When the St. Louis Blues opened up the 2022-23 season, there was reasonable optimism. The team wasn’t incredibly different from the one that posed the only challenge to the eventual 2022 Stanley Cup champion, the Colorado Avalanche.
Sure, David Perron was gone, but it still seemed like the Blues would be a playoff team. They might have even challenged for the division title.
How wrong we were. Unfortunately, it seems as though the Blues rubbed off on the St. Louis Cardinals in all the wrong ways.
With hindsight as our ally, we can actually tell that the 2022-23 Blues were a team constructed on paper. It all looked fine in the preseason, but they were not mentally, nor physically tough enough.
They had far too many guys they needed to play up to, or above, expectations. When you need guys to be at their peak and nothing less will suffice, we get what happened to the Blues this past season.
Pavel Buchnevich was good, but injuries and being moved around a lot later in the season took a tole on his production. Much as I love the guy personally, Vladimir Tarasenko did not come even close to what the Blues needed from him. It was not good enough for any season, much less when St. Louis was counting on a career-type year from him as he entered free agency.
The same could be said of Ryan O’Reilly. The goals were there, but the playmaking ability vanished and he suddenly looked like a guy on the verge of retirement instead of someone only in his early 30’s and only a few seasons removed from being the Conn Smythe winner.
Robert Thomas was fine, but the Blues were needing him to be an 80-plus point guy, not 18 goals and 65 points. The offense from the blue line was just about non-existent and this was only a season or two removed from when the Blues were often one of the top five teams in defensive goal production. Nobody had double-digit goals on defense for the Blues except for Justin Faulk.
Speaking of defense – there was none. Due to injuries and just bad play all around, the Blues often had guys playing more minutes than they should have.
Personally, I don’t have anything wrong with any of the guys that suited up on the blue line for St. Louis in 2022-23. However, as we saw, the truth is that they’re all playing a line too high.
None of the trio of Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, nor Faulk are actually top-pair defenders on a championship team. They’re all good players, but on a stacked team, those guys would likely be second pair players.
Marco Scandella looked much better after his rehab, but he’s not a top-pair either. Frankly, skill wise, he should be a third pair defender. We all like Robert Bortuzzo’s grit, but he’s a seventh defenseman, not an every day player.
Couple the fact you have a bunch of puck movers that did not score with the fact they could not contain anyone and it’s a mess. That’s putting it lightly too.
The lack of consistent offense and the lack of defense didn’t do the goaltending any favors either. I’m not going to sit here and defend Jordan Binnington because too many have already made up their minds about him.
He was as inconsistent as the rest. He would hold the team in games far longer than they deserved and then turn around and let up a couple softies a game or two later.
If you’re wondering how this ties in with the Cardinals, clearly you have not been paying attention. They’re mirror images of one another in 2023, but not in any of the ways you might like.
Like the Blues, the Cardinals entered this season with high hopes. We all figured they would be a playoff team once again, if not run away with the Central Division.
Instead, in early June, they’ve crashed and burned about as hard as you can. They’re in last place in the division and fighting for relevancy in a baseball town. There’s honestly more buzz around the new MLS team due to the Cardinals’ poor play.
Like the Blues, the Cardinals have been bad in all phases, at different times. When they score runs, they can’t keep the other team off the board.
When the pitching is ok, the offense fails or the bullpen blows up. The Cardinals led the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-0 and lost for crying out loud.
You look up and down the lineup for the Cardinals and you can’t put a finger on any one player and say they’re completely out of place. However, like the Blues, they’re all trying to punch above their weight, with the exception of Nolan Arrenado and Paul Goldschmidt (both of whom are having down years).
Lars Nootbaar is a great energy guy. If the Cardinals were a championship team, he would be a fourth or fifth outfielder. Until his injury, they were relying on him to be an everyday leadoff guy.
Tommy Edman has transformed himself into a solid player, but he’s another utility player on a great team. The Cardinals needed him to be an every day second baseman, if not shortstop.
I hate to pigeonhole people, but Dylan Carlson is looking like the next JD Drew. There was a ton of hype, but it never materialized into stardom.
Like the Blues, the Cardinals front office seems to have taken another misstep too. Wilson Contreras has been reasonably good offensively, but you don’t pay a guy that kind of money to not be your catcher.
Tyler O’Neill and Jack Flaherty were too other guys that the Cardinals were banking on having big years just so the team could be a playoff team. Flaherty shows flashes and then looks terrible and O’Neill has essentially become a ghost.
For both teams, as we saw and are seeing, it was essentially a house of cards. If you do things just right, it would hold together. Any resistance, or a missing piece, and it crumbles at the first opportunity.
Unfortunately, St. Louis fans have been put in an all too familiar position. The ultra die-hards keep holding out hope.
I know for the Blues, I didn’t give up on the idea of a big turnaround and sneaking into the playoffs until February. Cardinals fans are still clinging to a glimmer of hope, if only because the division is so poor.
But, as we saw with the Blues, what we’ve seen from the Cardinals is just who they are. There is no miracle turnaround this time. Even if St. Louis did eek out a wild card spot, can anyone say they trust this team to do anything consistently enough to win that game or a series?
When you have an MVP caliber player like Arrenado making errors, just like a former MVP O’Reilly looking absolutely lost and incapable of leading his team out, it simply is not your year. It’s easy for me to say we have to accept it when the reality is we wouldn’t be fans if we could actually accept it.
While there’s still a lot of baseball left, the reality is the Blues rubbed off on the Cardinals or the city gave all its good luck to St. Louis City SC.
Both the Blues and Cardinals stunk it up in all phases of the game. We’re seeing the results of two franchises that had hope, but that hope rested on way too much having to go right.