I wasn’t surprised when the NL All-Star team was announced Sunday, and we had to search the roster for the name of a St. Louis Cardinal.
Oh. There it is … Miles Mikolas. Starting pitcher, 9-3 with a 2.63 ERA. Well deserved. The selection was warranted. But I also figured out that Mikolas was named to the team by the MLB office. All but a few of the pitchers are chosen in a vote of MLB players, and Mikolas didn’t receive enough votes to make it. All 30 teams must be represented in the All-Star Game, so Mikolas will rep St. Louis. And even though Mikolas earned the appointment — no question about that — it’s still strange to think of the Cardinals as a nondescript team lacking in star power or a high national profile.
This can change once the annual roster shuffling begins — by the time this is over, there will be approximately 400 players named to these All-Star squads, in one form or another — but for now the Cardinals have one All-Star.
No Yadier Molina.
Maybe Matt Carpenter.
Carpenter is a “Final Vote” candidate but I don’t like his chances of prevailing over Dodgers infielder Max Muncy, Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar, Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, or Giants first baseman Brandon Belt. Why?
(1) The Cardinals have lost prominence nationally. They’ve been out of the playoffs for the past two seasons, seem to be headed to another failure and a third consecutive absence from the playoffs, and aren’t front-and-center anymore. After being at the top of the National League for an incredibly lengthy run of success — playing in high visible and theatrical October settings — the Cardinals have drifted close to the middle of the pack, ranking 12th among the 30 teams in winning percentage (.514) since the start of last season.
(2) Cardinals’ players, Molina included, fared poorly in the fan voting to select the NL All-Star starters. I don’t see any evidence to suggested that there was a groundswell of get-out-the-vote support for Molina here locally. I don’t see why there’d be a spirited campaign for Carpenter.
And I’m not being critical of Cardinals fans. Not at all. It’s just that the passion has been reduced by mediocre, sloppy baseball and an unpopular manager. The fans don’t like the way Cardinals teams of 2016, 2017 and this season have attention-span problems, lose games through self-inflicted mistakes, and have lowered the traditional standards of excellence. Worst of all, no one does anything about it.
So if fans are deflated and frustrated and don’t feel fired up about voting, I understand. But apathy can be awfully damaging if left unaddressed, so I hope chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak are paying close attention.
The tepid support for Cardinals players in the All-Star vote is just another sign of the times.
Look around the NL Central …
The Milwaukee Brewers have three All-Star selections: outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich and reliever Josh Hader.
The Chicago Cubs have three: starting pitcher Jon Lester, catcher Willson Contreras, and infielder Javier Baez.
The Cincinnati Reds have three All-Star representatives: first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Scooter Gennett, and third baseman Eugenio Suarez.
And that leaves the Cardinals and Pittsburgh with only one player tabbed for the All-Star game, at least so far: Mikolas and Pirates reliever Felipe Vazquez.
The Cardinals are just another team now.
And this should be jarring to the men that own and run the team. Over a four-season stretch, 2012 through 2015, the Cardinals had 22 players selected to the NL All-Star team — an average of 5.5 per season. (This includes players had to withdraw because of injury or unavailability.) The Cardinals averaged three All-Star picks per year from 2009 through 2011.
So if we string together those seasons — 2009 through 2015 — that’s 31 All-Star selections over seven years, or an average of 4.42 Cardinals per All-Star game.
In 2016, two Cardinals made it: Carpenter and shortstop Aledmys Dias.
Two made it again in 2017: Molina and pitcher Carlos Martinez.
But unless Carpenter wins the Final Vote or another Cardinal is added as an injury replacement, the Cardinals will have only one All-Star for the first time since 2007, when Albert Pujols was the lone Redbird.
Don’t dismiss this as the usual flakiness of the All-Star voting. The Cardinals having only one player is reflected in the value of their position players according to the Fangraphs version of Wins Above Replacement. The Cards’ position players rank sixth in the league in WAR, behind the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, Reds, and Brewers. And that includes a St. Louis outfield — thought to be one of the very best in the majors going into 2018 — ranking 11th in WAR among the 15 NL outfield groups.
The Cardinals are slipping.
In the talent level.
In the standings.
In the voting.
This isn’t a coincidence. It’s the reality.
Thanks for reading …