Making the playoffs may bring a feast of poisonous flowers for C -

Making the playoffs may bring a feast of poisonous flowers for Cards

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( -- The Cardinals’ desperate, nail-biting chase for the final Wild Card spot is entertaining, but likely irrelevant. The Cards have not put together a run of more than a handful of well played games all year and would not last long among consistent playoff teams.

In fact, making the playoffs could well be the worst thing that happens to this franchise. Yet another playoff appearance would only mask the obvious shortcomings and needed changes. A postseason appearance would engender the euphoric sense that if it hadn’t been for a few injuries or a period of poor play, this team could have challenged the Chicago Cubs.

They cannot, and given their late-season struggles against the Brewers and Reds, may not be able to compete with them either next year. Better for the future of the franchise that management be forced to confront some uncomfortable truths.

After winning the World Series in 2011, the Cards made the playoffs the following year, played in the World Series in 2013 and then began the long, slow descent into mediocrity. They lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS in 2014. They collapsed across the finish line and were easily dispatched by the Cubs in the NLDS last year. This year, it is a race to see if they can lose fewer meaningful games down the stretch than the other mediocre teams in the National League. How mediocre? There are just six teams over .500 in the whole league. Making the playoffs hardly puts them in elite company.

The trajectory is clear; this is not a team on the way up. Significant changes need to be made. Teams that cling to the past and the stars that once made them great are doomed to eternal disappointment.

So, in that vein, it is time to bid farewell to Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta. The former was worth his money but now is not. The latter kept the chair warm until Aledmys Diaz was ready. He now is. Brandon Moss will make a lot of money somewhere else. Jaime Garcia is unreliable. Jeremy Hazelbaker and Tommy Pham are serviceable, but both are 28 and will not be part of the future. Cutting loose old players and spare parts is the first step toward remaking the Cardinals of the future.

Keeping Adam Wainwright means accepting he is no longer the ace, but a back of the rotation guy. Yadier Molina at 34 still has more to give, but he has caught 1,600 games in his career and needs the rest the Cardinals have made lip service promises about in each of the last few offseasons.

Secondly, the grand experiment of constructing a lineup by guessing who might succeed that night was a colossal failure. Finding a lineup and staying with it breeds poise and consistency. Players cannot come to ballpark and wonder if their 0-4 night doomed them to the bench in favor of someone who historically does slightly better against tonight’s opposing pitcher. The result was chaos. Matt Adams deserved a lot better than the “anybody-but-Adams-at-first” treatment he got from the club this year. A couple of trips to the minors might have helped Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk focus more on the moment, but it didn’t contribute to stability or confidence.  

Third, there is a reason why Jason Heyward and John Lackey said immediately that they would not be returning to the Cardinals under any circumstances. There is a reason why David Price appeared ready to sign with the Cardinals but took less money in Boston. Something is not right on that team, something writers could feel as early as spring training. It doesn’t mean dissension is rampant or that they don’t put forth their best effort. But playing on the Cardinals is not the cherished experience it once was. That must be confronted, the cause identified and remedial efforts taken, no matter where it leads.  

Lastly, the inevitable discussion will percolate all winter about how much blame Mike Matheny must bear for this frustrating season in which the Cards played such inexplicably bad baseball. How bad? Their 103 errors ranks them 14th of 15 NL teams. They led the league in runners lost on the bases. Only one starter has an ERA under 4. True, he can’t play for them, but he and his staff prepared them and put them on the field. They are a reflection of his ability.

The question John Mozeliak should ask himself about Matheny’s future is this; is he the right guy for this team going forward? The past is gone and mercifully, this season will soon end. But someone needs to lead this team through the transformation. So given the body of work, particularly the last two years, is Matheny the right man for the future?

Smarter people than me will make that decision and unlike me, will have to be accountable for it.

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