Ah, the major league baseball season. 162 games long, and just a handful of games make all the difference. I read once that in an MLB season, you can count on losing at least 60 games, count on winning at least 60 games, and it’s what you do with those other 42 that distinguishes a good season from a bad one. At the end of the season, the Cardinals did OK. Like many others, I really can’t complain about the outcome W-L record. Over achieving, especially when you look at the blogs/pundits/columnists predictions back in April, is a wonderful thing.
No, wait. I can complain. Well… maybe it’s not really complaining. Maybe it’s just focusing on the negative long enough to cause a deep feeling of remorse. After all, I am generally a “glass is half empty” sorta guy.
I can’t help look back and wonder, “What if…” In the long, long season, there are many “what if’s,” but I’ve narrowed my list to six “what if’s.” I looked at each month and picked one game that was a) frustrating, b) heart-breaking, c) maddening, or d) all of the above.
Now, I realize this is a completely subjective list, and I understand that “what if’s” run both ways (i.e. “What if the Cardinals lost that game instead of winning it…”), but I thought it was a good way to get a quick and dirty read to see if there was any sort of pattern to what made the 2008 Cardinals a good team and what held them back from being a play-off team.
OK, one game per month. Everybody in the Wayback Machine? Here we go…
April 1: 2-1 loss to the Rockies. This one stung for not only the loss, but because it was a rescheduled game from the washed out home opener. Losing to Kip Wells? That’s an ouchy no Band-Aid can fix. First blown save of the season. I was there for the opening day ceremonies the day before, and saw a highly probable Cardinal win (and an Albert home run) be stricken from the record books due to the weather . Alas, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
May 9: 4-3 loss to the Brewers. One out away from victory. After getting two outs on two pitches, Isringhausen implodes, allowing two singles and a walk before Rickie Weeks’ two-run single gives Milwaukee a victory and snaps the Brewers’ six-game losing streak.
June 17: 2-1 loss to the Royals. The first game of being swept by Kansas City. At home. Seriously. The entire series was nauseating, but this game set the tone for the next two.
July 12: 11-12 loss to the Pirates. The Cardinals are beaten by the lowly Pittsburgh club – honestly, what made the Pirates so tough that the home team just couldn’t beat these guys when they needed to? St. Louis loses in 10, after being up by 6 runs. Anyone seeing the #1 issue as “bullpen” yet, or is it just me?
August 8: 3-2 loss to the Cubs. Edmunds hits two home runs. Cards lose in 11. The memory of this game could leave someone less mentally stable in a dark corner and rocking on the floor in a fetal position.
September 13: 7-6 loss to the Pirates. Really?!? The Pirates again? I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Cards loss comes after 11 innings, after they fail to put up any runs past the fourth inning.
That's my list. Feel free to point out other games that could have changed the season. In looking at this completely unscientific sampling of the schedule:
I love TLR and think he’s a baseball genius, but I must disagree with the whole “impact bat” argument. As already shown several times on this site, the Cardinals hit the ball successfully with great frequency this year. OBP was very good. The LOB numbers were high, but then the team was getting on-base so you’d expect more men LOB. The hits would’ve been better if they’d come with RISP, but overall this team was way better than average offensively.
Starting pitching was way, way, way better than anyone could have guessed, especially considering that at the beginning of the season we were thinking (or at least led to believe by the front office propoganda) there might be a Carpenter/Mulder/Clement solution at mid-season. Not to mention Wainwright was out for weeks with a broken whateveritwas in his finger.
Bottom line, the difference in all the games I’ve looked at above is bullpen. Had the Cardinals improved their bullpen at any point in the season, or perhaps upgraded one starter to protect the bullpen with more innings, they might be looking at a Wild Card series today rather than finishing four games out of the phantom division.
But, hey, at least it was exciting and fun. And there's always next year. Go Cards!