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Mudville: May 28, 2024 4:24 pm PDT

Arch Nemesis

BY KEVIN KERNAN

The Cardinals are their own Arch enemy.

In baseball, you reap what you sow and heading into Saturday night the Cardinals are last in baseball with a .194 batting average with runners in scoring position. They are 28th in batting average at .215 and 29th in runs scored. The pitching staff was rebuilt this season and the Cardinals rank 20th in ERA at 4.25.

If I had to pick one word to describe the 2024 Cardinals it would be “stale”.

This team has passed its sell-by date.

President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has been around the team forever and began as GM in 2007. Time to go Mo. Time for a new POBO.

Time for a change.

Even the famous 630-foot St. Louis Gateway Arch had to be upgraded and I remember when that $380 million makeover was completed in 2018. I love the Arch and have taken the tram ride to the top. The stainless steel structure towers over St. Louis and the riverfront and commemorates Thomas Jefferson and the role St. Louis played in the westward expansion of the United States. In a strange time in this country where monuments are being desecrated, the Arch stands tall.

Without fail, whenever I would visit St. Louis for a Mets series or playoff games, I would venture over to the Arch, checking out the monument and the museum. It’s one of the more underrated parks in the country and I also enjoyed attending Mass at nearby Basilica of Saint Louis.

A great afternoon in St. Louis includes lunch at Charlie Gittos downtown, and be sure to check out all the celebrity pictures on the wall, including Tommy Lasorda’s pictures. I ate there once with Tommy and that was a trip in itself. After lunch, walk over to the Arch. Then walk over and catch a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium and be sure to see all the statues along the way. History comes alive in St. Louis.

Michael Siani #63 of the St. Louis Cardinals is unable to field a three run home run by Rhys Hoskins #12 of the Milwaukee Brewers during the seventh inning at American Family Field on May 11, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

As for the Cardinals, like I said, they need a makeover. A big makeover.

First off, the Cardinals need to get out from under the continuous in-house hirings this franchise is famous for including the hiring of Red Schoendiest after the 1964 World Series. At the time owner Gussie Busch thought he was re-upping World Series winning manager Johnny Keane, but Keane had other ideas and resigned. He wound up Yankees manager after Yogi Berra was inexplicably fired. Bad move all around by the Yankees who were fading at that point.

Much like these Cardinals are fading now, and as they are currently constructed these Cardinals have no chance of getting to the postseason even in the watered down NL Central. Former stars like Paul Goldschmidt appear to be done. He is hitting .190. Nolan Gorman is at .179, Brendan Donovan is hitting .217. Lars Nootbaar is at .176. Nolan Arenado is hitting .280 but he is not the player he once was and the Cardinals have little power.

In addition, young players like Jordan Walker have lost their hitting stroke and he was exiled to AAA Memphis after hitting .155 the first 20 games.

“Goldschmidt looks like he aged, Arenado is not the same impact player, they’ve brought up those kids, they move them all around the field, they do all different stuff, but I don’t know, they sent the young kid back down and that gets into kids’ heads, too, ’’ one talent evaluator told BallNine. “It’s not good.’’

The Cardinals don’t make in-game adjustments and from what I’ve seen of manager Oli Marmol, a nice guy but really isn’t a manager, he just is a conduit to the Cardinals’ Nerds who have taken over the organization and have turned Baseball Heaven into Baseball Ineptitude.

These Cardinals need to do what the Cardinals did back in June of 1980 when they took in an outsider named Whitey Herzog and by 1982 they were winning the World Series.

To top it off, in an effort to “steal strikes’’ such a ridiculous concept, the Cardinals had catcher Wilson Contreras so far up in the box that he had his left arm fractured by a J.D. Martinez swing. When are players going to say enough is enough and let’s get back to baseball?

Here is what the Cardinals should do and here at BallNine and The Story we are always willing to help Lost Teams find their way. This really is so simple and it would be the start of turning this mess around.

There is this guy who won the World Series with the Cubs just hanging around doing podcasts and great charity work and keeping his eye on the game, a guy named Joe Maddon. Bring Maddon into the Cardinals mix. The Cardinals don’t need another Redbirds insider to muck it up.

Maddon grew up a huge Cardinals fan and I remember him in the 2015 playoffs talking about being a kid and listening to the likes of Harry Caray and Jack Buck on the radio, summer nights and KMOX, baseball heaven. Maddon admitted then, “I have a lot of respect for the Cardinals organization, always have.’’

Maddon loved that 1964 Bob Gibson-led team that was glorified beautifully in David Halberstam’s baseball classic “October 1964’’ one of my favorite baseball books. I was an 11-year-old Yankee fan that summer and I thought the Yankees dynasty would continue to roll on.

Little did I know.

These Cardinals need to do what the Cardinals did back in June of 1980 when they took in an outsider named Whitey Herzog and by 1982 they were winning the World Series. They need to have a fresh look at the organization.

Whitey came aboard with confidence, saying, “I’m going to take this dang team and run it like I think it should be run.’’

Way back then Herzog was a proponent of high on-base percentage. So this is not something new, Nerds. Currently, the Cardinals on-base percentage is a lowly .294. Only three teams are worse. The Brewers, who lead the NL Central, are fourth in baseball with a .334 on-base percentage.

The Cardinals' scoreboard memorialized former Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog who died on April 16th, before a MLB game on April 19, 2024, between the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Let Joe Maddon do the same as Herzog, come into St. Louis and run the team the way he thinks it should be run. Maddon has proven to be a great collaborator, when the front office knows what it is doing. That wasn’t the case with the Angels and Billy Eppler, who ran the Angels into the ground.

