If someone wanted to provide a glimpse of the Cardinals’ issues in attempting to reach the postseason a sixth consecutive year, all they’d have to do is re-play Monday night’s 5-0 loss to the Cubs.
Bad defense up the middle? Aledmys Diaz’ fourth error of the season allowed a run to score and led to two more as the Cubs pulled away with the game…Check.
The absence of a consistent cleanup position threat? Brandon Moss struck out in all four of his at-bats…Check.
A formidable opponent in the NL Central? John Lackey and Jason Heyward both did plenty damage in their St. Louis returns…Check.
One Monday night in April won’t be the Cards’ 2016 demise. That said, this particular Monday night in April provided a window into the biggest issues facing this club’s ability to get back to the playoffs.
Okay, John Lackey…
After his masterful performance against his former team, John Lackey decided to take a swipe at Cardinal fans following the game.
In response to Jason Heyward being booed upon his return to St. Louis, Lackey responded:
“I’ve seen booed,” said Lackey. “That isn’t booed.”
What does that even mean? “That isn’t booed?” I’ve seen better sentence construction from someone a six-pack deep in Budweiser than what fell out of Lackey’s mouth.
Secondly, you’ll have to excuse St. Louis fans if they don’t boo properly. There hasn’t been much to boo over the past decade. (Yes, I’m pandering. But…)
This is Brian Elliott’s series…
Despite winning two Stanley Cups, Corey Crawford is often still a lightning rod at times for Chicago fans. Yet there’s nothing more Crawford can do to put his team in position to win this series against the Blues.
So why do the Blues lead their conference quarterfinals series against the Hawks 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Tuesday night? Several reasons, but none bigger than the play of Brian Elliott.
The shot barrage he faced in Sunday’s second period turned Game 3 into a spectacle. Yet Elliott, whom the Blues clearly didn’t trust enough to be between the pipes in previous postseasons, was unshakable. He’s been unshakable in the three playoff games this season, much like he’s been all season.
The best player on the ice for either team hasn’t been Vladimir Tarasenko, Jonathan Towes or Patrick Kane. It’s been Elliott, who stole Game 1 for the Blues, overcame questionable officiating in Game 2, and shut out the Hawks in Sunday’s third period so his team could stage a come-from-behind victory.
Elliott is, and will continue to be, the difference maker in this series. The Blues will go as far as he’s willing to take them.
The Titans trade will be Jeff Fisher’s undoing…
Jeff Fisher has yet to have a winning season out of four with the Rams. One would think that fact alone would be Fisher’s undoing with the team, yet he remains standing.
That said, the deal the Rams made with the Titans for the No. 1 overall pick this year will be Fisher’s downfall. A trade like that (one in which the Rams gave up two first-round picks, two second-round picks and three third-round picks to pull off), puts even more pressure on Fisher and Les Snead to be perfect with their remaining draft selections in the next two years. That’s impossible, and leaves the pair with little margin for error.
The lack of picks also puts more pressure and onus on the top of the roster, so one injury to a key player like Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald or Robert Quinn will sink the team’s ability to compete. Instead of replacing or supplementing its stars with second or third-round investments, the Rams will be forced to play late-rounders or undrafted free agents once injuries or poor performance inevitably strike.
This is what happened to the Falcons in 2011 when they traded into the top 10 in order to nab Julio Jones. Yes, they inherited one of the best playmakers in the league and it’s likely they would do it all over again despite what has transpired. But they 1) had little resources (i.e. draft picks) remaining to build a competitive defense and 2) once the top of their roster started to suffer injuries, they didn’t have quality depth to compensate. (Thus the main reasons why Atlanta has missed the postseason three straight years after appearing in the 2012-13 NFC Championship Game.)
The NFL draft is the ultimate crapshoot but Carson Wentz and Jared Goff are legit pro prospects. But while many will focus on whichever QB the Rams choose, it’s more about what the team will be missing.
The Rams have multiple holes along their offensive line, lack legit playmakers at receiver and tight end, and lost their starting free safety when Rodney McLeod signed with the Eagles this offseason. (Quality safeties, especially ones that can center-field like McLeod can, are rare and difficult to find in the NFL.)
In other words, the Rams aren’t “one quarterback away,” like some have suggested over the past year. Wentz and Goff will need help early in their careers as they make the transition from college to the pros. After punting the equivalent of two drafts, Fisher and Snead don’t have the resources to acquire said help, and there’s reason to believe the defense won’t be as good as it has been the past twos seasons.
Trades like this don’t work, at least not for the teams parting with all the draft picks.
I’d be willing to bet that Fisher and Co. won’t prove to be the exception.