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WHEELER: 18 Days of Hell for Cardinals

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UPI/Bill Greenblatt

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

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Let’s just be brutally honest here…

The Cardinals have been awful for the past 18 days. Oh sure, there were some rough patches before play began on July 26th but since that day things have, well, really fallen apart.

The Cardinals are 5-13 in their last 18 games and there are a lot of things you could list that have gone wrong.

Streaky hitting.

Short outings by starting pitchers (not even counting Shelby Miller being hit in the elbow by a pitch).

Relievers failing to do their jobs.

Miscues on fundamental things like getting bunts down.

Runners thrown out on the base paths.

Do you know what all of that adds up to?

It’s baseball.

People get tired of me saying the same thing every single year but the fact that I am consistent, good times and bad, helps reinforce my point. This is the kind of stuff that happens during a 162-game season and it happens to every single team.

If you don’t think it does then why did Don Mattingly almost get fired earlier in the season? Do you think anyone in L.A. is worried about the Dodgers (or their manager) now?

What about in Detroit? For the first three months of the season Jim Leyland was constantly under fire for his handling of the 9th inning. He kept going to Jose Valverde even though Papa Grande was struggling and it was costing his team games. But they’ve solved that problem and are now running away with the AL Central.

How about in Tampa Bay? Two months ago they were in 4th place and 5-games over .500. Now they’re 16-games over .500 even after a 5-game losing streak.

This is what happens in baseball. Very rarely are teams good (or healthy) enough to play consistently throughout an entire season.

What amazes me most is that we’ve seen the Cardinals have these kinds of ups and downs in years where they end up winning the World Series (’06 and ’11 come to mind) but people still haven’t found a way to deal with the hard times without driving themselves mad with anger and frustration.

We can all see that the team has stunk up the place lately. The difference comes in how each of us reacts to the smell.

I know it’s boring and unfulfilling for a sports talk show host to urge patience. But it’s the right thing to do.

Look, I react the same way all of you do when things go bad. I talk to the radio (or TV) just like the rest of you. I text things like “What was THAT?” with friends and co-workers. I shake my head too.

Then, after a period of time, I put things into perspective. Is the ultimate goal for this season – which for the Cardinals is always to make a run at the World Series – still in play? If the answer is yes, I park the nagging questions and comments and accept that I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

I wrote the Cardinals off in August of 2011, just like a lot of people did, but that experience has given me perspective. After that I’ll never write off a season, a manager or a group of players before they are eliminated from the playoffs.

It’s boring but it’s also the logical thing to do.

After all, if the Cardinals win their next three games (at home against the Pirates) they’ll be back in 1st place.

Will that happen? I don’t know. I suspect not but I don’t know.

It’s perfectly normal to get frustrated with your team at times and it is also normal to question decisions, performance, etc. but rather than letting those things rule your mind, push them aside. Force the logical part of your brain to kick in.

You don’t have to be a “Believer” to simply be willing to let things play out before you make broad judgments about what a team is capable of doing.

If the Cardinals miss the playoffs, or lose a Wild Card game, there will be an entire offseason to talk about what went wrong and what can be done to correct problems moving forward.

If the Cardinals make a deep run into the playoffs, or maybe even win the World Series, there is no way on earth to gain back the time you spent being angry and frustrated over the course of 6 months.

The Cardinals have been really bad lately. In sports, you are what your record says you are. Over the last 18 games the Cardinals have been awful. Over the course of the season, however, they’re still the third best team in the NL.

They have the same record as the Dodgers, the only difference being that one team is hot now and the other was hot earlier in the season.

What matters is what happens between now and Game 162.

Check that.

What really matters is what happens between now and the end of the 2013 World Series.

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