As April ended, the Cardinals had won 12 games and lost 12. At the end of May, they were similarly symmetrical with a record of 25-25. At the end of June, they slipped to three games below .500, and, as we write this on July 21, they remain three games below .500.
When you receive this article in your mailbox, the Cardinals will be preparing to play their 100th game of the season. Dollars to donuts, when they play that game, they will be going for season win No. 48 or 49.
On Oct. 1, as the regular season closes out, the Redbirds almost certainly will be vying for something between win No. 80 and win No. 82.
Dearest fans, your 2017 Birds on the Bat are the definition of a .500 baseball team.
Yet, the Best Fans in Baseball remain eternally optimistic. We can blame Tony La Russa for that.
In 2006, the La Russa-led Cardinals brought home a world championship despite winning only 83 regular season games. That record stands as the lowest win total ever for a World Series champion.
The practical result is that we diehard fans look at the 2017 team and see not the decidedly mediocre club that they are, but rather a perfect recipe for another Cinderella-like world championship run.
As the trade deadline approaches, here are four things the Cardinals can do to better position themselves for this year and beyond:
Keep José Oquendo on speed dial. The Cardinals’ unprecedented run of success over the past two decades has been marked by a style of baseball known colloquially as The Cardinal Way. This is the baseball of George Kissell and José Oquendo – a grinding, fundamentally sound, selfless style of play. To put it mildly, the 2017 Cardinals do not fit that particular mold. Neither did the 2016 Cardinals. Neither will the 2018 Cardinals, if the current coaching staff remains in place. The Redbirds need their secret weapon back.
Trade for a Florida Marlins outfielder, whatever it takes. The closer the trade deadline draws, the more visions of remarkably high-paid Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton dance in the heads of Cardinals fans. Frankly, however, of the Marlins’ three starting outfielders, Stanton should be the last choice. The ideal choice would be rising star Christian Yelich, who is a young, brilliant defender and an ascendant offensive force. The Cards would have to give up significant assets to acquire him, but it would be nearly impossible to overpay for Yelich.
Extend one starting pitcher, trade another. Many people are viewing Lance Lynn as trade bait, since he will become a free agent at year’s end. Trading Lynn would be a mistake. Instead, the reconfigured Redbird front office should take a more radical approach by extending Lynn and trading Michael Wacha. Wacha is on a nice run right now, so his value on the market should be markedly higher than it was at the beginning of the year. Lynn has been incredibly consistent over his career and already has lived through Tommy John surgery. He seems destined to break down again, but someone will value [and perhaps over-value] his upside.
Sit Mike Matheny down. We will admit that we are unapologetic fans of Mike Matheny. We love the guy. As a leader of men, he possesses every single trait you could ever want from your manager. As a human being, few appear more capable of living a better, more meaningful life. But somebody needs to get this guy away from our bullpen. Matheny simply makes way too many, really, really odd decisions on handling the pitching staff. The blame also lies with him for the team’s lack of fundamentally sound play. Matheny needs to be forced into delegating those responsibilities or, sadly, be removed from his job.
If the 2017 Cardinals do these things, and the result is an impact middle-of-the-order bat and a revamped back end of the bullpen, they probably still are only looking at a 2017 game win total somewhere in the mid-80s. That may not bring home another championship, because it likely will keep us out of the playoffs, but the Birds will be much better positioned in 2018 to fly to the top of the division – where we rightfully belong.