Two months before Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright gathered their teammates for a pivotal players-only dinner at a Cincinnati steak house in August, it was clear that the Cardinals had lost their way on the diamond and in the clubhouse.

Look around, a Cardinal told me, and see how many of the guys making these mistakes came up through other organizations.

On the field, the Cardinals were prone to make poor decisions on the base paths and in the field. In the clubhouse, players were privately griping about the lackadaisical atmosphere that could be described as part chess club, part video arcade, part ping pong tournament.

When teams are winning, the chess set, Brett Cecil’s video games and Jedd Gyorko’s ping pong prowess are embraced as great ways of relieving stress. When teams are winning, teammates hardly ever bother to notice or even care if Dexter Fowler is usually the last guy in the clubhouse and one of the first to leave.

When teams struggle, though, teammates roll their eyes and pay close attention to the new guys. They complain and moan if they return to the home clubhouse after a pivotal late September game and realize that one of their veterans has practically beat the fans out of Busch Stadium after the final out. They notice if that veteran even bothered to go to the dugout or if he shagged balls in the outfield more than a dozen times all season.

“To me, the culture is something that we’re always going to have to keep our eyes on,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s not necessarily exactly defined by exactly how we’re doing at any particular time as far as the time period that (Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak) was talking about.

“When a team is not playing well, you’re just going to see a whole group of guys that aren’t necessarily going to be happy with that result. That can come across a number of different ways.”

Some teams and fanbases love to dismiss the Cardinal Way, which legendary former coach George Kissell outlined in his manual on how to play the game.