 and lost ground in the playoff race. They lost to the Reds and Braves, and kept flopping at home.
Example 2: The Marlins and Pirates bailed out of the playoff race. The Giants and Mets gave the Cards plenty of opportunities to catch and pass them up. They didn't take advantage of opponents lack of consistency and instead emulated the inconsistency instead of benefiting from it. This team isn't trying to be better than the other team. They are okay with staying behind.
Does Mike Matheny deserve some blame for the lack of improvement on the bases, defense, and with runners in scoring position? Sure, but the players have to be held accountable as well. They are extremely well paid athletes who aren't doing their jobs. If they can't fix it, who can?
2016 may serve as a fateful reminder that even the beloved Cardinals are fallible. Seeing Adam Wainwright fall from grace hasn't been easy. Seeing a healthy and lighter Matt Holliday fall from a 3.0 WAR player to a 0.8 WAR player hasn't been swell. The lost and found act of Kolten Wong was saved by the Jedd Gyorko power revival, but even Jedd has cooled off. Brandon Moss was smoking hot...until he wasn't.
Rosenthal went from one of the best closers in the National League to troublesome arm and eventually damaged goods for nearly two months. While Seung Hwan-Oh has been amazing in relief, a closer can't do much if he isn't given a lead in the 9th.
The Cards entered Wednesday's game against the Chicago Cubs with a chance to vault into San Francisco this weekend with a piece of the #1 wildcard spot as well as momentum. Instead, Carlos Martinez and company got blown out in the homestand finale and they have lost the first two games of this pivotal series by a combined score of 14-4.
There are 15 games left in the regular season. The Cards face the Colorado Rockies, Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Pirates to finish the season. Those series are going to be tough. The Reds have taken two of the past three series against the Birds, the Rockies are tough at home, and the other two Central rivals won't give in.
The Cards don't deserve to be in the playoffs this year. They haven't played well enough or taken advantage of several opportunities.
Here's the way it works. Fans show up, in the zip code of three million a year, to see this team play. The team has given back several playoff events. In 2016, the fans have packed Busch, including a sell out a week ago, and the team hasn't given back.
Stop referencing 2006. That magic doesn't happen twice. In 2011, the team got busy in early September and benefited from the outright collapse of the Atlanta Braves. You can't look into the past to boost your emotions.
Is a comeback still possible? Yes. Anything can happen in this game. There are too many games in a season to count out a competitive nearly healthy Cardinals team.
Just don't assume or expect a comeback anymore. Those days are over. A new day is here and it's called a competitive National League, all over the league.
Watching and covering the team this year has been an adrenaline rush. A misguided roller coaster ride with several drops and rebounds. That ride is going to pull to a stop soon. Where will the Cardinals be on October 3rd?
This has nothing to do with desire or effort. Both of those are there. This has everything to do with skill and worthiness.
Right now, the Cards don't deserve a thing. Maybe they will get lucky. I won't hold my breath.