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Opinion | Are the St. Louis Cardinals losing touch with their fan base?

Here's the bottom line. Once the standards of excellence from the front office drop even a little bit, the interest level of the fans will fall as well.
Credit: AP
Empty seats are seen at Busch Stadium during the first inning of Game 2 of the baseball National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals may have lost the chance to win a World Series this fall, but have they lost some of the attention of the fan base as well?

During the National League Division Series with the Atlanta Braves, the Cardinals failed to pack Busch Stadium full for a playoff game. There were plenty of empty seats in a mid-October game, which is never a good thing,and almost unprecedented for the Cardinals. Now, one can lay the blame on the afternoon start time during the week, but checking back on past postseasons in St. Louis, that wasn't really a problem then.

Now, out-of-town scribes and fans had fun with, poking fun at the big Best Fans in Baseball bear, and it created some drama on social media. But the question remains: is there a small yet steadily brewing cloud of doubt forming with this baseball team?

Let's look at the facts. The team grossed more than 3.4 million fans in attendance again, creating more than 20 sellouts in the 2019 season. They made the playoffs for the first time in four years, winning the NLDS over Atlanta and making it into the NLCS against the Washington Nationals, even if the streaking D.C. team made quick work of the Cardinals. One perception is that the Cardinals triumphed over the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, winning 91 games and finding their way back to the top.

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The unfortunate alternate perception is that may not have been enough for a fan base losing touch with a team that once stood for World Series-contending excellence and now promotes itself as a playoff-hopeful team. Like it or not, the Cardinals have looked like a team that merely wants to make it into the dance these past few seasons instead of a team that knows it belongs there.

You can skim the words and comments of President John Mozeliak and majority owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and it all you will find is phrases resembling a need to stay competitive and not dominate every other team in baseball. When you set the bar high and fail to reach it, repercussions will occur. Perhaps the Cardinals are experiencing those as 2020 starts to develop.

Sometimes, a record can have little to do with how the fans see the team. They see other misses and enhance those misfires over the wins and losses. Is it fair? Not entirely, but remember it's the fans spending their hard-earned money to make this team look so good in the first place, so let them air out their grievances.

RELATED: Opinion | 2019 was a success for the Cardinals, but the front office can't afford to be complacent

Two years ago, the team went hard for Giancarlo Stanton and came up short. Now, reports will tell you the team made the best offer and were simply turned down, but all the fans will see is a team failing to get the job done. That's the painful reality.

A few years back, the team tried to re-sign Jason Heyward and were outdone by the Cubs. Now, hindsight being 20/20, most will agree that was a bullet dodged. But at the time, it was a sign that someone was gaining and the other was losing. The Cubs would win a World Series the next season, breaking a curse and flipping the deck in the division.

Last winter, the team had a big opportunity to make a splash and sign Bryce Harper. Instead, they traded for Paul Goldschmidt. That rightfully wasn't viewed as enough. After all, if you want to make a statement, don't settle for a guy on the wrong side of 30. Go for it all and leave nothing to chance. The Phillies ended up signing Harper and the Cardinals once again had major outfield issues, with a rotating deck of players getting reps out there.

Maybe the fans only see the moderate disappointment in Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler, and not the superstar gaze of Stanton and Harper. The team had the funds to sign Harper and chose not to. How many more games would have been won in 2019 with a bigger bat in the outfield?

Don't forget about the inaction at the deadline. When was the last time the team made a huge deadline move? I'll keep going while you squeeze your brain.

This past July, the team had come back all the way from third place oblivion in the Central to make a true dent, and Mozeliak and company made no major moves at the deadline. They didn't add any starting pitching or extra bats to supplement a weak lineup full of under-performers. Mozeliak had challenged the team to do better in early July, and when they responded, he did nothing. Players take notice of that, but so do the fans. They see everything, especially the things that aren't done.

It seems like ancient history since the last big deadline move, which was the team acquiring John Lackey and sending fan favorites Joe Kelly and Allen Craig out to Boston in 2014. Lately, the Cardinals have been more known for who they traded and not who they acquired. Few will argue that trading for Giovanny Gallegos was a major add, but at the time, it simply wasn't flashy enough.

Add it all up and you have a mildly disgruntled Cardinal Nation. You could make the counter-argument that they should be happy with a team holding so many division titles, two World Series wins, four World Series appearances, and endless "competitive desire," but this is a "what have you done for me lately" kind of game. Lately, the Cardinals haven't done a whole lot. It sure doesn't help when you just took part in one of the worst and most lopsided playoff series defeats in franchise history.

There were a lot of claims on social media that this team isn't that fun to watch either. Granted, they could pitch very well and play sound defense, but the bats didn't work that well at times and far too many times, the box score was depressing.

What else doesn't help? The local hockey team breaking through and winning their first ever Stanley Cup. The Blues made national and numerous local headlines with their spring heroics, capturing the adoration of every sports fan in town, hockey addict or mere casual purveyor of the game. When the other team in town wins the big one, the scope on the other team either tightens or drifts for a period of time. When the Rams won it in 2000, the Cardinals and Blues felt it. When the Cardinals won it in 2006 and 2011, the Blues and Rams felt the pressure. It's one of the byproducts of being a great sports town.

Right now, the Cardinals could be described as second-fiddle, and that means they have to field a team in 2020 that isn't just playoff-capable yet truly worth watching.

Yadier Molina and Goldschmidt aren't enough. Jack Flaherty is an ace, but that doesn't sell in this current game of home runs and boatloads of offense. The Cardinals need a deeper lineup, one that can be entertaining and successful. More than anything, they need to adapt to the times and adjust their mindset in composing a roster.

Here's the bottom line. Once the standards of excellence from the front office drop even a little bit, the interest level of the fans will fall as well. It's not entirely fair, but that's the way the perception game is played these days.

Take it or leave it, Cardinals. It's time to become a true championship-contending baseball team again.

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