Later this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers will fly to stupid Milwaukee to take on the stupid Brewers in the stupid NLCS matchup nobody wanted – clearly, I’m not over it – while the cool Cubs chill at home, watching and waiting for next season. It was supposed to be the Cubs year again (blah-blah), but it didn’t happen, and now we await what could be a fairly transformative offseason.
But if you think the Cubs are wearing their reality hardest in the NL Central, you might want to reconsider.
After running wild in August (22-6), the St. Louis Cardinals took a somewhat surprising jump into playoff contention after firing manager Mike Matheny and shipping away Tommy Pham, among other notable players, at the trade deadline and in August. But a rough 12-15 September, capped off by five losses in six tries against the Brewers and Cubs, left them on the outside of the postseason looking in for the third consecutive year. That’s not somewhere they’ve been often – it’s tied for their longest postseason absence in the Wild Card era.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the lack of postseason participation is creating a sense of urgency in and around the organization. But to say that’s the only reason this team might feel a sense of urgency would be an understatement. Although the Cardinals do have some impressive youngsters, particularly on the mound, there are a lot of expiring contracts in the near-future:
Adam Wainwright: Free agent
Miles Mikolas: 1 more year under contract
Matt Carpenter: 1 more year under contract
Marcell Ozuna: 1 more year under contract
Michael Wacha: 1 more year under contract
Yadier Molina: 2 more years under contract
That’s three starting pitchers (Wainwright, Mikolas, and Wacha) and three of their top four qualified hitters this season (Carpenter, Ozuna, and Molina) – including their long-time catcher and de facto team captain, Molina – gone at the end of next season (or one year later in Molina’s case (when he’ll be a 38-year-old catcher)).
So to recap, this is the longest the Cardinals have been out of the postseason in a while and they’re on the doorstep of losing three of their five starting pitchers and three of their top four hitters, including team-stalwarts, Wainwright and Molina, in the next year or so. They also just fired their manager mid-season and impulsively extended his interim replacement long-term. And if none of that was enough, the Cubs remain in the thick of their competitive window and the Brewers may have just begun one of their own. The Cardinals are feeling the heat.
“What’s our game plan? What’s our timeframe?” Team Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr said. “We haven’t [had some down years across the board]. Our timeframe with this club is now. It has been that way literally every year for many years.”
At the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Derrick Goold recaps this newfound sense of urgency for the Cardinals, discusses potential free agent options in the offseason, and hands out grades to each player (I’d tell you to check it out, but Dexter Fowler literally received an F while Yadier Molina received an A+, so you can probably just fill in the blanks yourself). If there’s anything positive to take out of this season for the Cubs, I suppose it could be the continued downward spiral of the Cardinals.
It sure would be fun to see the Cubs help deny the Cardinals yet another ticket to October baseball next year, just as their “competitive window” closes and their most notable players leave for greener pastures and/or retire. I hate the Brewers, yes, sure, whatever, but I loathe the Cardinals.
It remains to be seen, then, whether the Cardinals can maneuver themselves this offseason and next year to extend their window further, despite the impending losses.