During the ESPN broadcast Sunday night, commentator Jessica Mendoza asked an interesting question: “Who is the Matt Holliday on this Cardinals team?”
If there’s one thing I know about the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals, it’s that this team lacks a definitive lineup threat that has a presence off the field as well. In other words, someone who can get on base, hit for average, and slug with the opposition bracing for the impact of that bat, and lead the men off the field during hard times.
You don’t have to think too hard to remember what Holliday accomplished during his time in St. Louis: a slash line of .293/..380/.494, 156 home runs, 237 doubles, and 23.1 wins above replacement in 982 games. But it goes deeper than that with his true value to the team.
As much as I like Matt Carpenter‘s doubles and on base percentage, his lack of accountability was solidified earlier this season after a baserunning blunder. Dexter Fowler is a boisterous personality and helped the Chicago Cubs clubhouse, but he just got here, so it will take time for him to have a voice. Adam Wainwright can lead like no other, but there’s something crucial about a position player taking the gears everyday on the field, and that’s something Wainwright doesn’t do (unless the Cards want to employ his bat at first base).
Holliday’s absence this year is the epitome of “you’ll never appreciate it completely until it’s gone”-and I’m not talking solely about the lumber work, which includes 15 home runs and .877 OPS. Granted, the Cards would love to have that 2016 renewed power and reliability in the lineup, but it’s what the Hulk of Stillwater did when the games weren’t being played. Just ask young slugger Aaron Judge about Holliday’s impact. The new Yankee Clipper has talked endlessly about the 37 year old helping him adapt to the rigorous ways of the game.
The Ex-Cardinal wasn’t overly vocal with his leadership here, but it was assured and present during his eight seasons in St. Louis. When he did something, others followed. That is missing on this 2017 Cardinals team, which resembles an island of misfit toys more than a true band of brothers.
When a team is in disarray, a trusted voice can make a treacherous stretch seem bearable, making the daily grind of a 162 game schedule less intense. If you spend a few good nights wondering if Mike Montgomery hadn’t plunked Holliday on the hand with a pitch last summer, you aren’t alone. John Mozeliak was able to sleep at night when he decided to discontinue Holliday’s time in St. Louis when that hit by pitch occurred. As a result, the Cards lost their real leader, something they haven’t found just yet.
Jedd Gyorko and Stephen Piscotty are good players, but not leaders. Tommy Pham and Kolten Wong are experiencing upside boosting seasons, but they are followers. Carpenter, easing into his 30’s, could have stepped up his role on the team, but is content to play ball and contribute, rather than put himself out there for his teammates.
Who is the Matt Holliday on this team? Yadier Molina has the pedigree and is the face of the franchise, but even with a three year extension and a higher home run total this season, his voice isn’t enough to carry extra weight in Holliday’s absence. The Cardinals need more during this transition, and it is a transition taking place right now.
As interesting as the trade deadline could, watching the younger Birds could be telling. Who rises up? Who stands behind a few players-and who comes to the front? This team is screaming for a push from an unlikely source in the clubhouse. Mozeliak can only shake the tree so much until a branch snaps off.
Do the Cardinals take the advice of the wise old Alfred and merely endure, or do they figure it out this summer?
The 2017 Cardinals aren’t dead yet, but they sure could use a boost in the identity department.