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Transitioning Cards can still achieve goals

By Bernie Miklasz St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This article was published August 4, 2014 at 2:46 a.m.

ST. LOUIS -- It's been a difficult, frustrating season for the St. Louis Cardinals. They've dealt with significant injuries to team-MVP catcher Yadier Molina and 2013 postseason pitching ace Michael Wacha.

They've sputtered through a startling decline on offense. A chummy, complacent clubhouse was jolted by the stun-gun effect of two trades made by General Manager John Mozeliak. Late in his third season, Manager Mike Matheny has struggled on the learning curve. It's one of those years.

If we've learned anything about the local baseball franchise over the past eight years, it's this: never write the Cardinals off. The World Series triumphs of 2006 and 2011 were delivered by teams tagged as dead men walking late during unimpressive regular seasons.

It's been a turbulent ride in 2014, but the Cards' preseason goals remain in reach.

Things could be worse. And things can change in a hurry.

Not only a team's fortunes ... but a team's team roster as well.

It's time that we forget about the 2013 Cardinals, who won the NL pennant and represented the franchise in the World Series for the 19th time. Obviously, the 2014 Cardinals aren't as good. The 2013 Cards had an outlier performance on offense, and reality struck a year later. The 2014 Cards aren't going to match the 2013 team's total of 97 wins.

And why would they? This isn't the same team, and the comparisons are worthless. It's taken me too long to realize that, but Mozeliak's trades finally brought the point home. It's ludicrous to expect a 2013-caliber performance from the 2014 Cardinals.

After trading a prospect for Cleveland starter Justin Masterson, Mozeliak gave up two members of the big-league roster to acquire Boston starter John Lackey. Two new pitchers flew in. Right fielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly flew off.

It's amazing to look back to the 2013 World Series and see what's happened to the Red Sox and Cardinals. If you think the Cardinals have a much different look, consider Boston. Long out of contention, the Red Sox have undergone a massive roster renovation as management prepares for 2015.

"The roster churn in baseball is something that we're all faced with," Mozeliak said. "A lot of times it's out of necessity. A roster is more fluid than people think."

There are trades. Free-agent moves. Salary dumps. The promotion of prospects. Injuries. Bodies in, bodies out.

"Nothing stays the same forever," Mozeliak said. "Teams that quickly adapt and adjust have the best chance for consistent success. I think we've done a pretty good job in that area."

Mozeliak was referring to the team's run of success over the past several seasons. He's been frustrated by this year's team, but the GM also realizes that his team is a contender. The bottom hasn't fallen out. With everything that's gone wrong, the Cardinals could have imploded, just as Boston did. That hasn't happened -- at least not yet.

I make no excuses for the Cardinals; too many players have underperformed. But this isn't the same Cardinals team as the machine that rolled over opponents in 2013. So I've adjusted my expectations.

Trades were made for two starting pitchers. The rotation has been modified. Hitters have departed. Rookies Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong are lineup regulars. Adams is a full-time starter for the first time. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was signed to replace the injured Molina. Wacha is healing. And more changes could be on the way.

Little has come easily for the modified, newer-look 2014 Cardinals. And I repeat: the team's preseason goals are attainable still. So it would be nice to see the players respond with an aggressive, energetic mindset instead of pouting over slumps, bemoaning injuries or seething over trades that sent away two buddies.

"There isn't an easy solution to every problem," Mozeliak said Saturday afternoon. "You have to do the best you can, and with what you have. You can't stop the game."

The message: No one feels sorry for you.

Play ball. Dig in. Grind out the hard times. Find a way to win.

Sports on 08/04/2014

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