By Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)
The Cardinals lost again last night, this time 4-to-3 to the Pirates.
Seriously. If this is how the season is going to go, let’s just line ’em up and knock ’em down. Get it over with. The losing in St. Louis has reached the point of morbid predictability, and it’s more than painful. Just check Twitter. You can see the pessimistic resignation streaming through your timeline like so many strands of ominous code from The Matrix.
@StlCardsCards: Everybody is mad, I’m just happy the Pirates are deciding to beat us in regulation. #STLCards
@TexasCardsFan1: This feels about like 15 other games we’ve lost this year. Go ahead and get it over, it’s been a long week.
And who can blame them? The Cardinals’ offense can’t hit, not consistently, and their pitching staff can’t pitch, not reliably. Their bullpen has developed a closer problem, but no one in charge seems to have noticed. Their previously resurgent leadoff hitter is in a free-fall again, but Mike Matheny appears to have no answer. And the roster is woefully lacking the necessary punch to reverse the trends, not that Mozeliak would stop dragging his feet and make the necessary moves even if he accepted it (*cough* Luke Voit…*cough cough* Jack Flaherty).
And don’t even get me started on fielding and base running fundamentals.
For the last several years, the Bill DeWitt, Jr. era in St. Louis has placed a premium on developing winning players. The concept was simple – teach them to win, get them used to winning – even in the minor leagues – and then promote them to the big league club with an ingrained addiction to winning. It’s the inevitable evolution of the positive visualization technique so popular in sports psychology. Build baseball players who expect to win as an inseparable part of their identity, and they will find a way to make their expectation reality.
We’ve even seen the Cardinals strategically place key prospects in minor league playoff positions to get them accustomed to a postseason atmosphere (See: Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras, Springfield-AA).
So far, the approach has worked out swimmingly, spawning nearly two decades of winning baseball and one of the most prolific runs in St. Louis sports history.
But lately, like other once-reliable models in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, this one is failing. The Cardinals aren’t just losing, they’re losing consistently, and the disease appears to be spreading. If the front office isn’t careful, it will become fatal.
The players on the field – Tommy Pham and Jedd Gyorko exempted (Wong too, if he was active) – appear more adept at finding ways to lose than they do ways to win. Errors, mistakes, missed opportunities, and flat-out putrid play has them a bad week away from becoming sellers for the first time in recent memory.
Players look like they expect to lose every night, and the manager too, if he was honest with himself. How could they not? It’s what they do best, now – find inventive ways to blow leads, run into outs, etc. Wash, rinse, repeat. Occasionally, they put up a fight, clawing back from a small deficit to tease the 40,000-plus hopefuls in attendance, but the script typically plays out the same nonetheless.
Lose, lose, lose, and more losing.
Regardless of the years spent developing a coveted culture of winning in the Cardinals’ franchise and farm system, that culture is about to reverse itself. Losing is now the trappings of a dark and gloomy space between Clark Avenue and South Broadway. There’s no denying it. This isn’t some unsavory prediction. It’s here. It is reality.
The fans know it, too. And the front office is terrified of what that means.
DeWitt’s son, Bill DeWitt III and team president, is fond of reminding writers at the annual Blogger Day that the Cardinals rely on the more than three million fans that come through the Busch Stadium gates every season. Without that uncanny attendance streak, the Redbirds couldn’t plan for contention year-to-year, and without that, his father’s investment group doesn’t make money.
That’s all in peril now.
If the DeWitts don’t dig deep and find a way to inject new life into their front office and clubhouse, the culture in St. Louis will no longer be about winning. It’ll be about wishing – wishing we had an ownership group committed to winning as much as they always promise us they are.
Because right now, all they appear committed to really is making money, and they’ll soon find out that in St. Louis, that’s a losing formula.
Kevin Reynolds has covered the Cardinals for About.com, Yahoo! Sports, and various other entities. He’s been writing and podcasting about the Cardinals since 2004 at Stl Cards ‘N Stuff. Follow him and chat baseball on Twitter (@deckacards), and check him out on Facebook.
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