For the St. Louis Cardinals, the end of the 2023 season will mark the end of what has proven to be a nightmare. Picked by most to win the NL Central early in the year, St. Louis started off 10-24 and never recovered. They've already been eliminated from postseason contention and are now guaranteed their first losing season since 2007.
The Cardinals are also guaranteed their first last place finish since 1990. Needless to say, St. Louis has had a tough summer, and it's going to be an even tougher October without any postseason games. However, there are several reasons it has come to this for the 11-time World Series champions.
From 2011-15, the Cardinals a World Series title, two National League Pennants, three NL Central titles, and made it to the NLCS in four consecutive years. In that period of time, the Cardinals were considered to be a model franchise.
But the game has changed drastically since then, and the Cardinals haven't adapted to the changing of the guard. From 2016-18, the Cardinals missed the postseason and did not reach the playoffs again until 2019.
When Mike Matheny was fired in July of 2018, things seemed to change for the better. The Cardinals won the NL Central the next year, ousted the Braves in a hard fought NLDS before being swept by the Washington Nationals. St. Louis hasn't won a playoff series since then, and they also haven't won a postseason game since 2020.
The question is, why and how did it come to this? For starters, after the 2015 season, the rival Cubs were busy signing free agents and stacking their roster with talent. It resulted in them winning the World Series and breaking their curse.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals kept the same approach in free agency. They still signed players and made trades, but it wasn't enough to keep up with the Cubs.
Most of their moves were made in offseasons, but they rarely spent big on any high-priced free agents. To make matters worse, they largely stood pat at trade deadlines from 2017-20, not making any significant moves again at the deadline until 2021.
Offseasons remained relatively dull. Prior to the 2020 season, the Cardinals didn't make any significant moves to strengthen their lineup. In other offseasons, they decided to limit themselves to just one big move. They acquired Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado but have not built around them.
What is the St. Louis Cardinals biggest problem?
However, the biggest issue they have had recently is how they have constructed their pitching staff. While most contending teams have a frontline starter or two who is capable of generating swings and misses. The Cardinals pitching staff has largely been a pitch-to-contact staff over the past several years.
They have sat out of the sweepstakes for several high-priced pitchers. Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Bassitt, and others all signed with other teams, while the Cardinals did not address their pitching woes. And when they did, they spent money on the wrong pitchers. Mike Leake, Brett Cecil, Andrew Miller, and Steven Matz have been four of the worst investments made in recent years by President of Baseball operations John Mozeliak.
This past offseason was the most telling example of the Cardinals failure to address needs, as they didn't add any pitchers, let the top starters sign elsewhere, and declared that they already had six starters. As such, their pitching staff crumbled. No moves the Cardinals have made have put them back at World Series contender status.
And so, it has become increasingly clear that the standards have been lowered, and the lack of offseason and trade deadline additions shows that. Now, the Cardinals sit in last place and are in desperate need of a change.
Firing Mike Shildt after a 17-game winning streak didn't help matters, as new manager Oli Marmol has made some questionable decisions this year, publicly calling out Tyler O'Neill for an apparent lack of hustle and also choosing to move Willson Contreras out of the starting catcher spot.
The Cardinals were sellers this year at the deadline and out of contention by June. They're uncharacteristically bad 2023 season isn't just an outlier, but rather, a culmination of questionable decisions by the organization, which led them to a place they never expected to be.