I don’t expect the Cardinals to turn it around overnight, but ownership certainly has the money to make it happen. They make so much cash with the Ballpark Village and years of big crowds at games. Those once happy Busch Stadium crowds are getting a little grumpy now, it’s about time, so that is another reason a change should be made.

The Cardinals have an easy power fix staring them in the face. Pete Alonso is a free agent after the season and I believe Alonso would flourish in a baseball-crazy market like St. Louis. Pete often puts too much pressure on himself. New York will do that to you. St. Louis would be a great place for him to call home but that means the Cardinals would have to spend the money and deal with Scott Boras. Boras, an ex-Cardinals farmhand, is quick to say St. Louis is a great place to play with comments like this he made last year: “I think St. Louis is a very valued market and it always has been. Players love to play there.’’

Sometimes they love it a little too much and get a little soft. The Cardinals need to get an edge to them. That’s an issue.

Joe Maddon is well versed in analytics as well as understanding real baseball so that should keep the Cardinals analytic people happy. One of those is Chaim Bloom, who worked all those years with the Rays. Maddon managed the Rays from 2006 to 2014, winning the AL pennant in 2008. Bloom was hired in the front office in January.

Maddon has seen the Nerd Revolution up close and personal and can work both sides of the street.

Another thing I like about putting Maddon, 70, in charge as manager, I think you would actually get some managing done. Too many teams have gone to the Fake Manager, much like the Fake Runner. That is, the manager is the manager in name only. The good managers like Bruce Bochy make a difference and Maddon would make a difference. Also, I would think that Maddon would like nothing better than to build the Cardinals up so they get to be better than one of his previous teams, the Cubs.

Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon speaks at a press conference after a 1-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox, his team's 12th consecutive defeat, on June 6, 2022, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. The Angels said the following day that Maddon had been relieved of his duties as manager. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)

There has to be a “screw-it’’ factor when you are managing major league players. You have to have enough confidence in yourself where you just say screw-it and do it your way and if there is that extra incentive to beat your old team, that makes it even more exciting.

In Maddon’s catch phrase: the Cardinals need to Try Not To Suck. And as Maddon said about the 2016 Cubs in that spring training: “ I want us to be uncomfortable.’’

They were uncomfortable all the way to winning the World Series. Finally.

It’s clear the Cardinals have become way too comfortable.

The Cardinals finished fifth last year and are heading for fifth again under their current leadership. Cardinals fans, despite being so nice and so polite, demand much more than that and right now the Cardinals are not even close to being in the same neighborhood as the NL Central leading Brewers and Cubs.

The run-differential for the Cardinals is minus-41. That is not good.

To make matters worse, if the Pirates ever figure out how to get out of their own way, they will be another hurdle for the Cardinals to jump. Even though the Pirates stink again, they have some buzz because of their young pitching, and on Saturday the Pirates promoted their No. 1 prospect, phenom Paul Skenes, who also has a delightful girlfriend in Olivia Dunne of LSU gymnastics fame.

Dunne has 5.1 million followers on the Gram and over 15 million followers on social media.

The St. Louis Cardinals, and I just checked, have 1.1 million followers on Instagram. I’m not saying the Gram is how you build a good team, but if the girlfriend of the Pirates iconic rookie pitcher has four million more Instagram followers than you do as a team, that is a fine base to get rolling for the Pirates. They made sure to interview her on the Pirates broadcast on Paul Skenes Day.

In his MLB debut on Saturday, Skenes went 4-plus innings, throwing 84 pitches, 54 strikes. What I found interesting, other than his 101-mph fastball, is a pitch he calls the splinker, a combination splitter-sinker. He left with a 6-1 lead and two runners on base but the Pirates being the Pirates, messed it up and by the time the top of fifth inning ended the Cubs were up, 8-6. The Pirates took the lead, 9-8 in the bottom of the fifth, another NL Central classic. The Pirates inevitably won, 10-9.

The Cardinals are going to have to find a way to counter the Pirates three top starters: Skenes, 21, Mitch Keller, 28, and Jared Jones, 22.

For some reason the Pirates did not build up Skenes in the minors this year, thanks Nerds, so he tired in the fifth. It was a golden opportunity for the Pirates to win much good will with the fans, who turned out in force at beautiful PNC Park for Skenes’ highly-anticipated debut.

You have to love Skenes on so many levels, including the fact that he will donate $100 for every strikeout to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which helps and honors “our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need.’’

But these are the Pirates and can they turn young talent into a winning team?

These are no longer the Tony La Russa Cardinals. These are the clueless Cardinals who are aging and don’t have a clear plan for success.

These Cardinals are built around Arenado and Goldschmidt and it is not working. The Cardinals tend to overrate their young talent, too, and they do not get enough talent out of the international market. Hardly any of their pitching is homegrown and it was funny watching the other night as Mets announcer and Cardinal Hall of Famer Keith Hernandez noted how Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas was tipping his pitches, slowing down his motion when throwing his curve ball.

That is a management fail right there. The Nerds are so worried about pitch shaping and other stuff, they miss out on the big things. I don’t think that would have gotten by Dave Duncan in the Cardinals dugout back when he was La Russa’s pitching coach.

The Cardinals problems run deep and even when they made the postseason in recent years it was a mighty short stay.

As my friend, esteemed St. Louis columnist Bernie Miklasz points out, the Cardinals are 1-9 in their last 10 postseason games and are 6-18 in the postseason and have won just a single playoff round since defeating the Dodgers in the 2014 NLDS.

This team is in deep trouble and needs big changes. Until they understand they are their own Arch enemy, it’s not looking good peering back through that lovely Arch at Busch Stadium.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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