ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Even if you watched Thursday night’s snoozer, you’d be forgiven for missing its significance.
It was the type of sleepy, steady game perfect for late July. The kind of contest that ultimately serves as one of the middle squares in the quilt of a season, something you can tune in and out of as the frames roll by without feeling like you missed the action.
In fact, apart from one big swing in the fourth inning from J.D. Martinez, you wouldn’t have missed anything. For most observers, the Cardinals 4-0 loss to the Diamondbacks was little more than background noise.
It’s exactly the kind of game St. Louis cannot afford to have.
The Cubs have a 4.5 game lead in the division and are shifting into fifth gear. The Cardinals just swept the Rockies and badly need to capitalize on home field advantage against talented teams from the NL West. More critically, they’re running out of time to decide what position to take at the trade deadline.
Thursday night’s game did little but play back this season’s greatest hits. This team, while capable of strong play during short bursts, is unable to sustain a run of success. Their offense can be wholly absent after looking relentless a day before. Their starting rotation- largely responsible for the narrow gap against the defending champions- is apparently five men deep. Adam Wainwright’s absence was glaring the second time through the order as Luke Weaver, completely in control for 11 hitters, was suddenly overcome by bad counts and MLB bats.
It’s fairly obvious at this point that the organization, well-stocked with prospective arms as it is, doesn’t have the pitching depth to weather the permanent absence of a rotation member and remain competitive this season.
As GM Mike Girsch and President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak stare down the remaining squares on the calendar before July 31, the questions have to be mounting. How do you find a cure if the symptoms keep changing?
The team as it stands has little chance of reaching October, much less competing once there. But even looking ahead, it’s difficult to decide which sections of the roster are the baby and which are the bath water. Rebuilding (or retooling/reorganizing if you prefer) means parting with items of value. Defining which Cardinals the team can afford to part with has gotten trickier as the season progresses, because quality hasn’t lasted long save for a few areas.
The Memphis call-ups galvanized the offense for a time, but Thursday’s lineup saw five players who were on the Redbirds this season and just five hits (in fairness, Paul DeJong did have two of them). It’s hard to imagine a 2018 roster that leans this heavily on Memphis being much better than the current version, even with a few new names.
And the veteran players certainly have to be aware of the timetable. Since Mozeliak’s June 9 publicly-stated intention to use the team’s performance in the ensuing weeks to define his plan for the club, the Cardinals have done little but hold the status quo.
Still, players on multi-year contracts are aware their professional future is being defined nightly, sometimes while they’re on the bench. When a grand slam swing goes completely unanswered and a player spends the night as a spectator (even if rest was needed) it’s hard to imagine he will sleep well.
It makes for a messy knot and very little time to untangle it. The defining moment is upon the front office, and the fact the team has given them little conclusive data to work from should tell them everything they need to know.
If the Cardinals decide to sell off assets, they need to commit. This needs to be a blow and go, with eyes on 2018 free agency.
The club, tenuously competitive as it is, can’t move much without cutting its legs off. One or two small transactions will leave them in the same place, much worse if they move a starter.
If they choose to buy, then they must decide which of their weaknesses is the most critical. Given the ongoing travails, it’s unlikely that answer will clearly present itself over the weekend.
Thursday’s game, slow and soulless as it was, was the harbinger of what’s to come if they do nothing.