The start to the St. Louis Cardinals’ season has not gone according to plan.
As it stands right now, they currently find themselves in the basement of the NL Central, the division many had penciled them in as the favorites to win.
This can be considered the first season of the “New Era” Cardinals, with the retirement of two long-time staples of their organization, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. While Adam Wainwright is still around, he only just made his season debut for the team after working his way back from the injury he sustained during the WBC.
Whether it be the struggles of their star players or the turmoil in the locker room, nothing is for certain.
Can they overcome this?
The New St. Louis Cardinals
You have to go back a significant amount of time to find a Cardinals roster that did not include the names of Yadi or Albert Pujols on it. Now that they have both retired, the Cardinals are looking for their new “Face of the Franchise” player to take control and lead the team.
Someone needs to step up and be the voice for the team, and the established big-leaguers Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt are the natural choices.
At this time, I am sure that both of them would tell you they are not doing enough on the field to contribute to the team. Nolan Arenado is having one of his slowest starts to the season in terms of advanced metrics. While Goldschmidt’s numbers look okay, it is clearly not enough to carry this roster.
Adam Wainwright is just riding the wave until the end of the season and can no longer be depended on as the “Face.”
The depth that this team has when it comes to position players is well documented. They have more than three options in the outfield who could start for almost any other team in baseball – so much so that top prospect Jordan Walker was sent back down to the minor leagues to ensure he can get consistent at-bats in order to work through some of his own struggles.
The outfield rotation of Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Alec Burleson, and Lars Nootbar is something that manager Oli Marmol has not been able to figure out.
Could this be what is causing the struggles of this ballclub?
Then there’s the pitching rotation.
As it stands, the starting rotation is made up of Miles Mikolas, Steven Matz, Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty, and Jake Woodford. Not a very stand-out group of names, if you ask me.
Baseball fans everywhere are clamoring for them to make a trade of one of their plethora of outfielders for a front-end starter. Yet, here we are, still waiting for John Mozeliak to pick up the phone and do so.
He appealed to the fans last deadline when he flipped Harrison Bader for Jordan Montgomery, but it has not been enough. It prompts the question, what is he waiting for?
Oh, and the bullpen that many ranked as one of the best in baseball has been everything but.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Cardinals actually rank among the top three teams in position player WAR, according to FanGraphs. So, with everything that seems to be going wrong with the team, the offense is still clicking when it needs to:
The big surprise is the ranking of the team’s pitching staff. With all the struggles it looks like they’re having on a night-to-night basis, they rank in the middle of the pack in overall team pitching WAR, also according to Fangraphs.
If you were to put these two numbers together, not knowing the record of the team, you would not think them to be one of the worst teams in the league.
This further leads to the suspicion that the team’s biggest issue is not on the field, but in the locker room.
Locker Room Turmoil
The incident between Oli Marmol and Tyler O’Neill has been well documented up to this point.
After coming to the conclusion that O’Neill was not “hustling” enough to score on a play, the Cardinals manager benched the outfielder. Benching O’Neill was the act that seems to have doomed the Cardinals’ season from the very beginning.
While they did not start their first few games hot, the offense looked to be clicking. Yet since the benching happened, and following the immediate post-game comments surrounding Marmol’s decision, it seems as if the locker room is currently in flux. There are even reports that the players inside have been split on the decision to bench O’Neill, which would confirm the rumors.
Without that go-to veteran staple on the team to try and unite the two sides, the Cardinals are simply lost. Adam Wainwright is still around, but how active was he with the team during his rehab?
Can They Turn It Around?
The on-field play has definitely been a concern for this team.
While a trade for a front-line starter – one that could ultimately involve Tyler O’Neill – could be seen as a sign of better things to come, it could just be the team trying to put a bandaid on a much bigger issue.
There needs to be a voice. One player to take charge and will this team back to the Cardinal Way that has made them so successful for as long as a lot of us can remember.
As the manager, maybe it’s Oli Marmol who needs to come out and say that the decision was not well thought out. It could even be Tyler O’Neill coming out in support of his manager’s decision after all.
Alternatively, a new start to a new month could be what the Cardinals need. With Wainwright finally back in the fold, his presence on the field has the potential to turn this ship around (even if things didn’t go so well in his season debut).
Over the years, we have seen many teams overcome slow starts – the World Series Champion 2019 Nationals and 2021 Braves are some of the latest examples. With the amount of talent on this roster, it is too early to count them out.
Let’s see how these birds fly.