The Cardinals, who picked the absolute worst time of the season to go on a losing streak of any kind, snapped their 4-game slide with a 2-1 win over the Cubs in Chicago Saturday. Miles Mikolas, a gem of a find for this year's starting rotation, did his part, pitching a gem of a game at Wrigley in raising his record to 18-4. The win helped the Cardinals' to an 88-73 record and stave off elimination temporarily.
Later in the day, the Dodgers finished off those playoff hopes with a win over the Giants.
Sunday's season finale was just a mere formality. St. Louis sat on the outside looking in at the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Maybe it has become "familiar" just like Tommy Pham said. With the Cards missing the playoffs by just a few games, there'll be plenty of blame to go around.
The Redbirds didn't help themselves earlier this week. They played as sloppy a series of baseball at Busch against the Brewers as Cardinal Nation has seen with so much at stake. Win that first one Monday following homers by Jose' Martinez and Marcell Ozuna off usually lights-out lefty reliever Josh Hader and maybe the momentum to win the series swings in their favor.
They didn't, and what ensued was the equivalent of Bad News Bears ball that reached the pinnacle of frustration when rookie speedster Adolis Garcia fell rounding third on an errant throw by Milwaukee third baseman Mike Moustakas that would have easily tied the score Wednesday night. Maybe they win, maybe they still lose but the play defined the self-inflicted demise of a team that unraveled.
One can point to the litany of Memphis Redbirds who helped get the parent club into contention once called up following the coaching change petering out. A remarkably hot August was followed by a remarkably cold September as the arms of the young guns tired, ERAs rose and walking batters in alarmingly high numbers became the norm. Reliable veterans couldn't be counted on to carry the weight in the field as errors mounted (the Cardinals led the majors) or at the plate, which materialized in the many chances to score that were squandered with runners in scoring position (RISP). The team's hitting approach became questionable, the offense anemic. Some managerial gaffes by cerebral Mike Shildt only served to fan the flames of frustration. Then, there's the move, or better yet, non-move on the part of management when the Cardinals were the hottest team going in the National League and needed reinforcement(s).
It may pain one to be reminded of the following mishaps, glaring mistakes or near misses but missing the playoffs by just a few games warrants we take a stroll back down memory lane. Let's start wth the last game of the series against the Reds, Mike Shildt's first as interim manager. Bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, nobody out, tied score. The Cardinals needed only to push one run across the plate to win both the game and the series. The result was utter failure. Jose Martinez struck out as the first hitter up and Ozuna and DeJong failed to bring a game-winning run home. Series lost.
The very next contest that Monday offered the exact same scenario with the Birds up 3-1 on Washington ace Max Scherzer with a chance to blow the game wide open. Martinez again strikes out, they fail to extend the lead and Shildt inexplicably has Bud Norris pitch to Bryce Harper who ties the score with a homerun in the bottom of the ninth. Harper goes on to win it 4-3 in extras with a walk-off sacrifice fly.
Fast forward to the last of three at home against Pittsburgh with a chance to sweep. The Cardinals get within a run of tying the game off of Pirates bullpen ace Felipe Vasquez following a pinch-hit RBI single by Patrick Wisdom that trimmed the lead to 4-3 and put Harrison Bader on third with ease. Runners on the corners, one out and in steps Paul DeJong. Conventional wisdom and Baseball 101 say play for the tie at home, especially with the knowledge that DeJong is incapable of catching up to one of Vasquez' 98-99 mph fastballs. The squeeze is in order but not ordered and DeJong does the expected — he strikes out. Ballgame instead of tie game. Another golden, missed opportunity.
Veteran player meltdowns down the stretch were a huge factor. Matt Carpenter's September mirrored his start to the season. He was mired in a horrendous slump when the team needed him most.
It was much the same as third baseman Jedd Gyorko (0-for-16 at one point this week) twice recently came up with the bases loaded and failed to deliver a big hit in a huge moment.
Gyorko is a super sub at best who could have been spared the moment — SHOULD have been spared the moment — had management claimed Blue Jays third baseman and former American League MVP Josh Donaldson off waivers. Injured at the time or not, he offered a much better option to help pick the club up when they began to run out of gas and help extend the run. What would it have cost John Mozeliak, President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Michael Girsch to orchestrate that move, that investment to enhance the odds St. Louis would be playing in October? Four million dollars? Goodness, they wasted 14 million, I repeat, 14 million on a 1-year deal for Greg Holland, a bad move to begin with before eventually releasing him ... but it's the non-move, not claiming Donaldson, getting him acquainted with St. Louis' strong traditional love of baseball that will come back to haunt the franchise a third straight year. The Indians are even better now with Donaldson in their lineup and a serious threat to represent the American League in the World Series.
Bader, Wisdom and Tyler O'Neill helped catapult the Cardinals into contention with a combination of exceptional defense, contagious play, timely hitting or game-winning homers during the team's torrid push for the playoffs. However, it would be totally unfair for members of the Memphis Shuttle to shoulder the responsibility of ending the postseason drought.
With the Cardinals narrowly missing the playoffs, there's plenty of blame to go around. Missed opportunities, mishaps in the field and on the bases, bad managerial decisions (why did reliever John Brebbia pitch meaningless innings against the Giants in last Sunday's rout versus being saved to face, say, the Brewers Monday after getting the lead?), veteran player slumps and the kids petering out all played a role but I'm going to point my finger at the front office on this one.
Oh well, maybe next year. But Bill DeWitt, Jr., Mozeliak and Girsch better prepare to do some uncomfortable spending this offseason or they'll come up as empty again (fourth straight year missing the postseason) as the number of unoccupied seats at Busch, another "familiar" thing.