Cardinals reflect on a season that again ended too soon

Paul DeJong was one of the bright spots in the Cardinals' 2017 season.
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ST. LOUIS — Despite another winning record in St. Louis, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina summed up his feelings about the season simply.

“No matter what happens, if you don’t make the (playoffs), it’s not a good year,” said Molina, who missed the last six games with concussion-like symptoms. “If you don’t make the playoffs, it’s a frustrating year. That’s just the way it is.”

St. Louis finished 83-79, three games worse than last year, and failed to make the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 2007-08.

“We thought a lot of things were going to go right and they didn’t,” said John Mozeliak, the president of baseball operations. “There’s a lot of areas you can look at when you dissect the season. In hindsight, you want to go back and be able to address what we could have gotten more right, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Several factors figured into St. Louis missing the playoffs again. There were lapses in fundamentals on defense. The rotation, good for most of the season, went into a tailspin in the final month. There was a lack of offense at key times. The bullpen was frequently ineffective. The front office was quiet at the trading deadline, too.

The big nail in the coffin came in the division, where the Cardinals went 34-42 overall and lost 14 of 19 to the rival Chicago Cubs. St. Louis went 29-28 against Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

“There’s a lot of positives, but the long and the short is, we came up short and not what we intended to do,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We have to evaluate some of the things we have to get better at.”

The cupboard is not bare, Mozeliak said. To get St. Louis back into postseason play will not require a major overhaul.

“There were a lot of positives to take from this year because you saw a youth movement and you saw a lot of players come up and contribute that weren’t household names,” Mozeliak said. “I think we’re in a good spot to build on, but there’s obviously some things this offseason we’re going to have to work on.”

General manager Michael Girsch, like Mozeliak and Matheny, is under contract through 2020.

“Our stated goal is always to make the playoffs,” Girsch said. “I don’t think the sky is falling. I think as an organization, we’re in pretty good shape. We go into the offseason knowing we need to make some moves to try and get back to the playoffs.”

Some other things to know as the Cardinals head into the offseason:

NOT NEW ANYMORE: One of the newcomers who stepped up was rookie shortstop Paul DeJong. He shored up the infield defense when he was called up from Memphis and Aledmys Diaz, an All-Star in 2016, was demoted. DeJong batted .285 and hit 25 home runs. Tommy Pham, who has battled injuries and spent time in the minors, had a breakout season, hitting .306 with 23 homers and 73 RBIs.

“I prepared to play in the playoffs, so I am very disappointed to be going home and not playing October baseball,” Pham said. “A lot of expectations as a team weren’t fulfilled.”

ROTATING ROTATION? Rookie Luke Weaver went 7-2 and looks to be a prime candidate for the rotation in 2018. Will free agent Lance Lynn (11-8) leave or will the Cardinals re-sign him? Otherwise, Carlos Martinez (12-11), Michael Wacha (12-9) and Adam Wainwright (12-5) fill three slots. Wainwright, who will turn 37 and will be in the last year of his contract, is set to have arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, but he expects to be healthy in time for next season. Alex Reyes, who missed the 2016 season after getting hurt in spring training, will be looked at along with rookie Jack Flaherty and John Gant.

BIG BATS: The glaring need for St. Louis is a big bat for the lineup. Do they trade or sign a free agent?

Their intrastate rival, the Kansas City Royals, have two big sluggers who could be available in Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Arizona’s J.D. Martinez is another possibility.