The 2009 Cardinals—and the 2004 club, my all-time favorites—were completely unstoppable in the summer, but as much as I like the season itself and both of those teams something about the sheer magnitude of the 2006 team's summer collapse has made it, three years after the fact, the kind of summer that still comes to mind when I think about the baseball season piecemeal like this. No matter how the season begins for the Cardinals, the standings must come through those three middle months intact.
For our purposes—nobody ever made a terrible movie about the years the Mayan calendar predicted nothing much would happen, after all—those are the two summer models with which to be concerned. Will these Cardinals pull away from the rest of the NL Central, like the best teams of the last decade, or will it put us through a series of awful losing streaks—no hitting, start after start from the 2010 equivalents of Jason Marquis and Mark Mulder—like... like the team that actually won the World Series?
It's impossible to tell, of course; we're now three months into the season preview future, already well into year-in-review territory. But this team is not built to surprise its way into first, like the fast-starting 2006 model; if it's doing well in June and July, it's because the expensive, all-star caliber centerpieces are playing exactly as the Cardinals are paying them to do. If Matt Holliday has a .976 OPS at the break, as Scott Rolen did in 2006, there's little reason to assume he's about to fall back to earth. If he's struggling, they're in trouble already.
If the Cardinals come into June in first place and the standings do begin to change, baseball's other summer attraction comes into play—calls for the roster to change with them. For all the Cardinals' reluctance to use up all their payroll flexibility in the offseason they've left themselves without any problems that will obviously need fixing come July, and for good reason—there isn't much left for them to trade. Most of the potentially sore roster spots are filled with young, cheap players; if you are a top Cardinals trading chit there is a significant chance you're already playing a role on the Major League team.
But as much as I admire the Cardinals' roster construction this season—it's been great to see players like David Freese, Jaime Garcia, and Brendan Ryan stake their claims on long-term roster spots—a cheap, young supporting cast has a certain in-built risk attached to it, and a s other teams' expensive, underperforming veterans reach the trading block the Cardinals will have a last chance to supplement their depth with players who have track records. If a right-handed reliever on a non-contender (or a TBS studio show) becomes available, the Cardinals will have a chance to salve the concerns of the Kiko Calero backers of November and December. It's a good plan, if it works—the Cardinals are in a position, with money to spare, if not prospects, to both give their youngsters a chance and sign marginal veteran improvements when the time comes.
But like I said before, and will possibly quote for ironic effect some time in August, this doesn't seem, to me, like a team that will be locked in a race where every win counts in midsummer. If this team, in this division, is having serious problems by then, they aren't the kind that trading for Mike DeJean and Chuck Finley will fix. And Matt Holliday is already here.