Press Box: Cardinals are in need of big changes, but first move has to be made in front office

In this July 8, 2022, file photo, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak sits in the dugout during a rain delay at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Associated Press)

It has been a tough year to be a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

And yes, Kansas City Royals fans, I can already see you rolling your eyes as I typed that sentence.

But here’s the difference. We knew going into the season the Royals were going to be bad. We had no idea the Cardinals were going to fall into the cellar of the National League.

So what exactly is wrong with the Cardinals?

Pick a reason, any reason, and you would almost assuredly be correct. When the pitching staff is doing well, the offense goes cold. When the offense heats up, the bullpen implodes.

Watching the Cardinals give up a five-run lead Friday night just adds to the “what the heck am I watching?” story that defines this season.

St. Louis will enter the All-Star break in last place in the N.L. Central, where it has been since May 29.

So who is to blame for the Cardinals’ shortcomings?

• As a team, the players are struggling to perform to the best of their abilities all at once. Nolan Gorman had a good month in April, Paul Goldschmidt was hitting .300 for a while, Nolan Arenado has been on a tear as of late and Jordan Walker has two 12-plus-game hitting streaks.

However, outside of those four players, the Cardinals don’t have much else to brag about.

The pitching staff has been a nightmare. Jordan Montgomery has a 3.28 ERA, but everyone else with significant time on the mound has an ERA higher than 4.00, some substantially higher. Adam Wainwright is finally showing his age, Matthew Liberatore hasn’t lived up to the hype and Steven Matz was relegated to the bullpen for a lengthy period of time.

• Manager Oli Marmol has fallen into a sophomore slump, and it hasn’t helped that half his coaching staff are newcomers this season.

Marmol rubbed some people the wrong way with his handling of Tyler O’Neill’s lack of hustle in an April game. He ticked off more fans with his demotion of Willson Contreras — the franchise’s largest free-agent contract signing — from starting catcher to designated hitter.

To add to Marmol’s struggles, every call to the bullpen seems to be the wrong one. High-leverage situations are Kryptonite for the Cardinals’ relief pitchers. Following Friday’s 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox, St. Louis now has 28 blown leads this season.

Losing Jeff Albert as hitting coach might not have been a huge setback, but having Dusty Blake take over as pitching coach for Mike Maddux has left me scratching my head.

• If you want the Cardinals to fire Marmol, that’s fine and that’s within reason. But he shouldn’t be the first person on the chopping block.

That distinction belongs to John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations.

Marmol has handled this season poorly, but Mozeliak has handled it much worse.

St. Louis had a chance to bolster its starting pitching rotation this offseason, but Mozeliak opted to hold off, saying he trusted the pitchers in house to step up and perform this season.

Needless to say, he was wrong.

Instead, he offered Wainwright a one-year, $17.5-million contract. The 41-year-old has a 7.66 ERA and is on the injured list with a shoulder injury.

Before Saturday’s win, Miles Mikolas had lost his past four decisions dating to May 30.

Jordan Montgomery went more than two months without recording a win and left Friday’s game with a hamstring injury.

Matz lost his spot in the starting rotation by the end of May, when he had an 0-6 record. He has had eight relief appearances since then, but his ERA has only dropped from 5.72 to 5.02.

Mozeliak took a gamble on the Cardinals’ pitching, and so far, it hasn’t come close to paying off.

Outside of a 20-game winning streak in September, I don’t see how St. Louis can make the playoffs. The biggest priority at this point is to avoid its first losing season since 2007.

When the season ends, it’ll be time for the Cardinals to let players like Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks walk into free agency.

The front office’s very next move needs to be to part ways with Mozeliak. He has had a successful 15-year run as the general manager and PBO, but there also comes a time when you wear out your welcome.

The relationship between Mo and Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. has run its course. It’s time for a fresh start for both of them.