Before I do anything else, if you've stopped watching Cardinals games, stop what you're doing instead and watch Brendan Ryan be briefly perfect. That's as remarkable a play as I've seen a shortstop make, though if you take a look through MLB.com's Brendan Ryan highlight library I'm sure you'll find something with which to object.
The Cardinals' suddenly adequate play over the last few series of the season should be frustrating, but I find myself enjoying it without reservation, Pagnozzi Explosion aside. These Cardinals can't do anything to mask the bad taste they've left in our collective mouth, but they've at least sent a nice card to apologize about it; there's Memphis players to watch, and a final Albert Pujols hot streak, and now Chris Carpenter hitting 93 and 94 again and wiping out the similarly wiped-out Rockies. The bow that's being put on all these player-seasons is, at least, nicer than the gift.
Carpenter, for instance—now that he's ended the season on a high note I think we can call it an unqualified success. He made 35 starts for the first time in his career and threw 235 innings with an ERA+ over 120—for that, I officially remove all qualifications.
It's an odd season, though; it's the first full one he's pitched as a Cardinal without looking like a Cy Young candidate. His K:BB ratio slipped, his fastball slipped back from its weird post-surgery peak, and Chris Carpenter, of all people, made up for it by putting innings together in bulk. Whatever works. (With this start he actually moved ahead of Adam Wainwright to lead the team, although it took him two additional starts to do it.)
For all the fun with youngsters—I love seeing Mark Hamilton out there, for instance, even though he has no path to St. Louis short of slugging .600 for three months when the team's desperate like Chris Duncan did—it seems like the only situation with serious 2011 implications is right field.
I mean, there's also the bullpen, but while Fernando Salas has been pretty shaky in his nine September innings I can't imagine a pitching staff in which he doesn't figure next year, unless those rumored payroll increases go entirely to paying veteran set-up men. I would have liked to see Eduardo Sanchez, as well, or even Josh Kinney—certainly instead of Mike MacDougal, much as I love Mac The Ninth—but I can't complain given how call-up happy the Cardinals went among the position players.
As for right field, I think the La Russa restlessness would work pretty well out there, should the Cardinals decide to go cheap—neither Jon Jay nor Allen Craig has shown himself to be significantly better than the other, and each has very obvious strengths and weaknesses.
But this might have been easier for the Cardinals to commit to if they'd won 90 games this year. There's going to be a lot of offseason pressure on John Mozeliak to make counting-stat improvements to this team's offense, and even if he thinks the Cardinals can squeeze an average performance out of the two of them the outfield is the easiest spot to appear to upgrade.
I'm not extremely optimistic about either player, but because the Cardinals don't have the money to spend elsewhere and I love full-time platoons I'm fine with the team beginning there at right. I'm not sure Mozeliak is in a position to be so half-commital about it, and if the team fails to find a middle infielder or an additional pitcher on which to hang their offseason I can see them snooping around the second tier outfielders again. (Hey—Xavier Nady will probably be cheaper this year than in any previous season when the Cardinals have been linked to him!)