It’s not dark yet for the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals, but it’s getting there


Paul Dejong Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports


The All-Star Break arrived like a breath of fresh air to a struggling St. Louis Cardinals team. Even following a nice win over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday before Sunday’s rainout, the skewed taste of Friday’s debacle at Wrigley Field remained. The Home Run Derby was the Pete Alonso show once again and the actual game featured the likes of Nolan Arenado and Alex Reyes. But here we are staring down the barrel of Friday’s return and a few facts can’t be avoided. The offense is bad, the pitching is walking wounded, and the minor leagues doesn’t have a definite answer in the lineup. Let’s discuss a few more things happening with this team.

The offense needs someone to stand up and perform!

I wouldn’t bet hard cash on Paul DeJong rescuing the Birds here from lumber infamy, but it would be a great story and much needed. Somewhere along the line, over the past couple of years, the shortstop has gone from a decent-slugging and above-average fielder to a weak bat and still decent defense. DeJong’s slugging percentage is under .400 (aka not good), and he is hitting just .185. Now, you can cover a bad average up with lots of pop, but even 12 home runs can’t help the guy out. DeJong’s OPS should be around .762 and not his current .672. Where else is the threat coming from out of this current starting nine? Paul Goldschmidt’s .855 OPS over his last 30 games is encouraging, if he can maintain it–which can be said for Tyler O’Neill’s ability to stay off the Injured List.

The carousel on the bench doesn’t leave much to be happy about, and the overall team OPS ranks 26th in the Majors. Someone needs to step up or the rest of this season will turn into an amusement park: an environment that brings occasional smiles yet gives you an upset stomach at the end of the day.

Stop walking people!

When the Cardinals drafted Michael McGreevy 18th overall in this year’s draft, the only takeaway I made away with was that his walk total was amazingly low. He despises free passes to opposing hitters like I do mosquitos in the summer. This 2021 team is headed for the kind of team record that isn’t exactly honor roll worthy. St. Louis pitchers have allowed 394 walks in just over 781 innings. They could crack 800 total walks. The Miami Marlins led the league in 2019 with just 615 walks. There’s nothing worse than a clock-draining series of walks from a Cardinals starter. The lineup gives him a 4-0 lead, and he can’t find the strike zone. Cry for pity all you want, but these are high-paid professionals who aren’t doing their job. Give up a hit over a charitable ball four.

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What’s the plan, Mr. Mozeliak? 

I wish front office management was clearer about their deadline plans. Are they going to ride it out like an early-90s team, winning here and there while flailing into early yard work duty? Or, after acquiring Arenado, they intend to keep building the team towards a legitimate successful operation; no wishing or hoping, just action. All season long, the President of Baseball Operations has played a cavalier hand with the media on the team’s trade deadline plans. At one point, he said it was a definite need, but refused to get specific about how the team will fill in the blanks.

The team payroll is $165 million right now, with $35 million sitting on the disabled list and another $18.5 million performing a bench bat role. If that’s how long things are going in Cardinal Nation, the leak is definitely visible. A lot of money falls off the books after this season, including Matt Carpenter’s heavy utility player fee. If that’s the play, come out and say it. “We made some bad contracts, gave away a few good young bats, and will do better this Christmas.” The not-exactly splendid early attendance at Busch Stadium, even with full capacity, is a sign that a message and method of action is needed from the suits.

Quick note on what doesn’t need fixing

Leadoff hitter worries. Dylan Carlson’s pop may be inconsistent, but his .343 on-base percentage shows he fulfills the number one requirement for his spot in the lineup: just reach base. Carlson has a modest 26 extra-base hits for a guy in his first full season, even if his 90 strikeouts are too high. The 38 walks drawn is something to admire.

One more thing: Mike Shildt needs to develop better ways to hold this team accountable

I’m sniffing too much “company man” and not enough authenticity with the team’s current skipper. Mike Matheny was a company man, even if his actions on the field sometimes screamed of a little kid in a sandbox. Shildt, who has been with St. Louis for close to a decade and a half, praises “effort” after abysmal losses instead of being honest and blunt. He doesn’t need to throw a player under the bus. Tommy Edman is already holding the entire offense accountable with his postgame comments about preparation. Shildt needs to get command of this team. I want to see a small slice of Whitey or La Russa in his attitude, even some arrogance. The guy won Manager of the Year in the league’s last ordinary season, so I’m not calling for his head. I just want more fire and unique managerial identity.

Speaking of which, what’s it going to be, Cardinals? Any fight left, or should Busch Stadium become even more barren? There’s a half season left of action but at 8 games back of first place, this team’s climb is getting steep. As Bob Dylan sang in my absolute favorite song of his, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”