For Pete's Sake

Ahead of Royals series, some wonder if Cardinals have lost their way

Milwaukee Brewers catcher Manny Pina tagged out the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong at home during a game last Tuesday. Only one other team in baseball has run into more outs on the base paths than St. Louis.
Milwaukee Brewers catcher Manny Pina tagged out the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong at home during a game last Tuesday. Only one other team in baseball has run into more outs on the base paths than St. Louis. The Associated Press

Like most major-league players on social media, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina’s Instagram account is full of fun selfies, travel photos and pictures of teammates.

But Molina also used his Instagram last month to chide Cardinals manger Mike Matheny, who insinuated Molina looked tired on the field. Another post last week seemed to echo a complaint fans have had.

Molina posted a photo of himself with former third-base coach Jose Oquendo and wrote: “missing this man right here ‘secret weapon’ old school baseball ... ”

Some took that to be another shot at Matheny as criticism has grown that the fabled “Cardinals Way,” has gone missing so far this season. The Cardinals are 55-56 and just 3 1/2 games back in the National League Central as they prepare to open a four-game home-and-away series with the Royals on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.

But there have been some harsh appraisals about the Cardinals’ style of play.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jose de Jesus Ortiz blasted the Cardinals following a walk-off loss to the Mets in July. Pitcher Trevor Rosenthal failed to cover the bag on a ball hit to the first baseman on what could have been the last out in the ninth inning.

“There’s a right way to play baseball and a wrong way to play it. For 124 years of Cardinals’ baseball, the glorious franchise of Stan ‘The Man’ Musial was the gold standard,” Ortiz wrote.

“These guys hardly resemble George Kissell’s beloved Cardinals anymore. They aren’t your mom and dad’s Cardinals, much less your grandma and grandpa’s. The Cardinal Way is gone, and let the record show it went missing on manager Mike Matheny’s watch.”

Ortiz added that fans still pack Busch Stadium, but they are not seeing the attention to detail that once was a franchise trademark.

“They invest hard-earned disposable income on Cardinals tickets because there’s an expectation that you will get an honest effort from your beloved Redbirds,” Oritz wrote. “You may not have been guaranteed a victory, but you were almost always assured fundamentally sound baseball.

“That hasn’t been the case the last two years under Matheny. Former third base coach and infield coach extraordinaire Jose Oquendo’s legacy practically grows on a weekly basis as Matheny’s coaching staff fails to instill the organization’s high standards.”

While harsh, the metrics show the Cardinals have struggled in some areas.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cardinals are 25th in base-running runs at negative-5.4, while the Royals are 10th (3.6). Additionally, St. Louis is tied with Houston for running into the second-most outs on the bases in the majors with 46, which trails Boston.

The Cardinals’ defense has not been great either. FanGraphs puts their defensive runs saved at 0.0, which is 18th in baseball. By comparison, the Royals are second with 27.2 runs saved. Another metric, Ultimate Zone Rating, shows the Cardinals in 20th in baseball at a negative-6.0.

And it wasn’t just Ortiz who felt that way about the Cardinals. John Perrotto of FanRag Sports talked with a former St. Louis player for an article last month, and the criticism was the same.

“When I watch the Cardinals, they’re not the Cardinals anymore,” the player told Perrotto. “I know people got sick of hearing about The Cardinals Way, but there was something to it. This team doesn’t play The Cardinals Way. They’re really sloppy, show no attention to detail. Worst of all, they seem disinterested.”

To be fair, the Cardinals’ standard of play since 2000 seems impossible to maintain. They Cardinals made 12 playoff appearances in a 16-year span, won two World Series titles, four National League pennants and appeared in nine league championship series.

Still, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak voiced his displeasure before the non-waiver trade deadline.

“You think about our season, and I’ve said this to you guys before, some days we hit and we don’t pitch,” Mozeliak told reporters two weeks ago. “Some days we pitch and we don’t hit. And then when we do both, you see something like yesterday.

“So maybe the broader question is do attitude and culture need to be something that we look at to either change or shake up? And that’s not necessarily something that you can just do at July 31. That might be something we have to look at hard during the offseason.”

It’s an offseason that could come earlier than fans are accustomed.

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff