Anybody can, and does, worry about the playoffs in general. But worrying about particular parts of the playoffs, especially tangentially relevant ones? That's the blogger's job.
No playoff roster surprises yet—Khalil Greene in his second comeback was rendered basically irrelevant by Julio Lugo's arrival and Tony La Russa's reluctance to move past the put-him-in-good-situations point on the comeback trail. From the first of August to the end of the season he'd played fewer than forty innings in the field, which is fewer than Troy Glaus played as a September call-up. The current arrangement leaves the Cardinals without a real backup shortstop, but Greene probably wouldn't have helped matters there, either; his play-by-play numbers, as one would expect of a guy dealing with serious emotional problems, moving on and off the DL, playing sparingly, were... almost as bad as Julio Lugo's.
What it does do is leave the Cardinals—Cardinals fans, really, since there seems to be no real internal debate about it—with an odd positional controversy. How healthy is Troy Glaus?
I don't know if I had any logical reason to be as surprised as I have been, but Glaus's brief comeback has been as spotty as I expected but in a totally different way than I'd anticipated. Some combination of his long, unexpected layoff, his size and shape, and the shoulder problems that were apparently keeping him from throwing three months ago had me expecting a loping slugger, our homegrown version of the PH-only Jim Thome the Dodgers acquired from the White Sox. While his usage did sometimes shake out that way, the results—as with Thome, but not Jason Giambi—were not there.
But his defense, when he was made to play defense, was a revelation. I didn't realize it until Glaus got back—middle infielders have been at the hot corner all year—but when Mark DeRosa plays third base, he looks like a second baseman. He's nimble out there, but his reflexes, his first move in either direction, just aren't natural. Sometimes he just doesn't make them. Glaus is a big, slow, heavy guy, but he moves immediately and aggressively toward balls; that almost-play on a barehander Sunday was something I wouldn't expect DeRosa to make—but it was also, before I saw him play, something I didn't expect New, Sedentary Glaus to make.
Unfortunately, if we're extrapolating from subjective observation and small samples (his UZR/150 is 125.3!) there's also the matter of his slow bat and his 130 professional at-bats in 2009. During his long rehab Glaus struggled at three different levels, peaking in an encouraging-but-not-very .216/.369/.392 at AAA. In the bigs he didn't have much room to work through a slump, if it's a slump, but he certainly hasn't looked as capable offensively as he does defensively. (Not that Glaus has ever looked like a worldbeater.)
So now the Cardinals are in an awkward position, at least if they want to press the issue: Play Glaus for his defense, even though he might not be able to hit? I can't say I ever expected to say something like that.
While we're on the topic—I don't expect this to prove either really important or, in the end, determined in such a way that antagonizes the Viva El Birdos contingent. But B.J. Rains of the mothership knows how to make us worry: suggest that Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer are both candidates for the playoff pen:
The decision to go with 12 pitchers means that two of the four among Blake Hawksworth, Mitchell Boggs, Todd Wellemeyer and Brad Thompson will be on the playoff roster. Hawksworth and Boggs, both rookies, are the likely choices to make the cut based on their performances and the number of their appearances down the stretch in relation to Wellemeyer and Thompson.
He's right: Brad Thompson hasn't appeared in a leveraged decision since the end of July, and Wellemeyer—well, no. Not Wellemeyer. Hawksworth has shown up twice as often as either of them in the second half of the season, and Boggs's startling bullpen fastball—I haven't seen a bullpen transformation as complete and abrupt as his in some time, no matter where he ends up permanently—is certainly a higher upside play than WonderBrad.
But mentioning it at all, even as a theoretical possibility... it gives me the shakes.
I've saved the most worrisome for last; so finally we've gotten to Joel Pineiro's tentative transformation back into Joel Pineiro. The strikeouts are fine; they're up, actually. The home run rate had to come up eventually, though I didn't expect him to give up 46% of his seasonal home run total in the last month of the year. But his command, the supernatural aversion to walks that characterized the first five months of the Joel Pineiro Comeback Spectacular—gone. Four strikeouts and less than one walk per nine is Christy Mathewson; Four and a half strikeouts and two walks is last season's version of Braden Looper.
That guy is a useful pitcher, even in the playoffs, but for now that's what I'll be expecting, so that when Joel Pineiro turns in a shutout and the Cardinals advance to the NLCS I will be pleasantly surprised.