Quick, what’s the first word that comes to mind when thinking of the 2014 Cardinals? Underachieving? Frustrating? What-the-hell-is-up-with-these-guys?
All are accurate, but I’m going with frustrating. That’s the exact word used by my Giants fan pal at work when he saw me yesterday: “It must be frustrating to be a Cardinals fan these days,” he said as a form of greeting after his team took three of four.
Yep, it is frustrating.
And, yep, pity from a Giants fan.
Beyond that, though, it’s now been 19 innings since the Cardinals last scored a run, during the seventh inning of Oscar Day on Saturday. Of course, even the excitement of Oscar’s arrival and debut game home run seem long gone by now, with the malaise of back-to-back shutouts by the Giants and the Royals and an offense of seven total hits, 12 strikeouts and 11 left on base combined from those games.
Hey, Cardinals, are you there? Do you guys even care?
I’ve been wondering that, both in watching these past two games and in reading a post from Scott Wuerz on his Cheap Seats Blog at the Belleville News-Democrat website, which begins like this:
I’m probably wrong. In fact, I hope I am wrong. But it just seems, from the outside looking in, that the St. Louis Cardinals have a bunch of guys on the roster who don’t really get all that excited about playing baseball.
I hadn’t really paid attention until the Arrival of Oscar Taveras, who smiled throughout his debut and seemed to be aware of the fact that he’s the life of the party. They go about their business and I’m not saying that they don’t work hard. But for too many of the Cardinals players it seems like it’s only business, no passion.
Accurate? Seems like it to me, just as a fan watching on TV. Wuerz probably has more insight, given he covers the team so is privy to more than what we see on television or from the stands at Busch.
And he goes on to cite examples in his post: Peter Bourjos has “completely folded.” Kolten Wong “flashed some signs of excitement” but “he’s back to painting by numbers and playing less to win and more not to lose.” Lance Lynn on Sunday when things started going south, which then caused his “shoulders to sag.” And, even before last night’s seventh inning (since this post was published on Sunday), there was this: “Another guy who doesn’t seem to enjoy the competition is Lynn’s rotation mate Shelby Miller.”
I can hear the many Lynn detractors in particular saying of course that’s accurate because Lance Lynn is the devil, and the legion of Adam Wainwright fans chiming in with “but Adam cares and has passion — he dances in the dugout and makes goofy faces!”
This year’s Cardinals team certainly seems to be made up of nice, upstanding, professional guys and are led by a nice, upstanding professional guy in manager Mike Matheny. And maybe that’s what’s missing: some attitude. Some spark. Some intensity.
During the bottom of the ninth inning last night, I honestly laughed when Dan McLaughlin said on the FOX Sports Midwest broadcast that Matt Holliday — and I’m paraphrasing — needed to lead a team meeting like Chris Carpenter did in late August 2011 to get the team going.
Now, Matt Holliday certainly seems like the prototypical 2014 Cardinal — which means he’s that nice, upstanding professional guy. Attitude? Spark? Intensity to motivate a similar group of nice, upstanding, professional guys to get their asses in gear and start playing like it means something to them — when showing attitude, spark and intensity is not necessarily something that nice, upstanding, professional guys do?
Thus my reaction of laughter.
Which was even louder when Holliday grounded into a double play after Randal Grichuk finally singled following three straight strikeouts. And the game quietly ended when Allen Craig grounded out.
One group who does indeed have plenty of attitude, spark and intensity these days: you and the rest of the Cardinals fans, which I totally get. We want the team to perform better, because it sure seems like they’re capable of doing so. We’ve been spoiled by their tremendous success in recent years and have expectations that are as high as all those preseason predictions of a repeat National League pennant or at least repeating as NL Central champs. So of course we’re beyond ticked when things are not exactly going that way, and haven’t yet this season.
Which is not to say, on June 3, that either or both of those things couldn’t still happen. But I have my doubts.
I know it’s still popular to say it’s early even though it’s June, that there’s plenty of time and every team goes through its down periods — even the pennant winning Cardinal teams of 2004, 2006, 2011 and 2013. But those teams also, to me, showed more through June 2 too — at the very least some kind of interest in what they were doing instead of following up a streak of winning nine of 11 that had us all thinking “ah, there they are!” by then losing six of eight at home (which was supposed to be the magic key to success once May arrived, remember?)
Hopefully I’m wrong and these nice, upstanding, professional guys find some spark and intensity without the guys who used to provide those things for them and even just look like they’re interested in what they’re doing to get on a real roll and overtake the Brewers and the rest of the National League. That would be great to see, and we could all be reasonably happy with our team — and the results they’re providing — once again.
And it would sure as hell beat getting pity from a Giants fan.
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates and like AMF on Facebook if you don’t already.